Employee wellbeing – it’s not an option any more.

Employee wellbeing – it’s not an option any more.

I’ve been involved at the periphery of employee wellbeing for a couple of decades now. Two very good friends of mine ran a business operating corporate gyms for all of the best companies, and for some time that was the gold standard that showed you were committed to your employee wellbeing.

Back in those days workplace nirvana was work-life balance – it was a key goal for the benefit of the individual and it was something that only a small handful of the very top employers promoted.

But early interest in employee wellbeing was sabotaged by technology hyper-connectivity!

Employee wellbeing and work-life balance were seen as an ideal and a goal. But at the same time as the most enlightened of employers were talking about work-life balance, the invasion of email and instant messaging began. Before long there was nowhere in the world that was safe from the constant buzz and beep of a Blackberry, and its later brothers – iPhone and Android!

For nearly a decade, our seemingly primal need to be connected and to be part of what is “going on” has won over our basic need for physical rest and sanity. How many weekends and holidays have been taken over by being connected to work? How many have you completely lost?

“But as technology continues to make the world go faster, it continues to make competition go faster. So isn’t our need to be connected all the time, to have speed and agility, isn’t that need even greater than ever? Have we got time for wellbeing?”

I used to think so, yes – more time on better technology that is the answer. And technology has definitely made our world a smaller place and made our lives more flexible. If you’re in an environment of always-on instant messaging and instant video then you have more choices and more flexibility than ever before. This technology, when used well, is hugely empowering and in any of the world’s most competitive situations is by now already essential.

But a couple of year’s ago I learned something really important.

I learned that personal wellbeing is no longer a goal that an individual might choose to strive for, it’s now an essential attribute that organisations need in their leaders and managers. Employee wellbeing is no longer a nice-to-have luxury, it’s an essential leadership characteristic!

It’s a view that many employees seem to share with me too, as more and more of us want flexibility and freedom from outdated work practices. Technology has given our lives more fluidity and if organisations are to become or continue to be successful, then perhaps the workplace needs to be just as fluid in supporting wellbeing.

Arianna Huffington’s talk on employee wellbeing changed my life, perhaps more than any other person has in recent years.

Two years ago, almost to this day, I went to the Inbound 2013 conference in Boston which was organised by Hubspot, the marketing software people. It was a hugely inspirational and educational conference (I’ve just been back again this year) but I arrived late and missed the opening keynote.

The 2013 opening keynote was from Arianna Huffington, the founder and now Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post, the hugely influential blogging and news site now owned by AOL. I missed this keynote but my colleagues raved about it and insisted that I watch the recording of it on YouTube. Being busy, of course, I ignored this for many weeks.

It was a couple of months later, when in the midst of a packed schedule, my morning meeting got cancelled. I remember the day clearly – I was still at home and suddenly I was cut slightly adrift with a two-hour gap in the day. What could I do?

I can remember deliberating internally – should  I just go for inbox zero? Should I look at my burgeoning to-do list? Should I quickly schedule an eternally late one to one with one of my team? And then I noticed a slip of paper with the note of Arianna’s talk on it…..

Should I….. Should I slightly-shamefully “take an hour out” of my busy day and watch some video about wellbeing?

Well… I did. And wow was I pleased that I did.

Huffington’s talk was so important to me that I watched it twice that day. And twice more the day after. If you include when I’ve shown it to others, I must have seen it 30 times now.

In a 47 minute session, Arianna talks, using her personal experience, not of wellbeing as a nice-to-have, not as wellbeing as something optional, but as something essential to leadership in today’s super-competitive world.

Arianna discusses the personal challenges and experiences that she has seen through her life and career and speaks passionately about wellbeing in the context of leadership. Her key point, which I now truly believe in, is that to be a leader in this fast-paced world then you have to be in a position to make great decisions about complex, emerging situations. And to do that, you need to be in a great personal space.

In short – burnout is no longer an option. Organisations must now demand that their executives are rested and in a place to be creative, innovative, and ready to sense the changes that are coming to their organisation.

It took me several months before I took the time to watch this talk. Take time if you need to, but don’t take too long. The world isn’t waiting for you.

Written by 

Glenn is an employee engagement and tech entrepreneur. He founded Reward Gateway, the HR technology company in 2006 and continues to lead it as CEO today.

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