How senior leaders can drive a culture of wellbeing

Driving a culture of wellbeing requires more than a group of champions or staff that are trained in mental health first aid. The problem with workplace wellbeing is that it always tends to break down when it comes to demonstrating a return on investment. Typically, this is because organisations care more about looking as though they are doing the right thing rather than adopting a serious approach to wellbeing that is driven from the top. It seems to me that organisations and their senior leaders are getting stuck in this negative vicious cycle which helps explain why wellbeing never seems to move forward or is taken seriously. There are several steps that tend to happen:

  1. Senior leaders notice a wellbeing problem that is often negatively impacting a core KPI.
  2. Senior leaders pass the baton to someone who has limited resource and little influence or power to make substantial change and impact.
  3. A short-term reactive approach is adopted like mental health first aid, resilience training or wellbeing calendars. I just want to highlight that we have nothing against first aid or wellbeing calendars but often they are used with little vision or purpose to just tick a box.
  4. Due to poor feedback mechanisms being utilised across the programmes and senior leaders not being part of the process, there are assumptions that the programmes delivered did their job (even though from an impact, engagement and behavioural change perspective feedback will be very poor).
  5. Feedback from poor and limited data shows that wellbeing is doing okay. There is limited data to demonstrate a good ROI.
  6. Wellbeing is only addressed when it becomes a problem again.

To prevent this cycle turning into a downward spiral, senior leaders need to ensure that they are serious about wellbeing and leading from the top.

Why wellbeing needs to start at the top

Senior leaders set the tone and strategic direction, shape culture, and influence the entire organisational ecosystem. They define the vision, goals, and objectives that align with a culture of wellbeing, ensuring that it permeates all aspects of the organisation’s operations. Senior leaders have a level of authority and influence which can help shape an organisation’s policies and procedures around integrating wellbeing into the design of work. This helps to create an environment where wellbeing is treated as a core KPI and embedded into organisational DNA. Senior leaders are accountable for measuring and monitoring the impact of wellbeing initiatives. They establish metrics, collect data, and track key performance indicators related to people wellbeing. By analysing this data, leaders gain insights into the effectiveness of their initiatives and can make informed decisions to further enhance the wellbeing of their people.

How to embed wellbeing into culture

When the conditions or culture in a workplace are not conducive to wellbeing, wellbeing strategies, programmes and initiatives are likely to have minimal impact and fail to bring about significant behavioural and cultural change. A workplace culture shapes the environment and influences how people interact, collaborate, and conduct themselves within the organisation. When a workplace culture starts to normalise toxic behaviours and fails to stamp out root causes that are damaging people’s health, it becomes even more challenging for wellbeing programmes to have impact.

To effectively embed wellbeing into the DNA of any organisation, senior leaders must start with their culture and ensure that wellbeing is not treated as a separate component but rather integrated into the design of work, so it becomes a living and breathing thing. This can be achieved by making sure wellbeing is integrated into values and beliefs that shape cultural foundations. Wellbeing must be an integral part of core norms and behaviours that are expected and encouraged. Effective leaders who embody the desired cultural values and lead by example have a profound influence on shaping the overall work environment.

So why start with culture?

  1. Engagement: A positive culture that drives wellbeing fosters high levels of employee engagement, motivation, and commitment. Employees feel valued, empowered, and connected to the organisation’s purpose, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.
  2. Recognition and Rewards: A culture that prioritises wellbeing recognises and rewards employees for their contributions and achievements.
  3. Diversity and Inclusion: A healthy workplace culture embraces diversity and promotes inclusivity. It values different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, creating an environment where everyone feels respected, heard, and able to contribute their best.
  4. Work-Life Balance: A healthy workplace culture acknowledges the importance of work-life balance and supports people in achieving it. It encourages a supportive and flexible environment that enables people to meet both personal and professional commitments.
  5. Learning and Development: A culture that values continuous learning, growth, and development creates opportunities for employees to enhance their skills, knowledge, and capabilities. This fosters a sense of personal and professional fulfilment and contributes to overall employee engagement.
  6. Adaptability and Innovation: A healthy workplace culture encourages adaptability, innovation, and the willingness to embrace change.

Healthy People Healthy Profit

Driving a culture of wellbeing requires a certain mindset to be adopted by senior leaders. This mindset should be one where senior leaders recognise people as one of their most important and valuable assets. When adopting a healthy people healthy profit narrative, senior leaders must focus on creating environments where workplaces are positively contributing to people’s sense of purpose, meaning, life satisfaction, performance, productivity, and wellbeing.  This means ensuring that people are fit for purpose and not waiting for things to go wrong before equipping people with the right resources to cope with the daily demands of work and life. This means ensuring that profits achieved are not at the detriment to their people’s health.

Adopting this narrative represents a shift in perspective where organisations prioritise the wellbeing and fulfilment of their people as a means to achieve long-term success and profitability. It focuses on recognising the intrinsic value of individuals and prioritising their wellbeing as a strategic business imperative. By fostering this approach, organisations create an environment where employees thrive, perform at their best, and contribute to the organisation’s long-term success. When people are viewed as valuable assets and their wellbeing is nurtured, organisations can achieve sustainable profitability, innovation, and positive business outcomes.

Putting wellbeing on your agenda

You have a choice. You can either be a leader who talks about wellbeing, or you can be a leader who is serious about wellbeing. Leaders who are serious about wellbeing place it at the top of the agenda by adopting a people first approach. They integrate wellbeing as part of strategic priorities and align it with the organisation’s core values and mission so that it can be incorporated into performance evaluations and organisational goals. By making wellbeing a focal point in decision-making, senior leaders can embed it into the fabric of the organisation, fostering a culture where the health and happiness of employees thrive alongside other strategic priorities.

How senior leaders can enhance wellbeing

Deloitte have recently identified several workplace factors that both damage and enhance people wellbeing. One of the consistent factors is how leaders behave. As a leader you have a responsibility to help improve wellbeing through the behaviours that you demonstrate daily. Here are 5 ways in which you can enhance the wellbeing of your people.

  1. Compassionate Leadership: When leaders genuinely listen, show empathy, and acknowledge the feelings and concerns of their people, it enhances psychological safety and fosters trust, positively impacting wellbeing.
  2. Empowerment and Autonomy: Empowering people to make decisions, take ownership of their work, and have a sense of autonomy over their tasks can boost morale and job satisfaction.
  3. Work-Life Balance Support: Leaders who promote a healthy work-life balance by encouraging flexible work, setting realistic deadlines, and respecting personal boundaries contribute to peoples’ overall wellbeing.
  4. Recognition: Simple acts of acknowledgment, praise, and celebrating successes foster a positive work environment, boosting self-esteem and motivation.
  5. Growth and Development: Leadership behaviours that prioritise people’s growth and development demonstrate a commitment to their long-term success. 

Making wellbeing a KPI

 If you are serious about wellbeing, then as a leader you will treat it with the same importance as all your other KPIs. Having wellbeing as a KPI demonstrates to your people that you care about them and that there is a level of accountability and ownership that you are prepared to take to ensure that your people are healthy and fit for purpose. When people feel supported, satisfied, and engaged, they are more likely to perform at their best, be productive, and contribute to the overall success of the organisation.

Here are 5 steps to make wellbeing a KPI:

  1. Define Wellbeing Metrics: Identify specific metrics that align with the organisation’s wellbeing objectives. These metrics could include employee satisfaction, stress levels, work-life balance, or participation rates in wellbeing programmes.
  2. Set Clear Targets: Establish clear and achievable targets for each wellbeing metric. These targets should be realistic and aligned with the organisation’s overall wellbeing strategy.
  3. Communicate and Educate: Communicate the importance of wellbeing as a KPI to all people. Provide training and resources to help managers understand how to support wellbeing initiatives and promote a culture of wellbeing throughout the organisation.
  4. Monitor Progress: Regularly track and monitor the wellbeing metrics to assess progress towards the established targets. This may involve using surveys, data analytics, and employee feedback to gain insights into the wellbeing of the workforce.
  5. Align Incentives: Integrate wellbeing metrics into performance evaluation. Linking performance evaluations to wellbeing KPIs demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to prioritising employee wellbeing.

Senior leaders hold the key to driving a culture of wellbeing within their organisations. By embodying the principles of compassionate leadership, prioritising people wellbeing, and integrating it into the very fabric of their organisational strategies, they can inspire positive change from the top-down. When senior leaders demonstrate a genuine concern for their peoples’ physical, mental, and emotional health, they set the stage for a thriving and resilient organisation.


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