05 Sep The Thriving Workplace
Last week I attended a totally unique and ‘out of body’ type conference experience, designed to create a safe and warm environment for everyone to bring their best and most authentic human selves.
In the interests of full disclosure and authenticity, I didn’t truly know what I had signed up to. I figured understanding more about employee health and well-being would be a step in the right direction on my upskilling journey. Plus, meeting some good connections who might be able to steer me in the right direction couldn’t hurt either. So, I registered for the two day Thriving Workplace conference in Sydney by the Serenity Collective. Just to clarify (and I know this now), this was not a traditional HR conference.
What I did understand is that our company is in a real position to make some big decisions around how we want to run our business. We have the capacity to nut out the beginnings of an authentic workplace culture that works for us and our employees right from the start. This conference created an opportunity to start a dialogue around how to set all this in motion, and hear about some real-world examples of how this change in environment works as our young start-up matures and grows.
If the degree of urgency to scribble down everything you hear is in anyway an indicator of the value being delivered by the speakers, my 33 pages and the behaviour of my fellow conference attendees says it was an overwhelming stunner of a success. I’m still processing all the ideas and thoughts it elegantly planted in my mind, and it’s been a week.
Gone are the days where we can assume the same approach will work for everyone, we are now operating very much in a case by case approach regarding everything from working days to performance goals. Individualism has snuck up on us and taken the somewhat black and white world of HR processes and procedures to a very grey, fluid and somewhat unpredictable area.
Organisations have been slow overall to pick up societal changes and tackling well-being is potentially an even harder task for leaders due to a few reasons:
- Individuals are ultimately responsible for their own well-being, not companies – you can’t force someone to take care of themselves, you can only facilitate or enable it as an employer
- There is a (let’s face it – ridiculous and outdated) belief that to have healthy employees means higher costs, and therefore lower profit
- Understandings of what ‘well-being’ includes still differ – I saw a few variations on this but I think the one that resonates most was Peggy Renders (SAP) variation on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that sounds a bit like this:
As humans our ‘body’ or physical requirements must be met first (nutrition, exercise, sleep, recovery) and then our ‘mind’ (mental stimulation, being challenged, beliefs). Then we can truly focus on ‘heart’ or emotional matters (love, relationships, happiness, spirituality, belonging). To truly thrive, we need all those ‘well-being things’ in place, plus a very clear understanding of our life’s ‘purpose’ (our authentic selves, passion, reason for being)
And this is where it gets interesting, because if people are ‘well’ and more enlightened as to what their life’s purpose is, they can better match themselves with companies with similar values and outlooks. And that is slowly becoming the case for more and more people.
In other words, if they have all these factors that are necessary to thrive, and organisations articulate their company purpose clearly, you would expect a better alignment in values right from the recruitment stage, and therefore an increased effect on your workplaces ability to thrive. You would also expect that your organisations culture or purpose might “turn a few people off” (Chris Mason, Patagonia), and that’s ok. So, you could argue that the bottom line is actually better off because you’re not hiring, inducting, managing, and then performance managing people who, for reasons outside of your control, will never thrive in that environment no matter what.
There has been a trend around organisations struggling to understand the cost and/or benefits of employee wellbeing. Company decisions around wellbeing have previously been made purely on the basis of their impact to the bottom line, rather than any higher purpose like what’s good for the them. Data is vital here, if we can understand and prove the increase in productivity when an employee is ‘well’, we can use our predicative tools to take this even further for ourselves and larger organisations.
And given where my organisation is on this well-being and thriving workplace journey (right at the start!), I took away a few actions from the conference which basically entails me setting up a well-ness program for our small but growing organisation. More importantly though, I learnt that changing company cultures and management styles at established and larger organisations is far more challenging, so for a small start-up like us, we have a very real opportunity to shape the way we want the business to look and feel to people in the future. I want our company to be one that truly values people as its biggest asset and sets a culture where well-being is prioritised higher than furthering existing stigmatisms (for example around mental health issues like depression and anxiety). This is a company I want to be part of and help lead.
So, as with all good things, we’re going to start with that end in mind.