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Why better wellbeing equals business growth

It's not "wellbeing v business growth". It's "wellbeing = business growth", writes Audrey McGibbon. 

Knowledge and digital economies have dominated this century. While technology has delivered many advantages, it's also brought well-documented downsides – including unprecedented intrusion into our personal lives and the almost total removal of conventional boundaries. The inability to "unplug" is now a recognised source of major stress.

Intensified global competition and concerns over job and income security have further increased pressure on employees to up their game as machines bluntly march forward to disrupt the workplace, even in highly skilled professions. 

As the era of AI and robotics makes its full force felt, we're seeing unparalleled demands on workforces for greater fluidity, adaptability, collaboration and constant learning. To thrive in this new age, strong Human and Wisdom economies are increasingly essential for distinguishing superior performance.  

The successful workplaces of the future will be those where the most human of qualities are nurtured, where characteristics such as our intrinsic motivation, innovation, energy, perceptiveness and intuition become the most prized assets. And, of course, such qualities are impossible if we're not well – physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. 

Governments, businesses and individuals alike are realising "doing wellbeing better" is in their vested interest. Progressive boards understand the concept of a culpable culture and the link between burnout, stress, low psychological safety and liability for poor behaviours, decision-making and weakened business outcomes that ensue. 

Today, we're seeing a mounting backlash against the unfettered push for economic growth at the expense of wellbeing. There's a growing awareness and empowerment about the human condition – and the "do more with less" culture is under fire as a result. 

The wellbeing movement has reached a critical mass. Every day its momentum grows – and its disruptive power has its origins in humanity and wisdom. Greater awareness of wellbeing is fuelling an increase in speaking out against burnout, lack of balance, lack of autonomy, lack of respect and work dissatisfaction. 

Wellbeing is consistently and reliably associated with a range of positive business outcomes, including a 40 per cent uplift in employee engagement and a 50 per cent improvement in creativity and innovation. For even the most dedicated cynics, there's an undeniably significant relationship between enhanced wellbeing and enhanced leadership performance.

However, despite data that clearly demonstrates investment in wellbeing makes good social and economic sense (for individuals and organisations), workplace pressures and life stressors aren't abating. Wellbeing levels among those at the top of organisations are in decline and under more threat than ever. The incidence of personal sacrifice, burnout, emotional exhaustion, strain and pressure among those in leadership roles – those with the largest responsibility and accountability in organisations – is well documented.  It's a worrying trend.

If motivation to reverse declines in wellbeing is high and momentum in the wellbeing movement is growing, why is emotional exhaustion so prevalent among our leaders? 

Put in the plainest of terms, many organisational wellbeing approaches on offer today simply don't work. 

In fact, the Future of Wellness at Work 2016 report from the Global Wellness Institute reported that – of the majority of existing formal wellness initiatives – fewer than one in 10 report any positive impact on health. 

Today's initiatives tend towards a generic, surface level or "spot" intervention (#nomoreyogandapples) approach with an overly medical emphasis. This underplays wellbeing's psychological factors, severely limiting an initiative's effectiveness. 

For one thing, employees see the one-size-fits-all approach as an empty gesture. In fact, 75 per cent of your workers believe workplace wellness programs are self-serving and only benefit the company. So instead of improving employee wellness, the majority of wellness initiatives are achieving the exact opposite.

It's clear future wellbeing interventions will need to be very different.

One key issue facing the emergence of wellbeing as a majorly influential psychological construct is that, without an accurate diagnosis of the specific wellbeing needs and circumstances of individual leaders, it's difficult to achieve better wellbeing outcomes in any meaningful way. 

This is partly due to the highly subjective and individualised nature of wellbeing. Also, like any personal development strategy, having a detailed and specific understanding of the development need and what "better" looks like is a prerequisite to achieving effective change. 

Responding to these concerns, EEK & SENSE psychologists have developed the Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey (GLWS) with the specific goal of measuring leaders' wellbeing in a comprehensive and holistic manner. GLWS provides a framework and specific insights with which to measure and develop wellbeing for this target population.

We say wellbeing isn't something organisations can fix or give to their people. Rather, we believe an organisation's key role is to provide a good system that facilitates and supports leaders to take more personal responsibility and accountability for their wellbeing (and for the wellbeing of their teams).

Our message? It's not "wellbeing v business growth". It's "wellbeing = business growth". 

Audrey McGibbon is a registered psychologist in Australia, as well as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS), an Associate Fellow of the BPS and a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology and Psychotherapy Sections of the BPS. She is the co-author of GLWS and co-founder of EEK & SENSE.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain