Interpersonal Catalyst & International Product Manager
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Wellbeing at work: why we need a more human-centred workplace

In the first of a three-part series on The conscious employee meets the conscious organisation, Garry Turner explains why HR-led wellbeing strategies aren’t addressing the root causes of mental health issues among employees.

13th Jan 2020
Interpersonal Catalyst & International Product Manager
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Architects in teamwork huddle

For too long now, we all (myself included) have lived our lives as if there are zero externalities to our rampant consumption, hyper-individualisation and increasing societal separation, both at an individual and collective level. We have been unconscious of the impact of our behaviour on the wider macroeconomic and environmental systems. All of this, I feel, is part of the wellbeing equation.

Full wellbeing, I would assert, comes from when we are able to be ourselves fully, without fear and without ‘feeling’ the need to wear protective armour. It’s when we can embrace our sense of belonging.

Speaking as someone that burned myself out four years ago after over-thinking my way into loneliness, fear and avoidance whilst at work, despite having far fewer barriers than most in the workplace, I speak from a place of experience. Thus, it is with wellbeing in the workplace that I wish to start this three-part exploration.

What does wellbeing even mean?

Wellbeing is a keyword within the WHO definition of health: “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

When I read that description, I sense belonging.

Full wellbeing, I would assert, comes from when we are able to be ourselves fully, without fear and without ‘feeling’ the need to wear protective armour. It’s when we can embrace our sense of belonging.

If we can experience our life in the physical, mental and social realms as ourselves, without fear and without the need to change who we are as a person to fit into a prevailing culture, we can realise that we are already innately ‘well.’ We always have been.

Work/life balance

Add to this the rising volume on conversations around ‘work/life balance.’  For nearly 12 months I have been learning and speaking about the fact that we have only ‘life’.

There is no segregation nor separation between work and life, or at least if there is, that can often be a contributing factor to not feeling ‘well’ at work as per my journey into burnout.

Being well

Let’s flip this word wellbeing around to ‘being well’. Now, when viewing this word, what jumps out to me is the word ‘be’. I am yet to hear anybody talk in the workplace about improving welldoing at work yet ‘doing’ is far higher prized over being.

Think about it though: when have your best ideas, innovation or thoughts arisen? For me, it’s never when I have been up against it and highly pressured. Usually it happens when I am just ‘being’, for example when I’m at the gym, walking, or perhaps in the shower etc.

HR and employee voice is critical to moving the dial on this conversation and, yes, that will take time but time is always an investment and never a cost.

To that end, after reviewing the CIPD’s introductory video on the topic of wellbeing, I was saddened to hear that, “there is a growing pressure to do more with less”. This is not untrue, but why is this and are we challenging this enough as HR professionals, and indeed as individuals, within the workplace?

We can all consciously step into this conversation and increase our levels of accountability and consciousness around this agenda.

Root causes

Rapidly rising mental health diagnoses are costing the UK economy £34.9bn per annum – the equivalent to 15.8m lost working days. Employee engagement is also persistently low, with just one in three employees being fully engaged at work for over a decade, according to research by Gallup.  

Instead of understanding the root causes of these, however, it appears that many organisations and leadership teams are just applying ‘sticking plasters’ to the problem – indeed they seem to prefer this method to properly addressing what are fundamentally deeply human topics.

cut the cost of mental ill health

cut absence and presenteeism

Wellbeing strategy

The CIPD video goes on to make some very good suggestions about the focus areas that could make up an effective wellbeing strategy, including:

  • Health promotion
  • Good working environment
  • Flexible working
  • Positive relationships
  • Opportunities for career development
  • Healthy management style

I would assert that intentional, human-centered organisational design with listening, wellbeing, mindset, vulnerability and curiosity baked into a role-modelled culture are far more likely to support and amplify all of the above six cited areas whilst delivering exceptional outcomes as a result.

Human-centered work design supports wellbeing

Interested in some proof? Here is a previous HRZone article outlining how this value creation led to improvements in every one of the six areas cited above.

A wellbeing strategy in and of itself may impact health promotion and flexible working but is highly unlikely to progress the other four areas unless it is co-created, owned and accounted by every single person across the team and/or organisation.

What if all of the HR, L&D, wellbeing and training budget, for one year, was spent on helping colleagues understand how the mind works?

HR and employee voice is critical to moving the dial on this conversation and, yes, that will take time but time is always an investment and never a cost. Language and intent is key.

Together we can help turn around such desperate statistics such as that displayed below, showing that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.

suicide statistics

A forward-looking, collaborative and strategic HR profession retains a unique position and cross-functional view to drive this agenda. We need to understand the needs of both the workforce and the organisation, and to deliver the benefits of wellbeing throughout the business at every level and in every corner. Until we start looking at root causes, however, the current lack of impact will persist.

There is another way

What if all of the money and resources that are currently being channelled towards wellbeing were innocently being misdirected? What if all of the HR, L&D, wellbeing and training budget, for one year, was spent on helping colleagues understand how the mind works? What if we are all innately well before our over thinking, fears and anxiety kick in?

Part of my own ‘awakening’ journey to living a more conscious life has come about by understanding exactly this; how the mind works. You can learn more about that in this podcast and also this one.

I assert that if we start there, we will see rapid increases in wellbeing, connection, performance and importantly, an increased sense of belonging.

How we intentionally design our organisations so that they are more socially responsible will link this article to part two of this three-part series.

Next steps

As this article comes to a close, I want to leave you with some reflective questions:

  • Do you believe that your work and personal life need to be kept separate? If yes, I invite you to review and challenge the assumptions that sit below that belief, just to ensure they still serve you.
  • What does wellbeing mean to you personally and your organisation and how can you engage the hearts and minds of all in the development and role modelling of best in class wellbeing?
  • How do HR and the senior leadership engage around topics of wellbeing currently? What is working well and what could be improved?
  • Could and would you run a training experiment on understanding how the mind works?

Finally, I love this quote from a recent article by Peter Done: “After all, employee health is your business’s wealth.

This is such an important point to remain consciously aware of.

We invite you to share your comments, challenges and reflections below, as we would love to continue the conversation within the HRZone community.


Replies (4)

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By [email protected]
13th Jan 2020 16:07

Thanks for your honesty Garry. I too experienced burn out about the same time. A tough year! Self care and a sense of belonging so important to get right in an increasingly digital world.

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Replying to [email protected]:
The Listening Organisation
By Garry Turner
13th Jan 2020 16:14

thank you for your reply Michelle really appreciate you sharing.

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By HRCynic
28th Jan 2020 19:02


I'd like to make a few comments on this article.

Firstly, in reference to your line "Together we can help turn around such desperate statistics such as that displayed below, showing that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.". This is quite a loaded statement against women with depression and mental health conditions. More men die from suicide, more women than men attempt suicide. Men simply use more 'final' methods. This is a point that is propagated again and again. This is not about 'whataboutery' but to highlight that women are suffering equally if not moreso than men (more women experience depression in their lifetime), and both women and men need input and help to prevent suicide. It is unlikely that a place of employment will stop someone taking their own life, and on many occasions it is the treatment of the individual by their employer that will push them towards suicide e.g. redundancies, suspensions, bullying, discrimination. Workplaces need to be aware but I have yet to see any employer give a fig about driving staff to suicide. I speak from experience here as a person who almost took their own life due to treatment from an employer.

Secondly you state "Let’s flip this word wellbeing around to ‘being well’." This is the risk and downfall of the 'wellbeing' movement. Some people will never be 'well'. Many people suffer chronic ongoing health conditions that impact on a daily basis. Many individuals have life long disabilities that impact on their ability to be 'well'. It's the notion that everyone is supposed to be 'well' and that 'wellness' is an expectation. It moves the focus of the 'wellbeing' movement towards the worried well and the self-care brigade and takes the focus off people who genuinely are struggling to stay in work due to health conditions and disability. The wellbeing movement sucks the oxygen out of the space and takes the voice away from those who are marginalised and vulnerable due to health issues and mental health conditions.

Thirdly, 'wellbeing' seems to be the latest HR fad and obsession. There is always a new one, and this one is about as scientifically researched as any of the others. HR is about resourcing/despatching personnel for the benefit of the organisation. They serve the organisation, not the individual. Many people (self included) have disclosed health/wellbeing issues to HR and had it used against them down the line. I see the focus on wellbeing by HR as another way to distract from what they are actually about and to simply give their roles/depts a greater sense of gravitas. Many things pushed by HR departments under the banner of 'wellbeing' have no research evidence of efficacy, e.g. mental health firstaiders, coaching, wellbeing weeks, etc. They push wellbeing whilst overlooking cultures of bullying and misconduct by managers. Wellbeing is touted as a sticking plaster for the underlying fundamental failings and toxic structures within workplaces. Pushing staff to burnout and providing them with an EAP number when they finally crack is not 'wellbeing'! I find CIPD are at the forefront of driving this nonsense.

This is a nice article in an ideal world, but we do not live in an ideal world and workplaces are about money making, not the happiness of staff.

I think generally we need more realism about how toxic our work environments/structures are and less distractional focus on 'wellbeing'.

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Replying to HRCynic:
The Listening Organisation
By Garry Turner
16th Feb 2020 11:00

Thank you so much for your thoughts and challenges HRCynic.

I appreciate you building on the article and would agree, that too many cultures/HR teams are not as evolved as they need to be, however I would challenge that business is just about making money.

I would agree historically, but the world is waking up that this cannot be the case going forward, if a business wants to sustain, attract and retain quality talent and more.

I would welcome a conversation with you to exchange views and ideas on a peer basis if you felt open?

Constructive discussions and understanding one another’s experiences are key to the ongoing consciousness shift processing.

Thank you again for your constructive feedback, it is appreciated.


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