The role of health and wellbeing professionals is not to be a positive and shining beacon of light for the company. Their aim is to improve the health of both the business and its people by ensuring employees feel supported, respected and included.
Telling people you work in health and wellbeing is like saying you studied leisure and tourism at college. “Oh, cool,” people say as everyone wants to be fit, happy and go on holiday. “But what do you do, and why does it matter?”
Everyone knows that flexible working, good managers, meaningful work and inclusive cultures are good for business. My challenge is to prove I am instrumental in making that happen and enabling organisations to deliver and evolve in the new world of work.
With jobs being automated and created, and so much uncertainty ahead, maybe health and wellbeing is important.
Standing up for my profession
I was at a summer barbecue discussing my job when someone said, “Employees have to look after their own wellbeing, not depend on their employer.” This led to comments about poor performers citing stress or mental health problems to avoid disciplinary action, and a shared resistance to organisations being your buddy.
Everyone was bonding through their mutual respect and understanding of their innate ability to succeed in business, whatever barriers they face. Wanting to join in, I said the statistic that ‘one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem’ was becoming such a clichéd hook for debating the topic.
Pride in my career and empathy with that 25 per cent made me regret that comment. Although it’s difficult to challenge the dominant opinion in a public setting, I refocused the conversation, saying the changing world of work and personality clashes could make any of the partygoers vulnerable to work-related stress, career derailment and redundancy, which really got the party rocking.
To prevent a food fight, I conceded that public and private sector approaches to resolving long-term absences and poor performance may differ. However, my point was health and wellbeing matters because experts, organisations and professionals say so. It’s a megatrend supported by research on how deconstructing what it means in practice can give organisations a competitive edge in performance, engagement, recruitment and retention.
People agreed but the debate over organisational and individual responsibility continued. A resolution was needed so everyone could tuck into their steaks. The horn blew and I heard ‘Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin...’ Jump Around pumped out of the speakers to end the stand-off and get people dancing. Unfortunately, no-one heard me say jumping up and down mitigates the health risks of our sedentary office jobs.
If the organisation hits the right notes in their approach to health and wellbeing, the employees will sing along and feel good doing it; thriving when times are good, united by the meaningful anthems, and finding hope in the heartfelt pain of the tearjerkers. When the music stops, it’s time to move on.
We do not dance around the office with balloons, telling everyone to soak up the positive energy of organisational change and play ‘guess my favourite colour’ at team meetings.
The one where everyone thrives and jives
Addressing the perception that organisations want to be your buddy made me reflect on the Friends episode where the kooky and rather offensive Phoebe Buffay stops a depressed office manager from killing himself because his colleagues ignore him and his life feels meaningless.
Good for her, but for most people the thought of Phoebe as a health and wellbeing buddy would be the final straw. A guitar-playing gossip, turning personal stories into happy-clappy songs, bringing her smelly cat into work, and seeking to increase engagement by telling everyone they are lobsters who stay together for life. Everyone would wonder what difference her job makes and question the importance of health and wellbeing.
Showcase your purpose, survive the process map of productivity and deliver outcomes.
Health and wellbeing professionals are not like Phoebe or Alec Baldwin’s overly enthusiastic character Parker who looked on the bright side of everything. We do not dance around the office with balloons, telling everyone to soak up the positive energy of organisational change and play ‘guess my favourite colour’ at team meetings.
We are HR professionals who embed health and wellbeing in business delivery and employee relations because if everyone feels fulfilled, respected and confident in asking for help, organisations can succeed and play their part in building a more inclusive and supportive society.
We do our job to help you do yours. And organisations can learn something from Friends: “I’ll be there for you because you’re there for me too.”
What difference do I make to the world of work? I concur with the experts: “We should not measure our wellbeing just by looking at GDP or measured output per worker. We should look at the whole life,” says Professor Richard Cooper in this Mckinsey Podcast.
Showcase your purpose, survive the process map of productivity and deliver outcomes. Your career is an algorithm, you just have to ride it. So keep on developing and enjoy your life.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is entirely my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of any organisations I am affiliated with.
About Paul Carter
Paul Carter is an independent HR blogger and Senior HR Consultant who has worked in HR for six years after spending 10 years in communications and committee management. He is CIPD qualified and writes HR blogs to encourage debate on how to make the world of work a better place. He has studied journalism and screenwriting and is always interested in meeting new people and exploring new opportunities.