• Jade Ecobichon-Gray

Why Wellness Deserves a Seat at the Strategy Table

Now I could be biased and living in an online echo chamber due to my business and following on LinkedIn, but I'm seeing so many articles about the importance of wellness in this moment.

However, what I have noticed is that when we talk about workplace wellness we often do so with an air of 'nice to have', and yet the cold hard facts of investing in wellness done well don't lie. I am a firm believer that we need to start talking about wellness in the same way we do about product development, change management or marketing, i.e. what is the overarching objective, have we developed KPIs and can we evidence a return on investment. Only then, can we begin to centre professionally lead, evidence-based wellbeing, as a must have in organisations.

A recent article for the HRDirector.com stated that many organisations have taken the decision to freeze or reduce their wellbeing budget this year citing lack of funds for investment as the primary reason. Whilst this position is entirely understandable in the current climate, it's my belief that it is short-sighted when the number of employees at all levels across organisations are speaking out and sharing their experiences of burn-out, fatigue, isolation, ill-health, depression, anxiety, insomnia, to name just a few.

My sense of the situation is not that business leaders are immune to the emotional, physical and social suffering experienced by their staff, but they are at a loss as to what to do about it in a tangible way. Workplace wellbeing has long been thought of as a side of the desk job carried out by well-meaning and well-intentioned staff, or it has fallen under employee assistance programs that are by and large reactive as opposed to proactive, and do little to change the culture in an organisation. What we end up seeing is a series of events or initiatives that are a well-meaning, yet misguided attempt to soothe and placate exhausted staff who are on the brink of burnout.

But what if we took a different approach? What if we gave workplace wellness a seat at the strategy table and treated it the same way as any other business development endeavour. Utilising data to benchmark where we are, engaging in stakeholder interviews to determine what's working, what isn't and what's needed to move forward, recognising that wellness is as much about changing behaviour as it is about changing culture and engaging staff in an inclusive way that ensures wellness is not 'done to' it is 'created for'.

What is also required is knowledge. I'm all for organisations bringing wellness in-house in order to ensure that it is proactive, reactive when required, and embedded within the organisation but I often see wellbeing roles advertised with salaries that won't attract qualified wellness professionals.

There's a compromise to be had here.

Maintain in-house wellbeing support but recognise the importance of up-skilling your wellbeing team through the engagement of qualified professionals who take an evidence-based approach to the issue. Professionals who can support strategy development, employee engagement, culture change and sustainability. This allows your in-house team to focus on maintaining the wellness culture you have all worked to create.

I say 'you have all worked to create' intentionally because it speaks to the importance of wellness as a strategy. One of the biggest reasons for the failure or workplace wellness programs is buy-in from senior leadership, few people within SLT are walking the walk. I believe one of the biggest reasons for this is, without a strategy it isn't a priority. Without a clear understanding of the business benefits of wellness, a strategic direction, data to drive outcomes, and KPIs to evidence return on investment it is never going to be an agenda item for discussion, and perhaps more importantly, action.

Disappointingly, there’s been no increase since last year in the number of people who believe well-being has successfully reached the agendas of their senior leaders, though the number of people managers buying into the importance of well-being has increased (Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey Report, March 2020, CIPD)

So perhaps it's time to give wellness a seat at the strategy table, to create the necessary environment for individuals to take agency for their health whilst providing support, structure, and systems of safety.

I don't for a minute believe that any organisation concerned about the wellbeing of its staff is choosing to ignore the issue, I think doing right by people in large organisations can feel daunting when you're unsure where to start and what needs to change, which is why now is the time to strategise.


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