This meme (and some similar variations) has been doing the rounds on social media for a while.
I get why it’s amusing and why it has been so widely shared; because for many of us it is likely to feel a little bit true about where we work.
Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.
The secondary stuff is about helping people to cope and health promotion. It’s resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and free fruit. The tertiary stuff is about supporting people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation. Occupational health, EAPs, counselling services. Both secondary and tertiary initiatives address symptoms. These initiatives focus and place the responsibility on the individual.
I’m seeing increasing criticisms of organisations who are operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces. This is of course, the basis of the meme. But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary. This stuff helps to shift culture, give permission, create conversation. It can give people valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.
Wellbeing at work is a tripartite relationship; it involves the individual, the manager, and the organisation itself. So the secondary and tertiary activity will always need to be a big part of any workplace wellbeing focus, whatever else is going on.
Of course the primary intervention…. that is where the magic happens. Primary interventions are strategic. Tacking the big issues, whether that is systemic, sector wide, structural or cultural. It is tackling the causes of organisation ill-health, and not the symptoms. Primary interventions focus on the organisation, not the individual. This is the hard stuff. Much harder than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.
To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to have all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.
But if you aren’t there yet, that is okay too. Start where you are and with what you have got. And if that is a mindfulness class, that will do for starters.