5 reasons why employees don’t engage with wellbeing at work

I’ve been out and about talking to people about wellbeing at work. Talking to employees about why they do or why they don’t engage with wellbeing initiatives, activities and programmes where they work.  I am particularly interested in secondary and tertiary wellbeing initiatives; tools to enhance or boost wellbeing, tools to help people cope.  From mindfulness classes to resilience training, onsite fitness classes to events, health checks and counselling, what makes employees get involved – and what are the barriers to taking part?

These conversations have led me to find there are five main barriers to engagement with wellbeing at work.

I’m too busy.

We are all busy. Many of us like to make sure that other people know that too. Some people say that they simply don’t have time to engage in this sort of thing at work (or indeed at all). But the Personal Trainer in me questions this narrative – because this often what people say when they really mean that they don’t want to, don’t see what’s in it for them, or simply aren’t prepared to prioritise it. It’s a reason many people gave me (usually the first reason), but scratch the surface and you’ll often find something else instead. Sometimes, it is something else in this very list.

Stigma.

We all know that when it comes to mental health many employees are concerned about stigma. According to Mind, about a third of employees wouldn’t want to tell their manager if they are suffering from a mental health issue.  But the people I spoke to felt this about broader wellbeing activity too.  Going to a wellbeing event might make people think you can’t cope, that you need help, that you aren’t up to it.  It’s not what serious, successful people do, don’t you know. They are concerned about the potential reputational impact of being seen to need wellbeing support at work.

Cynicism.

As I’ve blogged before, many organisations work to support their employees in boosting wellbeing or dealing with the symptoms of ill-health when they arise. But they aren’t always quite so quick to tackle the big, strategic, organisational culture related stuff that works at the preventative level.   This in turn can to cynicism on the part of employees. The organisation isn’t serious, it’s all just window dressing, there’s no substance, no desire to do the difficult stuff.  It’s just care-washing.

Lack of awareness.

I recently organised some focused wellbeing activity for an internal event. I communicated on every channel known to a HR professional.  Several times.  I covered emails, intranets, social media and some old school posters too.  Why didn’t you come along? I asked people.  Didn’t know about it, came the reply.  It doesn’t matter how much you think you have communicated and communicated, your message won’t necessarily be getting through to the people that need to hear it.

Lack of management support.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, a lack of role models (especially at a senior level) talking about wellbeing, being seen to (really) care about it, or even attending some of those activities for themselves. The second aspect rests with the actions of the immediate manager in terms of encouraging their team to get involved, creating the permission and providing the time. Where managers and leaders are aware of wellbeing and their role in enabling it, this can make all the difference.  Where it doesn’t happen this will impact on take up.

 

When it comes to wellbeing at work, there is no silver bullet.  There is no single solution to supporting people, engaging people, even tackling that bigger strategic stuff.  Wellbeing is personal, contextual.  What it means to live and work well is different for each of us.  There will be some who will never choose to get involved and that’s just fine.  But for those who just might want to but feel constrained or unable, tackling some of the stuff on this list of barriers is a good place to start.

 

Wellbeing: start where you are

wellbeing

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.

Train life: the rules

At the weekend I came across a train etiquette guide. It was, in my opinion, far too brief.  I have therefore compiled my own guide, issued with thoughts and prayers to everyone who has to commute to work via the train.

  1. If you don’t regularly get a train during rush hour, try not to comment incredulously on the state of the railways to more regular commuters. Phrases such as ‘is it always this bad?’ and ‘I couldn’t do this every day’ will not be welcomed.
  2. Always, and I mean always, have your ticket ready to go through the station exit turnstiles. Try not to leave getting it out of your purse as you approach said turnstile when there are 45 other frustrated people behind you.
  3. Don’t speak to fellow commuters unless there is an absolute emergency. In my case, for the avoidance of doubt, this should only be if I am on fire and you are certain that I have not noticed.*
  4. When [insert useless train company of your choice] don’t sent enough carriages and you are forced to stand with your body so uncomfortably close to a total stranger that you can tell what they had for lunch, you will both pretend that this is not happening. There will be absolutely no eye contact.
  5. Take the following items on a train journey: tissues (to blow your nose – no sniffing, ever), headphones* (no, we don’t want to listen to your videos and Facetime calls) and something to read (this also helps with points 3 and 4).
  6. Do not take: smelly food, smelly dogs, smelly feet (retain shoes on feet at ALL times).
  7. If you take a large suitcase with you on your journey, please store this in the appropriate place. The appropriate place can vary from train to train, but is not ever a) on your seat when there are people standing, and b) in the middle of the bloody aisle so no one can get passed it.
  8. Don’t buy the coffee on the train. This has nothing to do with etiquette. It’s just always vile.
  9. Try not to use the toilet. See above.
  10. Wait for people to get off the train BEFORE YOU TRY AND BOARD IT.
  11. Please, oh please, don’t have loud business conversations on the train. If you need to form, norm and storm, sell several tonnes of steel, provide interview feedback or pick some low hanging fruit, do consider doing this somewhere (anywhere) else. It’s both a potential breach of the GDPR and deeply irritating.
  12. If you leave a train part way through its journey, consider taking your rubbish with you and putting it in an actual bin so that another traveller doesn’t have to sit next to your empty cans of Stella.
  13. Aftershave.  Don’t bathe in it before you leave the house for your commute.
  14. TAKE YOUR BAG OFF THE SEAT. Do not wait to be asked. Just do it. Or be aware that I will sit on it.

 

*A colleague gets my train regularly. Most days we then get on the same bus at the other end.  Sometimes we even sit next to each other.  We have never, ever spoken.  This is the British way.

**Headphones can also be utilised as a defence mechanism for people who break rule 3. You don’t even need to be listening to anything.

On Kindness

This is a story about kindness, and the difference that you can make to someone else without even knowing it.

My mum works in a supermarket. Recently while she was at work, a stranger walked up to her and spoke her name, took her hand. ‘I have wanted to see you again for nearly 40 years’ she said.

When I was a young child, my mother had been involved in the local community baby and toddler group. One day they had held a sale of pre-owned children’s clothing.  The woman holding my mum’s hand had been a young, single mum, struggling for money.  This was the late 1970s.  She told my mum how she had often experienced negative reactions to her single mum status.  Judgement and disapproval.  My mum had chatted to her just for a little while, been kind, and given her some of my old baby clothes and didn’t charge her for them.

This woman remembered my name, my mum’s name, every detail of the encounter. She told of how she had wanted to say a proper thank you during all of the years in between.  She had never forgotten a moment of kindness from another mum.  It doesn’t surprise me that my own mum doesn’t remember this particular meeting, because this is just who she is, every day.

We should remember that no act of kindness is ever wasted. People will always remember how you make them feel.  We can make a difference to others as we walk through the world.

Be kind, always.

kind

Employee Engagement: A Rant

I’ve recently been asked to deliver a workshop on employee engagement. It’s been a while since I’ve run a session like this, so I dug out my material and refreshed my thoughts.

And got very grumpy.

Now I know that there are issues with the concept of employee engagement as it is often presented. There are many unanswered questions too.

What do we actually mean by the term?

Exactly what are we asking people to engage with? The job, the company, the mission statement, their profession?

Is employee engagement anything new or is it just re-mixing and updating the old theories about motivation and job satisfaction?

Can we measure it? Especially if we don’t know what it is?

Can a feeling ever be a percentage?

Has Engage 4 Success ever said anything useful?

Is it even a thing, or is it snake oil?

 

But it struck me that there is a bigger, more fundamental question.

However we label it, we know lots and lots of stuff about what people like, want and value about and from work. We also know plenty about what demotivates and disengages people too.

So why don’t we apply it?

I’ve worked in HR for more than twenty years. During that time, in no particular order, here is a list of people related stuff, all of which contributes to creating good work and good workplaces and making people happy that I have seen side-lined, budget removed from, ignored and paid lip service too:

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Flexible Working
  • Learning and Development
  • Leadership development
  • Candidate experience
  • Supporting working families
  • Fair approaches to remuneration
  • Recognition
  • Decent toilets and basic facilities like somewhere to make a nice cup of tea.

If we want employee engagement, job satisfaction, effect employee experience, motivation, self-actualisation, discretionary effort or just simply happy people, we know much of the theory.

So the big question is simply this.

If organisations want employee engagement so badly, why aren’t those same organisations doing the things that we know will get us there?  We can make an industry out of this stuff, make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Or we can get on with it.

 

Here’s a stock image of some people looking really happy at work. Cos, you know, engagement.

engagement

Dad Life

Yesterday new research was published by Deloitte about the millennial father (I am going to forgive the terrible title on the basis that the data is interesting). You can find the report here.

The research looks at the experience of working fathers. Here’s a few points of note from the data that stood out for me.

  • 1/3 of fathers surveyed reported having left a job for one which will allow them to spend more time with their children.
  • Another 1/3 of fathers are currently looking to do just the same.
  • Only 1 in 5 of those who requested flexible working had their request approved.
  • A 1/3 of fathers experience tension when needing time off to attend appointments or illnesses.
  • The tension felt by fathers doesn’t just come from the organisation itself (and its managers) but colleagues too.
  • 37% of fathers say that they have experienced negative impacts on their mental health as a result of trying to balance work and being a parent.
  • Guilt is a prominent emotion for fathers – guilt with line managers, partners, children, colleagues.

This headline findings within this report are loud and clear.

This is a talent issue.

This is a wellbeing issue.

This is a 2019 issue.

I’ve talked to fathers who have been subject to banter, inappropriate pressure and outright discrimination for wanting to work more flexibly, do the school run or take shared parental leave.  The not-so-subtle glance at the watch, the casual ‘part-timer’ comment.

This is Not Good Enough.

Few fathers really want the old model of fatherhood of the semi-absent dad, doing all the long hours and leaving the wife to go the school events. Dads want to be involved in their kids lives – shock.

But the old attitudes within organisations and too many individuals still exist.

Many employees now understand that there’s more to life than work. Now it’s time for employers who haven’t realised this too, to catch up – or lose your talent.

This really isn’t hard unless we make it so.

The report tells us what fathers want. More flexible working, better policies, improved manager attitudes and behaviours, more information on the leave and pay available to them.

Shall we just get on with it?

dad

Reflections on learning

I’m currently studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. It’s been a fascinating course for many reasons, partly for the content but partly because of the delivery and assessment methods the course employs.

I wanted to share a little of my experiences here – and reflect on why it works so well for the learners. It is my full intention to borrow heavily from the approach for learning I’m currently designing for the workplace.

The overall approach is a flipped classroom. Reading, watching and consuming content done in your own time.  The face to face classroom element was about exploration, debate and discussion.  Learning together, not side by side.

For my most recent module, the assignments were submitted in blog form (my joy was unconfined). They were posted over on Medium, tagged to the course.  The reading list for this year’s students included the blogs written by the previous cohort.  Next year’s students will read ours.  We were encouraged to reference and build on the ideas of past learners.  Working out loud for the win.  I wrote about my own approach to open learning and MOOCs.  In the spirit of openness I’ve included the links if you’re interested (they haven’t been marked yet, just so you know).  I’m currently designing some new learning and I’m planning to include this approach as a final reflection piece for the learners. It brings together the benefits of personal reflection and sharing learning experiences and ideas with others.

blog

Much of the pre course reading was provided online via Medium. Instead of doing your pre-reading alone and bringing your notes along to the classroom learners were encouraged to reflect online first, open for all to see.  These ideas where then developed later, together.

There was encouragement to use social media tools to enhance learning. The course used a wide range of tech tools.  Padlet, Popplet, Camtasia, podcasts, video. We were also encouraged to undertake some MOOCs alongside the primary course content,  with specific recommendations made by the course tutors.  There were minimum requirements for the learning, but how much or how little you interacted with outside of these requirements was in the gift of the learner.  There was a great deal of signposting to content – but nothing compulsory.  There were deadlines, but much of the pace of learning was within your control too.

Recognising that most of the learners on the programme had busy day jobs, there was no formal requirement that you would make the face to face lectures. Everything was recorded and available online afterwards.  No fancy film crew required,  most of it was done by simple tech.

Finally, when it comes to assessment, there was plenty of freedom. You could choose to do the standard essay format, or pitch something you felt was more you.  For my first assessment I wrote the first three chapters of an e-book that I intend to complete when the course has finished, which will be made available to new colleagues as part of their induction.  For another module, I submitted a storyboard and a screencast – this is now about to become an in-house MOOC.  The aim was to centre your research and assignments within your own areas of interest and work at the organisation – and then most importantly, do something with it.  We’ve all been on a training course that uses hypothetical case studies that lack context, or established an action learning set that quickly died out.  Letting students direct and focus their learning to their specific interests has led to real action across the cohort – surely the aim of all learning programmes.

I’ve experienced plenty of learning over the years.  I’ve done full time study, part time study and distance learning. I’ve attended lectures, undertaken role plays, completed e-learning and written essays.  In terms of experience, this has been by far the best – and the one where I have most fully transferred the learning into practice. It’s improved the day job – and that should always be our aim.

Learning with the learner at the heart.