What do you picture when you think of the individual words in turn? Where is the ‘workplace’ going to be for many… and what do we mean by ‘wellness’ – or it’s alter ego ‘wellbeing’?
And will it be different again before too long?
Let’s consider it for a moment.
Workplace is a multi-faceted thing for most organisations. In truth it always was – organisations have routinely had people in multiple locations; on the road, in the field, in offices, different cities, across borders. We’ve just become much more conscious of the implications during a pandemic and several successive lockdowns.
In our workplace future, a large proportion of people are going to continue ‘working from home’ for a long time and many perhaps permanently. Others will be gathering together in some collective location and some will move between the two. The workplace is a coffee shop, a study, the kitchen table, a meeting space, the garden, a car and many other locations.
Wellness has seen a huge increase in significance in recent years amid a rising awareness of the need for positive mental health. A few years ago the term was often heard as ‘mental illness’ and carried a considerable social stigma, but recently we’ve begun to see mental health as something that is relevant to everyone and that we all need to manage.
Not before time, it must be said. Stress has become an important issue in the workplace, at a time when so many suffer depression or low-mood and when suicide has become the single biggest cause of death in men under 50.
The pandemic has exacerbated all of this, particularly in younger adults who appear to have struggled with their mental health during isolation to a greater degree than some other groups. However, a general increase in levels of anxiety and depression has been tracked and reported by the charity Mind for some time.
So can wellness be thought of as simply the absence of low-mood, anxiety or depression? Not really. We can probably all feel the difference between being ‘not too bad’ and ‘really well’. If we are to thrive in work, society and every area of our lives, we need perhaps to aspire to a little more than simply the absence of poor mental health.
Studies by Mind indicate five things that are particularly significant for true mental wellness:
So does the key to workplace wellness lie here too? If so, what should we do? Let’s explore.
Clearly, this first one has been greatly affected by the impacts of pandemic. Many have been suddenly disconnected from colleagues, routines, communication preferences, daily structure and their sense of belonging to a team and wider network.
Technology and good leadership may provide some answers. Leaders need to ensure – and coordinate – that people remain a cohesive and connected team of people that support each other and have a sense of belonging. Bringing them together in any form to explore ideas, generate innovation and share their thoughts can be extremely powerful. Don’t just default to the same video call every time – a conference phone call can be less stressful and exposing for some and asking small groups, pairs or individuals to consider different aspects that are then shared with the whole group can ensure participation, engagement and airtime for everyone.
Once people can meet, the same sorts of activity can be a powerful way to energise the team – just be sure to give people something to do in preparation and something to do afterwards. Maintain that connection and continuity and help everyone to feel part of what the team and organisation are trying to achieve. People need to feel valuable, not just valued. Contributing to the work of the team is intrinsically motivating.
For many, recent times have meant staying in the house, hunching over a laptop, many hours in artificial lighting, struggling with home-schooling while trying to work – all likely to lead to a variety of aches, pains and low energy.
It doesn’t have to mean running a marathon, climbing a mountain or five hours a week in the gym (though if that’s your thing, feel free!). Research shows that 30 minutes of quite gentle exercise can be hugely beneficial to wellbeing. A walk in the country or the park, taking the dog for a stroll, hearing bird song – even using the stairs instead of a lift or walking to the shops.
Being outside – especially in a green space – has a marked effect on positivity. Try it and encourage colleagues to do the same. Staying mentally active matters too – see ‘learning’ below…
Some may call this ‘mindfulness’ – others view it as simply ‘noticing what is going on’ and being ‘present in the moment’. A year of isolation has diminished or even removed many of the ‘small positive moments’ that lift the mood. Many of us are routinely distracted or immersed in challenges and problems. We’re often ‘somewhere else’ in our minds.
Spending some time in reflection – not stewing or worrying about some work thing – but simply thinking about positive things: hearing the sounds around you, being aware of your body, distant smells of coffee or cooking, the dog sniffing in another room, walking around and just paying attention to what you see, hear, feel – anything that makes you aware of the good things about yourself, your senses and your surroundings and helps you to feel positive.
This can seem like the last thing you want to do with your precious time – especially after a busy day. Mental fatigue has been a consistent feature for many in recent years – even before pandemic. Anxiety or low-mood can often discourage us from taking positive actions of any sort.
Research in many studies shows us that feeling that we are growing, improving and becoming ‘more’ than we were, is a great source of positivity. It builds confidence and self-esteem and even more importantly gives us hope for a better tomorrow. It needn’t be directly related to your job – though of course it can be and may help your career – and it needn’t be some huge commitment that monopolises your time.
Learning a new skill, reading about something that takes your interest, watching instructional videos online – there have never been so many opportunities to learn and often for free. Think about the things that really fascinate you and then set out to learn more about them. Consider where you might like to go in your future working life and then start reading, watching and listening to things that could help you get there.
Anxiety and worry can make us self-absorbed. When we are worried about ourselves, our health, our family and friends, our future – then doing something to help others can seem a very big ask.
The connection between acts of kindness and our own feelings of self-worth is proven. Helping others makes us feel better about who we are and what difference we can make. Doing something to give back can be as simple as helping someone out – fetching their shopping or medication, walking their dog – or as large as volunteering, as so many have during the recent crisis.
There are so many deserving causes we can help and support – dogs that need to be rescued, disadvantaged people or groups that need help, charities that desperately need funds. Many opportunities to do something that will help them and lift your mood.
It is easy to fall into a negative spiral – but also easy to re-train your brain to see the positive side of things. Give thanks to those who have helped you or served you well, write positive reviews of things you’ve enjoyed, make supportive comments to articles you agree with… a kindness or two every day will lift you up and make you more powerful.
In conclusion – our workplaces live as much in our heads as in our physical reality – finding ways to feel positive about your situation lies within your grasp, but it takes effort.
As Martha Washington once so succinctly put it:
“The greater part of our happiness lies in our dispositions and not in our circumstances”
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