How corporate wellbeing has changed in the last ten years – and 5 tips for a healthy organization

10 years ago, I started working with corporate wellbeing and co-founded a company with a mission to solve the problem of workplace productivity in knowledge work. We saw it was time to redesign the working week. We even wrote a book about it.

Back then, we surveyed over 1,000 knowledge workers. The results were no surprise. People felt busy and tired. Their work was fragmented. Meetings and emails overwhelmed many. Roles were unclear.

HR leaders in the most progressive companies saw the world in the same way. Making sure that employees were able to think clearly was crucial for success. And the best firms started experimenting with new ways of working.

Still for the majority of companies wellbeing was something to be treated reactively. Focus was on occupational health care. People with challenges received coaching or were referred to a work psychologist. There was a stigma around mental health issues.

One of the problems was that wellbeing programs were received well mainly by those who did not need them, by the ones who were already taking care of themselves. Wellbeing campaign or gym vouchers were offered but the uptake could have been better.

10 years ago, workplace wellbeing was considered a ‘nice to have’ perk.

How about now?

Today, wellbeing is no longer ‘nice to have’, it is ‘a must have’. Having energetic employees and a healthy organisation is a competitive requirement.

In just a year, Covid-19 has turbocharged digitalization. Remote meetings are more common than we ever imagined. But they also have brought issues with them. Working days are 10–20 % longer and lacking breaks. Detachment from work is not optimal.

4 clear changes from 2011 to 2021

  1. One size does not fit all. We start to see more clearly that when the issues are many, the solutions need to be many as well. For example, one of the reasons for burnout is the amount of work, but that is not the only reason. The reason can be leadership, or the lack of it. Or the fact that the most engaged employees face the biggest risk of burnout. If we saw workload reduction as the only solution for burnout, we would miss the target.
  2. Choosing the right data is key. Back in 2011 the only measure of wellbeing was absenteeism. Monitoring absenteeism is like forecasting the future by looking in the rear-view mirror. We need to be more in real time. We need to look at presenteeism which is resulting in much bigger losses than absenteeism. We need to look at burnout risk, turnover rate, engagement. We need to understand the correlations. What are the biggest indicators of the most valuable outcomes for companies?
  3. Stress management and mental wellness play a larger role. World Health Organization has named stress as a health epidemic of the 21st century. Searching for support for stress or mental health issues is not considered weak anymore. Neither are the companies facing these issues considered evil. 76 % of employees report having experienced burnout on the job. Providing support for mental wellness, stress management, and cognitive performance is not only a humane thing to do. It makes business sense. The competition is fierce, and we all need to stay sharp.
  4. Psychological safety and high performance. Simultaneously. Intuitively this sounds like a paradox. But if we focus only on results, the organization feels cold. If it’s only about comfort, we live in a ‘Fairytale Land’ – a place where you don’t worry about anything. The secret sauce is to be able to manage these at the same time. To create an organization where learning and self-leadership flourish.

5 tips for a healthy organisation

  1. Individualize the support. For some it is still the gym vouchers. For another mental coaching. And for someone else time management. We need to look at the root causes and provide tools that employees are ready to take into use.
  2. Support the managers to support their teams. During crisis people turn to their managers for clarity and support. More and more of managers’ time goes to coaching their teams. They need to have tools to spot the syndromes of e.g., stress and processes to refer their team members further when needed. And they need the support, too. Being a manager is hard. They too need a place to be vulnerable and to be energized.
  3. Be a role model. Nothing ruins a good initiative like a nonchalant comment from the top. Leaders need to show example. And highlight how they take care of themselves. We all have our own way.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate! A wise communications leader once told me that one cannot even think that a message has been received unless it has been repeated 17 times. We need to be patient and clear in the organization. Clear of our values. Clear of what we reward. How support is provided when something goes wrong. What the targets are. What is expected of each one. Nothing is more stressful than a situation where high demands come as a surprise. If a person knows rough seas are ahead, they can decisively step aboard. But surprises kill the energy.
  5. Focus on the human. During this strange period that we are living in, the role of compassion has become bigger than ever. Understanding that each of us processes the crisis in our own way and at our own speed. We should all learn to genuinely ask: “How are you?” And when asked, be safe in giving an honest answer. And finally, we need to be compassionate towards ourselves. When the stress is high, the bar cannot be as high as usually. At least not all the time.

Pekka Pohjakallio

  • Mentor and Leadership Coach at Hintsa Performance

Pekka is a mentor and a leadership coach with 20+ years of experience as an executive. At Hintsa Performance he mentors leaders, helping them explore topics related to identity, purpose, and change. Pekka holds a master's degree from the Helsinki University of Technology and has completed studies in positive psychology & logotherapy.

Pekka shares his views in this Technopolis Wellness Talks webinar "Leaders' Wellbeing", which was organized on March 17, 2021. Please find the webinar recording below and here.

Working life that cares for you

This, with a range of other topics will be discussed in the Technopolis Wellness Talks webinars powered by Hintsa Performance throughout 2021. Hintsa Performance coaches and experts will share their experience and tips on work, wellbeing, performance, and life in general. Join us online and invite your colleagues too. Technopolis Wellness Talks are for our customers and their employees only. Technopolis provides workspace that support your health and wellbeing. Happy employees are healthier and more productive.

Leaders' wellbeing