The most effective wellbeing strategies all do these 10 things

September 6, 2021

[Below is the intro from our latest eBook “PepTalk’s 10 Themes for Organisational Wellbeing by COO Michelle Fogarty.]

An absence of purpose, dignity, and satisfaction

Just over 53 years ago, on March 18th, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy gave an address to the students at the University of Kansas. He spoke about how the United States of America, one of the richest countries in the world, still had a job to do to tackle material poverty in their country.

He also mentioned another “greater task”, which was “to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose, and dignity - that afflicts us all.”

At the time, Kennedy mentioned, the Gross National Product of the US was approximately $800 billion per annum. A number so big that they would still be in the top 20 in the world today for economic output. 

And yet, despite the obvious wealth, there were some sections of the US population dealing with unhappiness due to material poverty or an absence of purpose, dignity, and satisfaction.

Kennedy argued the problem was created not necessarily by negligence but by measurement. Specifically, measurement of the wrong things. 

Externalities included

GNP includes “air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage...  locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them… it counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.” Economists would agree, one of the weaknesses of economic measures like GNP is the inability to strip out what economists call “externalities”. Basically, all the bad stuff that happens as a result of making the things that we consume.

Also, GNP does not measure “the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” 

And that got me thinking… 

Work suffers from the safe measurement problem. We judge people based on KPIs, company success is gauged by the numbers on the balance sheet and none of these measures will tell us anything about the health and wellbeing of the people doing the work. 

We know from the tremendous strides made in behavioural science and neuroscience over the last 50 years that wellbeing plays a meaningful role in performance, regardless of the pursuit. 

We also know from the emergence of a wellbeing industry and the supporting technology that, wellbeing (organisational and individual) has become more measurable in real-time.

And best of all, we know some companies have surfed the wellbeing wave to greater success on every measure - organisational and individual, behavioural and balance sheet.

After a storied career in HR across a host of different companies from startups to multinationals and startups that became multinationals, I’ve gathered a good sense for wellbeing strategies that work. I believe there are 10 common themes that are consistent across the most effective wellbeing strategies. 

I wanted to share these wellbeing strategies with business leaders to help improve the workplace and draw attention to better people measurements. Because, like Robert Kennedy said in Kansas over 50 years ago “I think we can do much, much better.”

Thanks for reading.

Michelle.

5 (of the 10) Themes for Organisational Wellbeing

1. Think BIG about wellbeing

Companies that truly embrace wellbeing have a bigger/wider view on what wellbeing impacts and are not narrow in their scope. 

Yes, you can tick the box and provide wellbeing content or benefits for individual employees. There is nothing ‘wrong with that… but what ‘more’ could your wellbeing strategy achieve for the business?  For example

  • Could you drive better connections, teamwork and break down silos? 
  • Could you drive a measurable uptake on your benefits programs that impacts retention objectives?
  • Could you use it as a tool to improve ‘how your teams and people work’? 

2. Make it ongoing and sustainable

It should not be ‘fruit bowl in the canteen’ wellbeing or seen as a ‘token’ add-on. A wellbeing strategy is part of the workday.

Research shows us that people are not all suffering and in need of professional intervention. Also, most of us are not at a loose end for a lack of content or information. EAP and general wellbeing information and activities are high in visibility but are hard to measure for effectiveness and reach. They either help those who need it or are accessed by a minority who will always reach for it. What about the silent majority?

The most effective wellbeing strategies are focused on all the steps in behaviour change, right through to reinforcement and reward. The most effective programs realise that wellbeing is a continuum - it is not as simple as setting up events or providing information to people. There is no ‘one big thing’ or silver bullet’. Meaningful behavioural change takes time. 

3. Identify ‘what’s in it for me’ 

… but for everyone… everyone needs to get something meaningful from wellbeing.

Effective strategies have a focus on all levels of the organisation and deliver insights and tools to each of them – if any initiative isn't seen as relevant or important then interest and participation will wane over time. That is very costly in terms of time, money, and human effort. 

Fact. Most strategies fail when they only serve a limited number of parties involved, For wellbeing strategies to be effective across the organization over the long term it needs to meet the needs of all parties. 

4. A real strategy for real people

The strategy and its execution have to reflect the needs of real humans in this new world of work – both in terms of design, delivery, and engagement. 

One of the biggest and most common mistakes is getting employees or interested groups to design and deliver wellbeing strategies. This is due to it being comprised of people who are ‘really into wellbeing’ and therefore design for their interests, mindset, and viewpoints. 

The most successful strategies build for all the demographics and are smart and engaging. Beyond everything … it should be fun, accessible, and inclusive!

5. Have a ‘Remote-First’ mentality

Wellbeing strategies should leverage the advantages of technology, both in terms of delivery, focus, gamification, connecting teams, and people, insights, and nudges.

Technology used appropriately can significantly enhance and cauterise strategies, giving all parties access to on-demand insights, services, content, signposts, and much more. 

Aside from the practicalities of leveraging technology, this also serves to make your strategy more accessible and inclusive – it can also derive better value for money around spend. 

Furthermore, the context within which you design your Wellbeing Strategy should include all the environments that your people work in, whether that’s an office, factory, car, ship, home office, or the international space station!


Michelle Fogarty
COO & Co-founder. Proud founding member SERIreland. Ex-Head of HR @ Twitter, Blizzard. Ex-Athlete, a bit broken but still goin!.
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