Wellbeing is suddenly at the top of everyone’s agenda - businesses and people managers are routinely tasked to bring it to the forefront of their policies. And that makes sense: the CIPD has stated that “promoting well-being can help prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Good health and well-being can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.”
However, while companies draft wellbeing policies and shout about their impressive perks and benefits, does this really mean an agency is looking after their staff and is genuinely interested in their wellbeing? Without a strong wellbeing culture, led from the top, the perks become meaningless.
We work in a creative industry that revolves around people, but surprisingly I find that what people think and feel is often overlooked and ignored. It’s easy to look like you are promoting employee welfare - circulate some policies, put free fruit in the office and that’s a big tick in the welfare column for another year.
The centre must hold
At Kazoo we made a conscious decision to put wellbeing at the centre of the agency ethos and ensure that we continued to embed a nurturing and supportive culture. Last year I enrolled on a year-long course to become a wellbeing coach. I graduated as a wellbeing practitioner back in December.
This has meant that over the last year I have been spending regular time with each individual within our business, with no fixed agenda. For some these have been ‘mentoring’ sessions for others it is just the opportunity to chat and for someone to listen.
What’s interesting is that in these sessions with the team, our conversations have started off being something to do with ‘work’ but it moves on much more beyond this. It becomes an opportunity for each individual to give themselves time and space to reflect so they truly understand how they are feeling, and why, and how this thinking is impacting areas of their lives.
It is hugely time consuming. Not many people within the workplace have the time and space once a month to meet with someone to just talk about themselves without an agenda. But this is exactly what we, as leaders should be doing – and the results have been outstanding. Not only have we got a happier and more cohesive team with individuals empowered to take control of their own lives and careers, but productivity has increased noticeably.
This culture shift has also enabled us to understand what perks and benefits really matter. We asked the whole agency what the most important wellbeing-related issues were and committed to explore them fully. One of the most common responses was a request to change our working day to finish at 5pm rather than 6pm. By listening to what really mattered, we reduced the working day with no impact to employee salaries. This hasn’t led to any reduction in efficiency or effectiveness, feedback has shown that staff feel more valued.
But as an industry that is full of creative problem solvers, it’s important to not focus on finding the solution and ‘fixing individual’s problems’. It’s the insight and wisdom an individual draws for themselves which is the most valuable for their wellbeing.
As my course leader simply put it: “our experience of life is created 100% from the inside-out. All of our experiences both good and bad are 100% created from our thinking inside of us, in fact our mind can only work one way — it projects reality rather than records it.”
An example is one particular account executive, who was relatively new to the agency and felt incredibly overwhelmed and was struggling to manage her workload. Her team didn’t know how to support her, having tried various tactics to help her but to no avail. I sat with her for an hour and simply listened to her talk - it transpired that the issues went beyond work. She was experiencing an extreme lack of confidence in herself and she felt she was having to make some challenging life choices.
Rather than trying to think of and offer her solutions, I simply listened. She was then able to consider how she could work with her teams in a way that was best for her. She came out of the session with a fresh, confident attitude and her teams have seen her work transform dramatically.
We all focus, quite rightly, on satisfying our clients and delivering our budgets. However in an industry that relies so heavily on people, we must explore the deeper issues and focus on true wellbeing.
So many businesses do not focus on wellbeing in the right way. A wellbeing policy on paper means nothing – it’s how you implement wellbeing that matters. Making time to support the wellbeing of my team has been a long but ultimately extremely rewarding and valuable journey. And having seen the results in our agency it’s clear that a focus on wellbeing drives benefits for everyone.
Jessica Owen, marketing partner at Kazoo Communications.