Wellbeing is a subject which interests me, it’s something that gets a lot of airtime, and it’s a broad brush heading under which sits lots of different stuff. I first realised this when I was asked to give a talk on the subject for Morgan Lovell and their clients back in 2013. As part of my preparation, I asked people on Twitter: ‘When you hear the term wellbeing what pops into your head?’ The answers were many and varied, and included words like ‘belonging’, ‘balanced lifestyle’, ‘flow’, ‘good health’ and much more besides.
At the event we discussed the subject of presence, and found that over two thirds of people in the room read and responded to emails whilst away on holiday. Overall, people didn’t think that working while being on holiday was a good thing, yet they felt compelled to do it. We talked about other aspects of work life balance and flow, and a strong feeling emerged that busyness gets in the way of wellbeing. I can relate to that notion and yet it also feels a bit like an excuse to me. ‘I’m too busy to look after myself’. Really?
‘Our People Are Our Greatest Asset’
Rarely does an annual report and accounts get published that doesn’t make some grand statement about the importance of ‘our people’. Do we really mean it? The prevailing culture and behaviours at work often have a lot to do with how, and even if we can weave wellbeing into our day to day habits. I’ve always found it odd that we persist in being OK with taking fifteen minutes out of the day at regular intervals to kill yourself, sorry – I mean smoke a cigarette, but the notion of going for a walk for the same amount of time, to clear your head, or think through a few ideas, is somehow seen as skiving on company time.
Maybe this recent piece in The New York Times, which talks specifically about some of the benefits a group of volunteers (for a study at the University of Birmingham) derived from regular 30 minute lunch time strolls, will help persuade the more cynical among us? Maybe, and yet it is worth noting that:
…tellingly, many said that they anticipated being unable to continue walking after the experiment ended and a few (not counted in the final tally of volunteers) had had to drop out midway through the program. The primary impediment to their walking, Dr. Thogersen-Ntoumani said, had been “that they were expected by management to work through lunch,”…
Is it only me smiling at the thought of management expectations being described as an ‘impediment’?
It’s Easy For You To Say…
By now you might well be thinking, ‘it’s easy for him to pick holes in the way we work, he doesn’t have to actually do this stuff on a day by day basis’. And to some extent you are right. I appreciate that as a consultant, I am not bound so tightly to the hamster wheel of seemingly endless back to back meetings, and some of the other things which become expected in a larger workplace, and I also appreciate, from my own experience both in corporate life and beyond, that there are times when work is really busy. I like being busy. I like deadlines. I like getting stuff done, just not all the time. I simply can’t be useful, and productive, and good company all the time, and I don’t think you can, either, can you?
In the Autumn of last year, I came to a decision. I will make a conscious effort to integrate the practice of wellbeing into my life through a series of small experiments, and see what I can learn from this. I will share my learning openly, and you can ask me anything you like about the experiences I share. My intention, in addition to understanding and hopefully improving my own wellness, is simply to explore the idea that wellbeing, and meaningful, productive, even busy work, are not mutually exclusive. More to follow soon…