Employee Wellbeing: Build-Up & Repair

What is currently happening in your workplace in regards to employee wellbeing? Is this one of your top 3 pains right now? For many business leaders it is, and the uncertain plus chaotic nature of the circumstances outside of their business, is influencing the environment inside their business, in a way that it has never done before.

A few minutes into a discussion with CEO's about their biggest pains and frustrations and it doesn't take long for the conversation to turn to wellbeing. Some explain how employees are scared, even petrified about work. Others may talk about how the intense stress and pressure of all the unknowns, as well as uncertainties, are taking their toll on employees. Another aspect of wellbeing that might emerge is how emotions seem to be more highly charged than usual. Employees are more sensitive at the moment; leader’s emotional intelligence is being tested to the limit and in some businesses grievances are on the increase as a result. Depending on how open the CEO is willing to be, they may even tell you about how they have been taken by surprise in the way this particular crisis has impacted their wellbeing. After all, any CEO who prides them self in effective crisis-management would have to admit, that being in a constant state of crisis for over 6 months is a lot for anyone to contend with. Looking forward, the challenge for all businesses is how to inspire employee wellbeing in such a way that not only supports individuals to be well, but empowers them to thrive despite the unstable circumstances they continue to face. Becoming well and performing in a permanent state of discomfort seems to be the experience we are all facing for the foreseeable future.

The Big Question

Business leaders have a number of big questions to answer right now, one crucial question is, 'How will we improve employee wellbeing, ensure business survival and begin to grow again all at the same time'. Whether its new strategic approaches, services or creating digital offers. Almost every business will be relying on the skills, knowledge and collaboration of its people to navigate their way forward. As one CEO put it to me "We have talked about our people being our most valuable asset for years, but never meaningfully do anything about it, now we have no choice, if we don't find a way to get the best out of our people now, we will not survive".

The solutions to this big question can often seem at odds with each other. For example, it may seem impossible to resolve the issues with employee wellbeing whilst cost-cutting, which may include redundancies or extended furlough etc. Some businesses may feel that right now the priority is business-survival first, employee wellbeing second. The purpose of this article is not to respond to this approach directly. However, if I could provide one question for consideration on this matter, it would be, when you have pruned as far as you can, who will you be relying on to re-plant and build back up? You won't keep everyone happy, but you can certainly try, in the long-term, it will be the people who rescue and the business that benefits.

"It will be the people who rescue and the business that benefits"

The objective of this article is to provide some considerations and suggestions of how you might go about answering this 'Big Question' for your business. I will do this by discussing two approaches business leaders can take, to genuinely improve employee wellbeing and get their businesses back to thriving. The two approaches are referred to as 'Build-Up' and 'Repair'.

Employee Wellbeing: Build-Up

Before launching an empire that includes resorts, theme parks, film and television studios, retail and so much more, Walt Disney launched his first animation company in 1921. He had relative success but was forced to go bankrupt after acquiring too much debt. It took Disney several other failures to finally become successful, including losing the rights to one of his most popular cartoon characters, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Even Mickey Mouse and Snow White were first dismissed by critics — until Disney proved them wrong. Every successful empire falls and breaks along the way, each one has their story of success and each story-teller is careful to highlight the difficulties they had of building something special. All too often, the defining moments come from a 'rising from the ashes' moment. Each story is different, none of them walked the same path. But what we can learn from each one is some key principles. These key principles apply to all employees, leaders and businesses and if truly lived can lead anyone to the golden solutions in response to the 'Big Question'.

Principle #1 Self-Awareness: I will often say "Self-awareness is the gateway to greatness". The more we learn about development and growth, the more we come to realise that foundational to it all, is self-awareness. Intentionally seeking to understand the person, to really know, is the key to perpetuating growth. “Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”– Anthony de Mello. As we search within ourselves to know our purpose in life, to understand what our deepest values are and how these two come together to create our truest vision for the future, we begin to experience perpetuating growth. As we heighten our self-awareness, we can then accelerate our growth. This same principle applies to a business, as you find ways to increase self-awareness for individual employees, providing support for growth, and as you heighten the organisations understanding of each individual employee collectively, you will make the invisible, visible. If businesses were gold mines, then the gold waiting to be discovered is who the individual employees really are and building up from the 'one-person' level. Like a beautiful piece of artwork, each stroke of the paint-brush represents one person, and each person brings meaningful colour, and texture to the overall picture. Building-up from this 'one-person' level is all about truly understanding the individual and one person at a time cultivating a remarkable culture. It sounds like it might take some time, I can assure you with the right support and tools, it takes nowhere near as long as you imagine. However, one question to consider is, where would you prefer to spend your time; building-up or damage limitation? Once you know who you are (individual and organisation), you are able to build-up a culture to thrive regardless of what happens.

"Self-awareness is the gateway to greatness"

Principle #2 Culture: Many business leaders and CEO's create and build cultures based on their identity, their character and personality. But whether you're managing 50-10,000+ employees, this will never end well. You cannot impose culture. Culture must be cultivated, catalysed and championed. I call these the three C's of culture, and each one requires strategic action. Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot said, "The way I think about culture is that modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live. We're trying to re-craft culture in a way that really matches that. I think that 99% of companies are kind of stuck in the '90s when it comes to their culture." Who would have thought that we would be told that we are stuck in the 90's already? But it's so true, lifestyles and business practices have changed so rapidly, that if your culture is not 'up to date', then your business culture is old fashioned. Some may really struggle with this, but remember what you resist persists. Just because you do not agree, it doesn't mean it's not true. To create a culture using each of the 3C's, you need to thoroughly be living principle #1 as this underpins and informs all aspects of decision-making. It requires open and honest leaders, who generally want what's best for the whole group, not only themselves or their leadership teams.

"If your culture is not 'up to date', then your business culture is old fashioned"

Principle #3 Growth: Carol Dweck in The New Psychology of Success wrote, "“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” Why don't we like to think of our hero's as ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary? Perhaps it has something to do with the what Marianne Williamson (1992) is famously quoted as saying, "Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." The nature of growth is so misunderstood in business and in many parts of society. Growth is not about increase, but rather about making weak things strong. Too many people throughout society, and especially in business, are trying to find that magic formula which allows us to ride the wave of success continually. That formula that never fails and brings success every time. However, that is not how the process of growth works. It takes adversity, mistakes, failure and continuous change to successfully grow anything, especially humans and organisations. What many businesses don't have is a plan for growth in every aspect of their business. They do not have a plan for growth for their people.

"Growth is not about increase, but rather about making weak things strong"

Building-Up & Growth

The building up of employee wellbeing is not a one-time job, it requires a consistent ongoing process which ensures the organisation is consistently following these key principles and is in a constant state of growth. One CEO said to me, "I don't know how to change, but know that I have to", another CEO said, "The organisation just doesn't handle sudden change very well". Both of these statements reflect cultures that are not used to change, they are not consistently engaged in the process of growth which includes intentional and strategic change processes. As Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot expressed, the businesses who do not stay 'up to date' with how people are living their lives, will be 'stuck in the 90's'. The same sentiment applies to building-up and growth. Businesses who are not constantly striving to build-up their people will find themselves 'out of date' and 'not fit for purpose' when the tough and sudden change moments come. Growth is a lifelong process of building-up where all involved walk a pathway of learn, change and grow.

"Businesses who are not constantly striving to build-up their people will find themselves 'out of date' and 'not fit for purpose' "

Employee Wellbeing: Repair

Every well-built house has to be maintained and undergo repairs from time to time. It is inevitable that the natural storms of life will cause wear and tear. This applies to us personally and as organisations. So, whether you consider your business to have a world-class culture or no culture at all, your business will need immediate and long-lasting repair in regards to employee wellbeing. It is almost impossible to have tended to all of your employees needs during these last 6 months. Some businesses will have done better than others. Some employees will have managed better than others. But, one thing is for sure, this has been challenging in one way or another for everyone. When it comes to repairing or restoring employee wellbeing, I would suggest deep reflection on the following 3R's:

1) Reach Out: Look at how your business is intentionally reaching out, not just to connect, but to actually understand. It doesn't always have to be 1:1, and you don't always have to find different ways of asking, 'are you ok?'. Find out about their working schedules, how are they coping with working at home, what are their anxieties about the future, how would they like their line manager to support them, what circumstances have changed for them personally which has increased the pressure they are feeling? etc. Another attribute of reaching out is demonstrating you care. How is the business showing it genuinely cares about their employees? How are you encouraging each employee to show colleagues and clients they care? What behaviours are promoted and recognised that foster a caring culture? Finally, how are you connecting the workforce with each other?

2) Reconcile: Being responsible for people also means you are accountable to them. You are accountable for how they are treated, how they perform in all aspects of their role and how they treat each other. A major part of this accountability, which is all too often neglected, is reconciling when things do not meet expectations or even minimum requirements. How are you addressing this?

3) Restore: Once you have reached out and got a clear picture of the situation, you've then taken responsibility and held yourself accountable by reconciling the reasons for poor wellbeing, you need to begin the restoration work. This has to be collaborative with employees. Include them in the process, and it is likely that the restoration will inspire things to be stronger and better than they were before.


Employee wellbeing is a build-up and repair process. It requires proactive and responsive measures to truly begin the process of inspiring high-performance and accelerating results. It may seem at the beginning like a slower process, or a major distraction from what is most urgent right now. But the better people feel, the better they work, and when the people who made them feel better are their employers, well then you have a recipe for a thriving organisation in the face of adversity.

It takes courage to make this shift when you are in the eye of the storm. But the leaders who are 'up to date' with the way people are living are the ones who will not be found 'stuck in the 90's', or in today’s case, stuck in 2019. As Simon Sinek said in his book, Start With Why, "Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first". You can get lots of clients and customers to like your business, but they will also like many other businesses, who will all be your competitors. What you want is customers to love your business, you achieve this when your employees love the business, the place where they spend most of their lives. In short, if you can love your people enough to build-up and repair their wellbeing, you will create a culture where you people love you back. Then you can create a business to thrive not only despite current circumstances, but because of them.

Timothy Pattenden

I Help CEO's Inspire High-Performance So They Can Accelerate Results In 90 Days Through The EPICS System.

If you would like to discuss how the EPICS system can support you to build-up and repair your employee wellbeing and current culture then let's connect here on LinkedIn, or message me today.

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