1145 words: 7-minute read

When I mention wellbeing to leaders, one reaction I get is eyes glazing over and tuning out.

I know, I know, I could take that personally and think I’m boring or whittling on too much. But when you get down to it they believe the word isn’t very business-like, and has “soft and fluffy” connotations which are irrelevant to the practical issues they have to deal with. In some cases wellbeing is a complicated, scary thing connected to mental health.

I get this.

In fact, during my time as an accountant, I thought that way too. I saw wellbeing as the by-product of doing something else. It’s what followed after reaching a target and getting a bonus, going shopping for treats, being on holiday, going out with friends for a meal and a few drinks etc.  

However, I also discovered this by-product analogy has flaws.

Am I in a state of wellbeing every time I do one of the activities above? No.

I could be lying on a beach ruminating over problems feeling concerned about their consequences just as easily I could feel chilled out. Wellbeing is less about where I am or what I’m doing and more about what I’m thinking.

What does your wellbeing look and feel like?

If I were to ask you to describe what the absence of wellbeing feels like, you’d probably have a pretty clear idea right? But if you asked colleagues to define it, you’d probably get a variety of different answers. 

Let’s take a closer look at what it does mean so that a) you can understand it within yourself and b) talk about it from an informed standpoint. 

Academic research carried out by Cardiff Met University looked at many different definitions of wellbeing including feeling happy, being in flow and the like. It concluded that as life happens around us, it inevitably disturbs our inner equilibrium – or wellbeing – from time to time.

S**t happens so to speak!

As our psychological, social and physical resources get knocked off balance, wellbeing depends on our capacity to restore our equilibrium.  

A way of noticing this is to consider what happens when you’re having a bad day compared to a good one.

When wellbeing is absent on bad days, problems loom large, past incidents get over blown, worries about the future increase, lethargy and stress show up. You just don’t feel great so can’t think clearly and understandably struggle to perform to the best of your capabilities.

On a good day those very same problems get put into a wider perspective. The past and present can’t faze you because you’re ‘in the zone,’ oozing energy for outcomes you want to accomplish. Empathising with views that differ from your own isn’t problematic. Your mind is fully present more than it’s distracted and preoccupied, so your performance rises naturally. You get more done.

Without exception, everyone – yes everyone – has good and bad days. We may share the former with the outside world and hide the latter to different extents, but on the inside, we can’t help but move in and out of life’s ebbs and flows.

Moving in and out of wellbeing

As your moods change they signal a transition from ebb to flow or vice versa is taking place. As for what causes this, it appears events, circumstances or people are the key triggers. If I probed you, following (say) a tricky incident with a difficult client or colleague, you could be forgiven for swearing blind that they are the reason why you’re irritated! Right?

But consider tennis champion Pete Sampras’ reply to a question about whether he gets thoughts that trigger self doubt and magnify his opponent’s strengths when at match point in grand slam tournaments, he said “Of course, all the time, I just never pay any attention to them.” 

In other words, on closer examination when we step back from the events, circumstances and people we’re embroiled with, we see it’s the meaning we attach to the thoughts we have about these that determine our experience of them, not the other way around.

As much as that difficult client or colleague can appear irritating for example, their behaviour can also signal:

  • they need a good listening to,
  • a new, direct-to-the-point conversation is in order, 
  • you’ve completely misread what matters to them and need a reset,
  • and so on.  

Understanding this link between the meaning we make out of the thoughts that pop into our head and our subsequent behaviour, helps us understand why we feel the way we do. We learn to take responsibility for our emotions safe in the knowledge we have more influence over them than often first appears. This makes returning to our natural state of wellbeing easier and swifter than might otherwise be the case. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a panacea, I’m not suggesting we won’t have bad days at the office. But being aware of what restores our equilibrium, once life inevitably disturbs it, makes us much more resilient.

The impact on productivity

Imagine you’re having more good days than bad so are ‘in the zone’ more of the time. Now consider how productive you and colleagues might be when doing tasks like these:

  • Bidding for new work

Bid teams preoccupied with the pressures of making target and complying with the requirements of a sales process tend to appear more formulaic in their sales pitches. Their preoccupations mean they don’t come over authentically. With minds that are full and closed, rather than free and open, they understandably struggle to hear what prospects really need. The ratio of bids won to bids pitched can suffer as a consequence.

  • Problem solving

Project delivery teams that challenge the status quo because they get a buzz from removing unnecessary waste and using simpler workflows, get more done with less because they avoid the this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it-around-here mindset. Efficiency rises.

  • On site delivery

When workers drawn from different trades and suppliers unite as ‘one proud team’ helping each other be at their best for the client, their camaraderie replaces transactional, arms-length relationships, which typically have the threat of contractual penalty clauses hanging over them. Time wasted in misunderstandings and disputes plummet.

  • Controls 

In team cultures where wellbeing flourishes, and the ability to bounce back quickly when things do go wrong is ingrained, management teams start rethinking the role of supervision and compliance. As trust in teams increases, the need to invest time, money and effort in overly elaborate controls decreases. You get more output for less input.

When wellbeing means realising what causes good days to turn bad, and having space to talk about it as needed, we free up the mental space we need to turn our performance around. 

I’ll let you ponder all the other ways that could improve your productivity!   

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