Well-being isn’t fluffy — we want positive pressure at work. Modern business is often defined not only by change, myriad projects and increasing regulation but also by culture, employee experience and well-being. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot of positive performance. Julie Wacker, occupational psychologist at Robertson Cooper, spoke to Matt Duncan, a managing director at Protiviti, about finding the balance. Topics Board Matters Business Performance Digital Transformation ESG/Sustainability Tackling Tomorrow Today with Julie Wacker Health, Productivity and Happiness at Work Modern business is often defined not only by change, myriad projects and increasing regulation but also by culture, employee experience and well-being. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot of positive performance. Julie Wacker, occupational psychologist at Robertson Cooper, spoke to Matt Duncan, a managing director at Protiviti, about finding the balance. Well-being is a much-talked-about concept. In conversations about culture and employee experience, this term has made significant inroads into corporate life. But what does it really mean? On one hand, meditation classes, fruit bowls and wellness apps have dominated perceptions, but, on the other, expectations for positive well-being have continued to increase, sometimes leading to burnout. In a wide-ranging discussion, Julie Wacker, organisational psychologist at Robertson Cooper, was quick to dismiss the notion of well-being as being “fluffy”. She argues that it is directly linked to positive pressure, connecting with others, a sense of achievement and meaning — and has nothing to do with meditating in the midst of a massive workload. Here are five talking points from the first Tackling Tomorrow Today event of 2023, which took place online on 27 April. Well-being is linked to productivity. From a psychological point of view, well-being has two strands: experiencing positive emotions and having some meaning. Individuals will rate themselves better at work when their well-being is high; supervisors and managers will do the same. There is also a symbiotic relationship between health and psychological well-being, such as reduced cardiovascular risk, diabetes and immune reactions. Ultimately, good well-being equals good performance. There are four pillars that define well-being at work. If 10 people were asked to define well-being, they might provide 10 different answers. But when they close their laptops, what has enabled them to have a good day at work? There are four factors: Experiencing positive emotions — a bit of excitement, perhaps. Flow — being deeply immersed in a task — can be an important part of the experience. Connection with colleagues — the fact people can collaborate with others, speak up, and talk about projects and challenges. Achieving tasks — most people say they’ve had a good day when they get through the tasks they have set. Some of those tasks have meaning — people want to come into work and do the job they are meant to do and create impact. Leaders have a strong role to play. Consider well-being as a cultural issue with three layers: What can individuals do to have more good days at work? How do managers and leaders create more good days for their teams? At an organisational level, how are policies and processes supporting people? Do businesses have support services during periods of high demand or change? Well-being is often driven at the individual level, but it needs to be driven across all three levels to be effective. In an ideal world, someone on the leadership team would drive it; in reality, it often sits with HR or the safety department. The only way to really achieve it is from the top. Data will help to understand well-being. But use it wisely. A cultural diagnostic tool will help to explore where pressures are coming from. Often, people will say they have too much to do, which means they aren’t achieving tasks. But there are often multiple factors at play, such as a lack of autonomy over work, or a lack of resources. There are always aspects of the culture which are stopping people undertaking and completing their work. Proactive businesses aim to understand the causes, drivers and outcomes of well-being to understand what is causing poor well-being and how it’s impacting performance. Predictive modelling can help them see the signs of people likely to leave, for example, and prevent it from happening. Power BI is a useful tool to help companies integrate their well-being data. Don’t just rely on engagement surveys, however. People often score high on them because they are committed but score low on well-being because they just keep going until burnout. The same is true for resilience. If businesses just looked at resilience, they might do more harm than good. In a high-pressure environment with demanding projects, asking people to be more resilient isn’t going to go down well. Positive pressure is the key for modern workplaces. Well-being is often talked about as a nice, fluffy thing, but it’s not fluffy at all. People respond better and get a sense of well-being with healthy, positive pressure. Well-being is poor when pressure is low because people don’t experience a sense of achievement. Healthy pressure means people are performing at their best and achieving tasks; too much pressure can lead to burnout. In the era of hybrid working, there are two ways businesses can create positive pressure and good well-being: Establish clear boundaries around collaboration when people are together or working remotely, and make sure expectations and goals are 100 per cent crystal clear, because there are fewer opportunities to check in during the day. In summary, Wacker advised businesses to make well-being a cultural priority and present the business case to leadership teams. This will help shift the perception of well-being from something fluffy to one based on performance. By asking the right questions and collecting the right data, she said, management will find it easier to understand the systemic issues and challenges hindering people from having a good day at work. To take part in Robertson Cooper’s ‘Good Day at Work’ challenge, click here to register and complete the survey. The next event in Protiviti and Robert Half’s Tackling Tomorrow Today series — on Tuesday, 13 June — will feature Anne Marie Imafidon, who is on a quest to bring new people and perspectives into the tech industry. Click here to register.