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Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders, talks about the enigma that is “wellbeing” and how the solution won’t be found at the bottom of the office fruit bowl. 


Wellbeing is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”. I guess it stands to reason that if we don’t have wellbeing, i.e. if we are uncomfortable, unhealthy or unhappy, we are probably not going to do our best work.
But have we really got the measure of wellbeing – what it means and how, as communication professionals, department heads and people managers, we should be managing it in our organisations?
 
Four years ago, I was sat in a cafe with the president of a global tech firm. He had his book open and a picture of a battery in black sketched ink existed with some shading in. He explained that each week he used to draw a picture of a battery and shade in how full he felt. 
 
We were working with banks at the time and talked constantly about the need to invest in people and teams to create healthy cultures. We had the lightbulb thought that we could use a similar metaphor to capture the fact that, every day, we make choices about how we deposit or withdraw from ourselves – ultimately putting us in the red or in the black.
 
Do you have a black or red culture?

This thinking progressed and the Bank of Me metaphor emerged. It has been used ever since with individuals and teams to examine how we create “black”, not “red”, cultures.
 
In our busy lives, we do things every day that put us in the black – and also things that put us in the red. Some of the things that put us in the red are obvious like lack of sleep, poor nutrition and high stress levels. Others are less obvious, like a lack of purpose, a sense that we are not valued and constant distractions.
 
Likewise, we all know that downtime and eating well are good for us – and put us in the black – but do we give enough thought to the role of learning and growth, a clear direction and having clarity over what our goals are in work and in life?

High human bank balances

Somewhere along the line, we seem to have split wellbeing into just two labels: physical health and mental health. And this is what the majority of businesses are trying to tackle – through free fruit bowls, yoga spaces in the office and available counselling for employees. It’s far too simplistic and it just doesn’t have enough impact.
 
We work in many organisations that are full of people with high human bank balances. They are amazing cultures to be in, firmly in the black, and they are intentional about making those deposits, individually and as a team.
 
One example of such a culture is WestJet. Many of us will have seen the Christmas Miracle video – well, that attitude runs through the veins of every WestJetter. They have happy guests as a result (yes, they are guests, not passengers), as well as happy shareholders, being the only airline to have turned a profit every year in an exceptionally turbulent industry. 
 
Approaching wellbeing as a one- or even two-dimensional concept, will always fall short in trying to support the issue in a meaningful way. The organisations recognising all-round people capacity, in its multidimensional form, as something that is inherent to not only people satisfaction but company performance and profitability too, are the ones who will flourish.

Jane Sparrow is passionate about enabling individuals and organisations to perform at their best. Published author, expert facilitator, performance coach, impactful speaker and global commentator, she has worked with businesses across the world, including Centrica, Glasgow University, UKTV, Sony, Lane Crawford and Sky, to create and sustain high performance cultures. Jane’s latest book, The Bank of Me, How to invest in yourself and others to build amazing workplace cultures, is available on Amazon.
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