September 14, 2023 All Articles

Wellbeing V’s Wellness, Chris Cummings

As I approach my 10-year anniversary having started Wellbeing at Work in 2014, one of the most common questions I get asked by our community of leaders is what are the biggest changes that I have seen over the last decade across the industry and my answer is nuanced but ideally explained by comparing wellbeing and wellness.

It was important to me that we named our brand Wellbeing at Work, without the term Wellness. Why? Well let’s look at the definition of each term:

Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits daily to attain better physical and mental health outcomes.

So, wellness is the act of individuals making a conscious effort with daily habits to improve their health whereas wellbeing is determined by an individual’s wider situation, such as their workplace environment, so it will be influenced by external factors. If I look back to 2014, a lot of organisations were focused on wellness by introducing sporadic workshops, fruit Fridays or yoga classes, all very useful for us as individuals but less effective in the work environment if you don’t fix the wider issue such as a toxic work culture, unacceptable leadership behaviours or poor line managers.

Wellbeing is not fluffy and simple. Making wellbeing a strategic priority in an organisation is our mission and is a long-term, outcome driven ongoing project that will not be achieved by tick-boxing exercises. I truly believe that when companies look at all aspects of an organisation through a wellbeing lens (and I mean ALL aspects of an organisation), we can achieve truly high performing, engaged and healthy teams that have a huge impact on the bottom-line challenges faced by companies and what keeps C-Suite awake at night. A strategic approach gets successful results and as we have seen from recent data, all of the numbers are going in the wrong direction while investment has never been higher which proves that a strategic approach is not being taken by the majority.

But what does making wellbeing a strategic priority actually mean? Firstly, it is not easy, it is long term and needs to be continuously reviewed and challenged. Circumstances change, demographics and requirements from your employees change and wider societal issues change too so here are my top five areas to focus on to gain a truly comprehensive approach:

  1. Listen (really listen) to your employees regularly, review the data across the entire organisation and most importantly, act on your findings with a personalised approach. Many leaders propose and implement new ideas without truly reviewing the data and hearing from your people and we all know a one-size fitting all approach doesn’t work but let’s take it a stage further and make it evidence based.
  2. Think long term, really understand where the issues are so you are focusing on the right areas and don’t fall for the shiny new solution that promises the world. A comprehensive wellbeing strategy does not consist of the odd workshop on an awareness day or a one-hour webinar on inclusion. We must think far more strategically, balancing the needs of our businesses and our people at the heart of our approach.
  3. Wellbeing at Work = high performance and improved productivity. If we are not seeing positive outcomes with reduced burnout numbers, high performing teams, and increased productivity then you are just tinkering around the edges and not taking this seriously. Please don’t book a one-hour workshop on equity and think that all your DEI requirements have been covered. This is a much bigger topic that deserves a dedicated strategy.
  4. Everyone talks about getting leadership buy-in…your leaders shouldn’t need to be convinced to increase performance, productivity, stock market value, talent attraction, belonging, engagement and profits. If they haven’t bought in, you haven’t sold it in properly using the language that talks to them.
  5. And finally, and in my view the most important. Outcomes, Outcomes, Outcomes! Any other investment in a business should improve results and that is the same for a comprehensive wellbeing programme. Be ruthless with your measurements, challenge your vendors and agree on metrics that are constantly reviewed and work strategically across the business to demonstrate value.

So, what has been the biggest change over the last ten years? Well awareness has grown significantly, and some companies have thankfully moved from wellness to wellbeing but there are still many organisations hovering around the wellness space and that is why results are patchy. It is time for us all to move the dial, gain the results we want and take a longer-term strategic approach that delivers outstanding results. Achieve this and our people will be happier, healthier and performing but so will our organisations.

Chris Cummings


Wellbeing at Work

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