Don’t climb a tree to look for a fish: the risks of inexperienced wellbeing personnel are substantially higher than leaders realise.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes organisations make when embarking on a fresh workplace wellbeing initiative is to put the wrong people at the helm.

Many organisations enable wellbeing to become absorbed as a function within the HR team because they’ve made the incorrect assumption that the professionals looking after the people side of an organisation must be best able to design and deliver a wellbeing #strategy. Whilst they may be best-placed from the talent that you have available already, it doesn’t mean they are capable of delivering what the organisation actually needs.

Ignorance is anything but bliss!

Often, within a leadership team, including a CHRO, the in-depth wellbeing knowledge and how to optimise it within a #business context is minimal and so these #leaders have no idea whether what the wellbeing professionals are doing is sub-par or on-point. They watch many promising presentations, see some logical recommendations, and may even recognise powerful drive and passion from their people. However, they remain essentially blind to #workplacewellbeing best-practise and as a result struggle to understand why the work being delivered and the budget being invested isn’t generating the returns that were promised.

Don’t misunderstand me, the people who’ve been moved into these wellbeing roles often display heroic levels of enthusiasm and a genuine desire to make a positive difference, but they all too often lack the wellbeing and associated strategic and commercial expertise to invest budgets and resources most effectively. They’ve been morphed from a HR Generalist into a Wellbeing Specialist in terms of their title, role, and responsibilities, but not in terms of their expertise and capabilities. In addition, they are pressured to perform at speed (more so because this is a hot topic right now) and well before they’ve had the necessary time to master their new craft.

Looking for fish up trees

It’s like asking the Captain of a ship to start flying planes, because at the heart of it we perceive that their job is to get from A to B. However, we all know that without hours in flight school, a ship’s Captain is likely to do a lot of damage to themselves, other individuals, and the airline if they become a pilot overnight. The same is true of enthusiastic HR professionals, who are suddenly expected to perform as wellbeing experts. It is both risky to the employees and the organisation as they set about trying to prove their value in an area they have little meaningful experience or knowledge in.

Due to the relatively nascent nature of wellbeing at work, there is a lack of available #talent in the market and I understand that many organisations struggle to know what to look for when hiring for these roles. I’ve certainly seen some very confused job descriptions in the past couple of years, clearly written by individuals who know little about this field or what opportunity is has for generating valuable upside for the organisation. From the offset the role is set-up to underperform.

And whilst I do believe that given enough time, coaching and tools for the job, a fish can eventually learn to climb trees, few organisations understand this need, nor adequately fulfil it.

Why is it risky to have the wrong people in role?

As with any role, if the person is not qualified or experienced enough to do the job, and they are not supported to develop successfully into it, then on a personal level they risk failing to accomplish what they wanted to or are expected to, which leads to frustration, stress, and ultimately compromised personal wellbeing. Whilst this is a problem, it pales into insignificance when we consider what this means at a whole organisation level.

  • Wasting valuable resources where they will have limited impact or returns
  • Creating a perception that action = improvement. This yields a false sense of security that hides gaps that are unknowingly widening
  • Tackling the wrong wellbeing challenges risks the real challenges perpetuating at high cost to individuals and the organisation
  • Eventually, the wellbeing professional(s) begin to lose credibility and buy-in from employees and in turn they begin to disengage from the wellbeing ambitions of the organisation, which leads to wellbeing paralysis
  • Funding is cut because wellbeing isn’t driving the necessary returns, and the entire initiative stalls
  • The organisation is perceived as failing to deliver the change and interventions necessary to genuinely improve wellbeing & performance, and employees start to ask questions about intent and authenticity, and we all know where that leads!

What skills and expertise does a workplace wellbeing professional need?

intent and

  • A comprehensive understanding of the relationship between human wellbeing & performance, and how these interact within a workplace context inc motivation, engagement, resilience, adaptability, health and accomplishment etc
  • An above average understanding of wellbeing factors and impactors inc physical, mental, social, environmental, emotional etc
  • A strong sense of curiosity, coupled with data gathering and analysis skills and experience with hypothesising and experimentation
  • Experience with interventions that optimise wellbeing and thus productivity and performance
  • Strong understanding of business cultures, leadership & management styles and their positive & negative impact on wellbeing & performance
  • Sound commercial understanding of how wellbeing impacts business objectives
  • Budgeting and resourcing skills
  • Strategic project planning, design, and management skills
  • Project measurement, evaluation, reporting skills
  • A commitment to continuous improvement
  • Internal communications experience and know-how including the ability to engage and influence at all levels
  • Strategic partnership development
  • Understanding of the legal implications surrounding employee health and wellbeing
  • Presenting, workshopping, training and public speaking would also be highly-valuable

How to improve things

Abandoning workplace wellbeing initiatives would be very unwise in 2022 and beyond when employee, customer, and even government expectations are increasing with pace. The right approaches to workplace wellbeing have continued to yield significant ROI and VOI for organisations, so rather than concluding that wellbeing isn’t a driver of success for your organisation, consider that your organisation’s approach to workplace wellbeing is unlikely to be fit for purpose and that is what needs to change. Rather than continue eating from the all-you-can-eat-buffet that where the quality of food and service is terrible, accept your cost there is sunk, and try a different venue instead.

Here’s how:

  1. Re-evaluate the skills and expertise of those currently responsible for workplace wellbeing, this includes the person with whom the buck stops. Use the above list as a guide.
  • Identify gaps in knowledge and expertise and assess if it is feasible to fill those gaps (it usually is).
  • Plan to fill the gaps, this is likely to include fresh hires as well as training & development. 1) send the team on external specialised training courses (more generic), or 2) bring in a consultant who can work with the team to develop their skills and expertise whilst simultaneously redesigning the wellbeing strategy for your organisation (more tailored to your org).
  • Audit the wellbeing strategy as it currently stands. WellWise has a comprehensive best-practise wellbeing audit developed in 2022 fir for a post-pandemic world, email if you would like to use it for free, or invite us in to do it for you.
  • Understand where things are now. As well as an audit, it is critical to do a situational analysis so that you have a base point from which a fresh strategy can be developed and changes measured and evaluated. This means collecting data and insights from and about your employees. The right approach to this will show you where you have wellbeing hot-spots and high-risks that need addressing so that you can direct resources and initiatives where they will yield the greatest impact and returns. The WellWise Strategic Diagnostics System is designed to do exactly this. Email if you would like to learn more.
  • Hold wellbeing accountable by developing a clear vision, mission and associated objectives, and then ask the team to develop a strategy to achieve those things. If they don’t know how, you will need to find someone who can do this alongside them. 1) Hire in a permanent senior wellbeing professional such as a CWO or Wellbeing Director (a good option for a larger organisation, where a sustainable and suitable wellbeing lead is currently missing), or 2) Invest in a part-time or temporary consultant who can get things into shape and set a strong foundation for your team to deliver on an ongoing basis (a good option that gets the job done efficiently and effectively, and builds capability within your existing team).

If you believe your organisation has untapped people potential and upside that you don’t feel your current team is currently able to access, you are not alone. There’s plenty of things that can be done to significantly improve the impact and returns of an investment in workplace wellbeing, but as a relatively new field, there is a lack of expertise available in most organisations to fully realise it. The first step is identifying and then admitting that things are not performing as well as they could. The second is to make a strategic level decision to improve it.

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