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Wellness is higher on the agenda than ever since COVID hit. Business leaders are increasingly being expected to DO something to protect and enhance staff wellbeing. You’ll no doubt know that mental wellbeing affects staff performance and loyalty. So good mental health is not only desirable, it makes good business sense. And yet, despite the high priority that wellness is afforded, sadness, anxiety and stress have all doubled since COVID started and the trajectory is showing little sign of improving.
How can that be?
Could it be that the wellness culture is actually making people worse?
I think so.
And here’s why.
Think about the narrative that we are being fed. It’s all bad news. It’s all pointing to how unhappy, stressed, or lonely your staff are. Which in itself makes quite depressing reading. And if you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps as a leader, it’s going to be hard to lead by “happy” example.
But it’s actually worse than that. By feeding this negative narrative, we are essentially telling people HOW to feel. Remember that the brain likes to conserve energy where it can, it makes lazy judgements meaning it won’t instinctively question the current narrative. So, if the wellness industry is talking about depression and stress, all the time, people will feel… well, depressed and stressed.
The truth is happiness is a choice. So is sadness.
So, if someone in your team is feeling unhappy, they are choosing to feel that way.
Now that may sound unforgivably harsh but understanding this is crucial as a leader. If you think you can make people happy, that’s your ego talking. In fact, sometimes you might deliberately ask your team to do something that is likely to make them unhappy. That’s the responsibility a leader must acknowledge.
During my 20 years in the military there were a number of times I asked people to do things they didn’t want to do. Doing extra duties, going to war, missing children’s birthdays, working over Christmas…whatever you’re asking of your team right now, I understand that it’s not always easy. But you don’t get to decide how they feel about it, happy or not. That is not your job, nor is it your gift to give.
What REALLY matters, is giving people choices. Give your team as much autonomy as you can. That doesn’t mean leading by committee or abdicating responsibility. It means giving people the ability to decide HOW they achieve their tasks. If it’s possible to do this in the military, where we follow orders for a living, it is possible to do this in your workplace.
If you want your team to be in good mental health, you need to stop trying so hard to make then happy. The key to wellbeing is NOT happiness. It’s empowerment.
Sarah Furness – Well Be It Coach