Wellbeing: the new frontier of business culture

Expert advice on how you can create a healthy business culture.

A Q&A with David Watson

A culture of wellbeing isn’t just nice to have, it can drive business success. David Watson, Head of Enterprise at wellbeing support platform Sonder, discusses the many benefits of a healthy organisation – and the steps to creating one.

Is there a relationship between wellbeing and productivity?

Yes, I do believe there is. Many studies show a direct link between the health and wellbeing of a workforce and a company’s productivity. For example, a State of Work Report found that, while Australians take an average of five days of sick leave a year, those experiencing mental health issues are absent for longer – between two and 13 extra days a year. If you add productivity lost through presenteeism – being present but unable to work to full capacity because of physical or mental illness – it’s clear that a focus on employee wellbeing can have a positive economic impact.

Is wellbeing considered a higher priority these days?

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that, since the pandemic, people have been thinking more carefully about what’s important to them and what they really want out of life, including the kind of organisation they want to work for.

How an employer thinks about their wellbeing has become an important part of that decision-making process.

David Watson, Head of Enterprise, Sonder

All companies are operating in a very talent-constrained market at the moment – not just here in Australia but around the world – so I’d say wellbeing is practically table stakes. Companies that don’t prioritise wellbeing will find it harder to attract good people and, if they do, they’re unlikely to stay.

What does a culture of wellbeing look like?

Sonder’s view is that a culture of wellbeing is one where people feel safe, well and supported. However, this can mean very different things for different people, so there must be opportunities for personalised support. It’s also important to address the issue holistically rather than focusing on the symptoms. For example, if someone is anxious and depressed because they’re the victims of unchecked bullying, providing exercise classes or meditation sessions isn’t going to change the outcome. Strategies to help manage the symptoms can play a very important role in overall wellbeing, but organisations need to take time to understand the full picture. There’s a big difference between ticking boxes and being genuinely committed to improving health and wellbeing within the organisation.

What aspects of support should companies prioritise?

This will vary from organisation to organisation. The most useful thing business leaders can do is ask their people what matters most to them. This could be anything from safety resources to having time to exercise or access to healthy food – and the list will almost certainly include support for mental health.

At Sonder, we commissioned research last year and, of the 1,025 employees polled across a wide range of industries, 92 per cent said they think it’s very important that their next employer offers mental wellbeing support.

David Watson, Head of Enterprise, Sonder

That figure was even higher than we anticipated – and it’s interesting to see that employees now expect their employer to take more responsibility for their wellbeing.

This also underlines the importance of providing access to professional support. Employees are often told to discuss any issues with their manager, but it’s not fair to expect managers to take on the role of a psychologist or care provider. They could also be inadvertently unhelpful due to lack of training and experience.

How can a company make wellness a part of its culture?

The most effective way to embed wellness into corporate culture is to have senior leaders act as highly visible agents for change. They need to lead from the front and take holistic wellbeing into account every time they make a decision. It’s also helpful if they’re prepared to share their own vulnerability – for example, by talking about how they manage stress.

It should also be really easy for employees to access the support you provide. Some large organisations, with the best of intentions, have implemented 90 or 100 different pathways1. That makes the process much too complicated and potentially overwhelming, particularly for people who are already feeling vulnerable. Remember, too, that many of today’s employees are unfamiliar with 1800 numbers because they’re more likely to use an app in everyday life. They need to feel comfortable using the tools you provide.

1 The Healthy Organization: Next Big Thing In Employee Wellbeing – JOSH BERSIN

Could the focus on wellbeing be a passing fad?

Some people have come to associate corporate wellbeing with the pandemic. However, as we move on from the crisis we’ve been in for the last couple of years, it’s vital that business leaders don’t slip back into the old ways. This should be a pivotal moment. For those who understand and embrace the benefits of a culture of wellbeing it’s a very exciting time.