Wellness Matters: Weaving wellbeing into our workplace cultures

10th June 2021
Caroline Parsons
HR Directors & Director - Shared Services

The topic of wellness is nothing new, however the way in which we approach it is continuously evolving.

As we celebrate the tenth annual Global Wellness Day, this WSP Anticipate podcast episode aims to question and critique the role organisations need to play in empowering people to thrive both physically and mentally.

This special Global Wellness Day episode is hosted by Caroline Parsons, HR Director and Director – Shared Services at WSP in the Middle East. Caroline is joined by Victoria Sharpe, who is the wellness manager for AMAALA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Global Wellness Day Ambassador. Together, Caroline and Victoria share insights on how it’s essential for leaders across all industries to approach any progression towards wellness initiatives with a much more critical and conscious focus.

Caroline and Victoria cover the importance for organisations to adopt top-down approaches to wellness and weave ‘cultures of wellbeing’ into everything they do. They also discuss breaking mental health stigma and highlight consequences of burnout and stress in the post-pandemic future.

WSP Middle East · Wellness Matters: Weaving wellbeing into our workplace cultures

Not able to listen? Here’s an overview of the discussion:

Creating a conscious focus on wellness – from the boardroom to our people

Caroline: “I think what’s interesting about wellness is it’s certainly not new… McKinsey & Company suggests it’s a 1.5 trillion industry and the Global Wellness Institute suggests it’s actually 4.3 trillion, which is quite a difference, but either way, a significant market and only growing.

“I think what has really come into the spotlight in the work that I do is [analysing] where organisations sit on the wellness journey and how organizations view wellness as part of organisational context – something that business leaders absolutely should be concerned with, and not something that simply outside of the workplace.

“How have you come along on this journey with organisations, and from your background as a wellness professional, how have you seen this progression towards a much more conscious focus on wellness?”

Victoria: “What I’ve seen over the last decade or so is that the corporate world I think has always viewed wellness as something that is separate to business. Perhaps what the pandemic has highlighted is, it’s very much part of the corporate world of the business world. And because it’s with people, our employees bring their lives into work and what I’ve seen, certainly in the UK and the Middle East is it’s something that the conversation is starting to happen now – with the sort of awareness of mental health as a result of the pandemic, it’s a conversation that is happening in boardrooms.

“People realise that it’s something that we need to do to support our employees, and it’s a conversation from the boardroom right through to line managers and employees, so it becomes part of daily conversation rather than something that happens when employees leave work.”

Incorporating wellness by design

Caroline: “[Through the pandemic] I certainly saw that interest in mental health really accelerated… people wanted to talk about it, wanted to have information, wanted support. I think what it came down to was the organisation could cope… many organisations were able to offer the support of people like yourself and external bodies were able to bring in that support. But it did feel like a bolt on.

“Given you’re strategically placed inside AMAALA, how does an organization like AMAALA approach it less as a bolt on and more as part of the organisation design?”

Victoria: “I think typically, wellbeing tends to sit within the HR department, and certainly I’ve seen the sort of evolution over the years that it’s always been quite a reactive component.

“What I’ve seen actually over the last few years is it’s much more proactive now, and certainly that’s something that AMAALA is doing. We really recognize wellness runs through our DNA, and as an organisation, we recognize that not only do we do we need to be there for employees if they highlight that there is an issue; it’s also about having those policies, the training and the education for management to recognise when employees may be, and I don’t like to use the word suffering with mental health issues, because I think, again, that sort of speaks to this stigma around mental health – I think it’s, we all have challenges in life.

“So, I tend to say it’s just mental health challenges… I think it’s much more around putting policies and procedures and training in place that help prevent those issues getting, chronic or problematic in the first place. And again, that really does start from the very top of the organization. It’s a culture as opposed to a bolt on that.”

Caroline: “Certainly over the last 12 months, I really saw that HSE has taken more of a lead role in this, and together we say it’s in the sense that health and safety is the number one agenda on everything we do. [Mental health] is not something that is different to any other matter of health and safety or fitness for work, or safety matter that needs to be mitigated by the organisation, and I really saw that step change once we started to kind of position it as a strategic health and safety matter in the same way of all of our health and safety matters.

“It has really propelled its strategic importance, the conversation, the cultural attention, the investment to it, the drive behind it, and since 2021, it’s embedded in our strategic goals to make sure we do actually have a rounded approach to wellness as part of health and safety.”

Driving the sustainability of human health

Caroline: “Thinking about the fundamental gaps we may face, how do we educate organisations who aren’t yet as far along the journey as AMAALA and WSP? How do we educate those organisations on the importance of wellness, and the sustainability of human health?”

Victoria: “I think it really is about, as you said, education, but also directly affects the bottom line. There’s always a perception that wellness or employee wellbeing is almost an unnecessary cost or that there isn’t a return on investment.

“But I think the education part is around, the more we invest in our employees and more we give priority to helping our employees thrive, that it has a direct impact on our bottom line. So, there is a huge return on investment, and employees are our capital – they affect our productivity, the profitability of an organization. So firstly, I think the importance of making that investment in the first place, and just generally around having those conversations.

“Coming back to weaving wellness through an organisation through the boardroom right through to how maybe tying into sort of managers, KPIs… I think that will go a long way to really starting to weave that culture of wellbeing in an organisation.”

Weaving a culture of wellbeing

Caroline: “Are we really designing organizations that can truly support wellness in a way that weaves through all that we do?”

Victoria: “There’s been countless studies conducted on this, and the data shows that the healthier and more mentally well that employees are, the more productive and creative they are, and the more committed, the more engaged.

“So, for managers to really understand, potentially recognising if staff are maybe a bit more irritable than usual perhaps their timekeeping isn’t great, that rather than start sort of going down a disciplinary route, that actually having that training in place, that potentially there may be some mental health challenges going on, and recognising that mental health isn’t just anxiety and depression, it manifests in lots of different ways for different people.

“I believe it really comes back to communication again, and, and making it part of everyday conversation. I think mental health is seen as something separate to how we look at wellbeing and there’s this sort of dark corner of mental health, which again, kind of goes to towards this stigma… rather than checking in with employees and asking them what they’re working on, it’s maybe having a 5-10 minute conversation, just asking how they are, how is life, how are you coping with working from home, for instance, and identifying that it potentially might not be your own mental health challenge, but perhaps you’re someone in your family circle is having a mental health challenge.

“The pandemic really highlighted some of those anxieties that people have around social isolation, and it’s [essential to] just really keeping those conversations going, again, from the boardroom right through to team leaders.”