The (non)sense of well-being

6 June 2023
Magaly De Bruyne Human Development Consultant Connect on Linkedin

There is probably no more widely discussed topic in recent years than well-being. The pandemic, energy crisis, and ongoing wars have clearly affected our minds and our wallets. However, the concept of well-being has also changed over the years. The days, when well-being equaled a weekly fruit basket and an ergonomic desk, are long gone. 

Well-being has become a way of defining your company culture, influencing work (happiness), and the way employees feel towards their employer.

The well-being mix

The well-being aspects a company can focus on are very wide-ranging. Think of work content/environment/stability, wage, ergonomics, mental health, work-life balance, disconnection, healthy living, sports, etc. The well-being actions you take as an organization must be consistent with your vision and culture, but on the other hand, can also help define the kind of company you are (or want to be).

The variety of the well-being topic requires the Managing and Human Development Department, just like a marketing department, to become increasingly attuned to their target audiences with their specific niches, needs, and interests. Far too often, organizations tend to focus on well-being sessions as ‘the holy grail’ (e.g. hybrid working training, sessions on disconnection, etc.). What companies sometimes fail to realize, is that these sessions often only demand more energy and input from an employee who may already be out of his ‘energy reserve’ at that time.

An organization must, first and foremost, create the right culture for its employees, through an appropriate ‘well-being mix’. This can include increasing leadership skills, homeworking, focus time, providing access to coaches, psychologists, etc.

The impact of financial well-being

Money does not buy you happiness, as the saying goes. An often overlooked or underestimated aspect of an employee's well-being, however, is his financial well-being. This topic often does not come up during conversations with employees or in surveys, and for many of us still feels like a private or taboo topic. An employee’s financial stress might, however, have (severe) consequences on the employee's performance: being more easily distracted, being less proactive, reacting differently, and so on.

Financial well-being cannot only be provided by the organization in the form of the annual indexation but also in the form of (temporary or individual) measures such as assistance with financial questions, specific fees, the time of payment of an advance/the salary, etc. However, how far does an employer's responsibility go, where do you draw the line?

As an employer, one will especially have to detect the -right- financial needs for its specific group of employees since the ROI is significant: reduced absenteeism and reduced absences due to (financial) stress. It is therefore more about the financial ‘unburdening’ of the employee than purely about increasing his or her finances.

The Human Development department often initiates well-being actions, even though it is a company-wide shared responsibility.

Putting the 'we' in well-being

Well-being is about people, so why do organizations so often focus on material items or activities when it comes to well-being? And why are organizations sometimes hesitant or even reluctant to try and adopt an approach that is as individual as possible? The answer is often: a shortage of time and unclear roles and responsibilities.

The Human Development Department is most of the time the core initiative taker of well-being actions, while well-being is a company-wide shared responsibility. An often-forgotten layer is the middle management layer, those closest to the employees. Does the organization inform and involve this layer sufficiently regarding well-being initiatives? Does this person himself feel psychologically stable and secure enough to be able to offer this to his direct reports and be a role model?

Once again, the importance of company culture, people management, leadership training, and evaluation becomes clear. However, employees will only (be able to) change their behavior when they are affected themselves. Therefore, it is key to take these elements into account by for example involving them in the evaluation system and making the 360 assessment count. This contributes in the long run to the overall culture of the company and consequently to the overall well-being.

Think outside the 'well-being' box

It is clear that creating a sustainable well-being policy will remain a challenge for organizations in the upcoming years. Well-being means something different for every organization and every employee, and thus will (have to) become increasingly personalized. 

At TriHD, we identified multiple domains through which we address this challenge. On the one hand, we focus on the physical well-being of our employees (e.g. by collecting fitcoins and organizing walking meetings).  Even more important is the focus on mental health, by providing a flexible working schedule, mentoring, coaching and dedicated Park Time (stepping out of the ‘fast lane’).

Let us, therefore, think outside the ‘well-being box’ when possible.  Let us also accept that ‘being well’ is not something that will be the case every day and that on certain days just ‘being’ can be enough.