A becoming/change blog by David Puls, Social Consultant. Details follow at the end.
I’ve been working with entrepreneurs and others on wellness ever since I studied public health. As part of my research I became aware of the propensity for certain groups to be disproportionately affected by stress, burnout, depression and suicide. This was of interest to me having belonged to two of those groups in my lifetime, and I wanted to find an intervention that would have an impact.
But I didn’t want to just focus on avoiding depression. I was interested in how to help everyone stay well. Wellness impacts performance – a concept that is obvious but I first came across it studying management in a (now rather sexist and dated) article by Loehr and Schwartz (2001): The Making of a Corporate Athlete (https://hbr.org/2001/01/the-making-of-a-corporate-athlete (https://hbr.org/2001/01/the-making-of-a-corporate-athlete)
Studies identified a number of these professions, and you’re probably aware of some of them: doctors, vets, dentists, electricians, finance advisors, and real estate agents for example. The two that I have been a member of are lawyer and entrepreneur.
When I was working with Catalysr (a social enterprise helping refugees and other immigrants start businesses) I developed an initiative to work with them on wellness. The basic concept, in a nutshell:
Facilitate wellness by bringing together peers in a safe environment where they can talk and support each other to stay well.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not new. We know peer support is important for wellness.
But there are still some lessons that I’ve learned that might be useful for those wanting to start a conversation about stress and burnout in the workplace.
I’ve learned that the most useful way of approaching wellness with a group is to assist with information as it’s appropriate (there are many, many studies on wellness these days) but to otherwise let the group direct itself, while holding that safe space for them to do so.
Here are some things that I’ve learned from peer groups I’ve worked with:
- There’s no prescriptive path to wellness: As soon as you say wellness depends on having work/life balance, eating well and getting sleep someone will say: I live for my work, it makes me happy and I only sleep 5 hours a night. In heath we talk of client centred approaches, and consumer directed care. This is no different. People can build their own wellness and their own resilience. They don’t need direction, but they do need motivation.
- Be there to motivate. The great thing about groups of peers is that talking is easier hearing others are in the same stuff. A facilitator can bring peers together and direct conversation so that people feel safe to disclose, and make commitments in front of each other. People are much more likely to keep a public commitment.
- Don’t talk about meditation, gratitude diaries or other woo-woo things. Lots of people aren’t ready for it, even if there are many studies that support these kinds of approaches. But we all know about neural plasticity. All these types of exercises are really about is the quality of thought, and consequently the pathways we burn: do we think positive or negative? The concepts are simple when you take away the woo-woo words.
- There’s more benefits to wellness than being well: Wellness concepts are at the core of adaptive leadership models, authentic leadership models, and underpin high performance at work and in teams. The quality of your decision making is improved when you can engage those areas of the brain that are helpful, and turn off the “lizard brain”.
- And while there is no prescriptive road to wellness and performance, there seems to be three domains: the physical, emotional and spiritual: so I agree with Loehr and Schwartz on that point.
As a management consultant and coach working for social good I have facilitated many peer groups and teams exploring wellness. The model of peer driven safe spaces hasn’t been evaluated. I’m planning to do that. But if feedback is anything to go by the model has a positive impact on wellness.
If anyone is interested in starting a conversation in their work place, please contact me.
David Puls, becoming/change
Management consulting for social justice