When I owned my first business - a gym - I thought I knew what it took to be healthy and well. I was wrong. I ended up suffering burnout and eventually closed the business. It made me realise that to truly enjoy good wellbeing alongside work, you need more than just knowledge about how to be healthy. And that's what I want to talk about today.
It's no secret that wellbeing and engagement go hand in hand, but it's not always easy to understand how they are connected. I made the mistake of thinking that just having a good understanding of wellbeing was enough to maintain it alongside a busy job. Over the past 4 years, I see this as a common mistake across businesses of all shapes and sizes. Businesses are trying to address wellbeing challenges purely by providing wellbeing interventions, but as my story taught me, it doesn't work.
My story and experience have taught me there are three pillars to unlocking wellbeing in management teams. As well as wellbeing these pillars unlock teamwork, productivity, innovation and ultimately happiness.
Pillar 1 - Engagement
Engagement is the first pillar. In very simple terms engagement can loosely be translated to motivation. I learnt about the importance of engagement early on in my career whilst serving as a soldier in the British Military. Three years into my career our team received a new manager. This manager was tyrannical and made everyone's life a misery. In the space of a few months, I went from enjoying that career to being deeply unhappy. Not just unhappy in my career but in my life as a whole. We spend the majority of our waking adult lives working, if we don't feel motivated and inspired by our workplaces there's no way we can enjoy good wellbeing. Engagement is about creating an environment where employees feel supported and where their opinions and voices are heard. It's about creating a culture of trust and respect and encouraging employees to take ownership of their work.
When approaching engagement with your managers you have to consider two different things:
Are you creating an environment that is engaging for your managers?
Are you developing your managers and providing them with the tools to create an engaging environment?
A challenge most businesses and managers face with engagement is they get so busy they don't create enough time to listen to their teams. They don't involve their teams in the planning process but instead plan on their own and hand down to-do lists. This approach to business worked during the industrial revolution when engagement wasn't important but is ineffective today.
Pillar 2 - Health
This one is obvious - taking care of our physical and mental health is essential for wellbeing. The basics of wellbeing broadly require getting enough rest, eating healthy, and creating a healthy relationship with your mind. I've got a long interest in health so you might think it's difficult for me to relate to the average working professional who isn't. But there's something I've learnt about health since being in business that resonates deeply with all of the managers that go through our development training. Minimum Viable Effort Health. Let me explain. When you love your work you will likely neglect your health. Add to this that most - not all - people in leadership and management positions have families and busy lives and it gets more likely again that health will be neglected. I went through the process of opening a business, taking on a team, my partner and I buying our first house and getting a dog all within a few years. Even though my business was a gym I still began to neglect my health.
So it's entirely understandable that many working professionals, especially leaders and managers might struggle to prioritise their health. What they need is Minimum Viable Effort Health. As the name suggests MVEH shows your managers and people leaders the minimum things they need to do to protect or maintain their health alongside their jobs. This is a powerful way to approach wellbeing because most professionals feel overwhelmed by it. By showing them it's not that complicated and giving them clear guidance to take the first step you get high compliance. Still to this day when I'm super busy and feeling overwhelmed I take a step back and just focus on those easy basics such as getting 10k steps a day, getting three good meals and being in around 10 pm.
Pillar 3 - Performance Without Burnout
This is the pillar I learnt about the hard way with my first business. Interestingly this is the one that is most overlooked in businesses and the one I see managers struggling with most. When I started my first business I was laser focused on success. I believed in the business and its ability to not only make money but make the world a better place. So I poured my heart and soul into it. This is exactly the kind of attitude you want from your people... right. But let's explore what that led to.
I worked 6-7 days a week for 5 years.
I took 2 weeks' holiday in 5 years.
I tried to please every client.
I worked split shifts so I was constantly sleep-deprived.
Eventually, I burnt out. Before I burnt out I lost my motivation and confidence. If I could go back in time I wouldn't try to coach myself to be less motivated at the beginning, that would be backwards. I would however coach myself to think long-term and to work more sensibly. To give myself permission to take a step back and be strategic. To get my team involved in the planning process instead of trying to come up with all of the answers myself. To only focus on a few things at once instead of trying to do everything.
Of course, I wouldn't change this experience because it helped me develop and shaped an integral part of the Better Happy service. But I wouldn't wish burnout on anyone and the truth is your best people are the ones most at risk of it. When you promote people to leadership and management roles the risk of burnout is increased tenfold. Providing education and support around the performance column ensures you don't lose your best people to burn out and create higher levels of wellbeing.
In conclusion, wellbeing and engagement are inseparable - if one is lacking, the other will suffer. To truly unlock wellbeing in management teams, you need to address all three pillars: engagement, health and performance. By doing this, you will create an environment where managers and their teams can thrive and reach their full potential.
Want to improve the wellbeing of your management teams and make your business a happy place to work? Take the free scorecard at betterhappy.co.uk and see how your team stacks up. With the right focus, you can create a culture of wellbeing and engagement that will lead to success.
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Mike Jones Better Happy Founder
Mike founded Better Happy in 2018.
He now works with a variety of businesses ranging from small accountancies up to large organisations such as Travelodge on improving employee happiness. Mike's vision and the vision of Better Happy is 'Every employee happy, every business thriving'