People and Change

What Olympians can teach us about our approach to wellbeing in the workplace

Imelda Rey
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When the term ‘Olympian’ is used, I’m sure powerful images or words showing strength, celebration or high performance might come to mind for many.

The positive and preventative actions taken by gymnast Simone Biles to withdraw from this year’s games to protect her mental health is now another symbol of strength that we can add to that list, and it can remind us of the resilience challenges that everyone will face at some point in their career, regardless of how well they appear to be performing.

Proactive and preventative measures to support wellbeing are key steps that organisations as well as individuals can take to maintain engagement and performance, and recent figures by CIPD suggest that there is now a growing movement by organisations to start taking proactive measures to support employee wellbeing rather than simply reacting.

So what are the key considerations that organisations can take when looking to adopt a proactive strategy to support the wellbeing of their people?

Firstly, our wellbeing exists on a continuum rather than remaining static, and it will fluctuate for all of us depending on variables that place a demand on our working lives, including workload, autonomy, team connection, and the work environment. This is important to continue to be mindful of - particularly during uncertain times (e.g. the last 18 months).  Organisations who are aware of this in their planning, and ensure that there are regular opportunities to review these demands with their teams, will place them in a strong position to be able to prepare and pre-empt any emerging wellbeing needs.

Secondly, when considering a wellbeing agenda, it can be easy to just think ‘Wellbeing for all’. While it is vital for organisations to think of the group as a whole when supporting wellbeing, it’s important to emphasise a person-centred approach that will consider each individual and their own unique circumstances and needs.  A key factor that will complement this is how their culture supports and encourages its people to manage their wellbeing; and openly communicate their views in the workplace. Proactive organisations will foster a culture of psychological safety and trust, encouraging individuals to feel comfortable in being honest and transparent to their leaders about concerns, challenges, or support they might need during difficult moments.

Finally, a resilient workplace that engages in proactive measures to support wellbeing will lead from the top. Managers who promote and engage in wellbeing initiatives themselves, and who are equipped with the tools and knowledge to effectively self-manage their own resilience, will be important role-models in promoting healthy behaviours at work. When assessing wellbeing needs, it can be easy at times for leaders to fall in to the trap of assuming – particularly when under pressure – that variables such as high performance or productivity should correlate with higher wellbeing. Leaders who do their best to remain aware of this risk, and take the time to regularly and effectively consider the resilience capability of every person in their team will ensure they stay in tune with individual perspectives and wellbeing needs.

Wellbeing challenges will exist across a broad spectrum of individuals and performers, and organisations and people can learn from the proactive approach taken by others towards wellbeing management. By considering factors such as those mentioned within this article, organisations will be positioned to better understand emerging wellbeing challenges – helping them to begin to look forward and prevent rather than sit back and react. Hopefully this year’s Olympics will not just be a turning point for budding athletes, but for wellbeing champions as well!