Beyond the Checklist: Discovering True Wellbeing in 'Being' Not 'Doing

burnout business evolving workplaces Apr 04, 2024

The benefits of wellbeing are indisputable, and plenty of research and data supports its importance and impact on people at work. The creation of workplace programs has exploded in recent years, especially in response to the concerning statistics on stress, mental health, and burnout.

Wellbeing programs such as EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), exercise incentives/memberships, financial education, counseling resources, healthy foods, and more have become increasingly more common.

While any effort to improve employee wellbeing is certainly to be applauded and recognized, I remain skeptical of the effectiveness of most wellbeing programs.

Despite good intentions, most wellbeing solutions fall short of their intended goals for a variety of reasons. Here are a few I believe are especially important:

  • People don't use them. They don't have the time or energy to do so.

  • Using them doesn't necessarily improve wellbeing.

  • They focus on individual elements of wellbeing but not the whole human.

  • They are easy to put in place but don't address the root issues preventing wellbeing.

  • The solutions aren't fixing the system causing the issue or problem.

Why Traditional Wellbeing Programs Don't Work

Most wellbeing initiatives typically start by gaining data from people via a survey. The survey is meant to provide data and information to understand the current state of wellbeing in their workplace.

If the survey results are accurate (people are honest and truthful), then decisions are made about what resources to provide to improve issues identified. The implementation of programs is then almost always about "doing" something to improve a particular element of wellbeing.

When we hear about wellbeing programs, they are almost always about what people or workplaces are doing or need to do.

Wellbeing programs and initiatives focus on...

  • Doing more exercise by giving access to memberships or programs.

  • Doing therapy by providing free sessions with a therapist.

  • Doing healthy eating by offering healthy food choices.

  • Doing financial planning by being trained in best practices.

  • Doing social activities by having happy hours or lunches.

  • And so on...

The wellbeing programs and activities are all about helping people do something to improve their wellbeing. I can't criticize workplaces for this decision because in almost every other situation action is critical to creating change.

But here is the problem and where I take issue…

Wellbeing is not improved with more "doing," "wellbeing" is not achieved by "welldoing"!

The word itself is about "being well" not “doing well”.

A state of wellbeing is not achieved through any contrived set of activities. No amount of yoga, fresh food, walking, community service or even therapy is going to ensure wellbeing.

Wellbeing is about how a person is being.

  • Are they well in their ways of being?

  • Are they well in the ways they exist?

  • Are they well in their ways of working and interacting?

  • Are they well in their patterns or ways of living?

Wellbeing is the description of their current state. Impacting their current state of being has to be focused more on the patterns and practices that created that state then on adding more things for them to do.

It's easier for a workplace to provide things people can choose to do. It transfers all responsibility for their wellbeing from the workplace to the individual.

"We've provided the resources it's up to you to use them to make you well."

Unfortunately, doing more things rarely fixes an issue with wellbeing. Instead, in my experience, it's more about identifying a past pattern that needs to be updated or re-wired. Identifying and shifting this neural pathway must happen before a person can do anything that will impact wellbeing.

Moving from 'Doing' to 'Being' Well

The state of a person's wellbeing is the result of a person's neural pathways and networks that have formed throughout their life in response to all their experiences and environments. These networks impact their ways of being - the natural ways they think, feel, and behave.

Therefore, if someone is lacking in wellbeing, either:

  • they must change a pattern they’ve created in their past OR

  • change something in their current environment that is creating that state.

Let's look an example of a person who is super stressed and near burnout due to high work demands, tight deadlines, and a lack of time or resources. We'd want to explore:

  • What about their past patterns and practices is causing them to work so hard, not set boundaries, and not take care of themselves to reduce stress? Is it a knowledge issue, a values issue, or an action/fear issue?

  • What in their environment is creating the situation where they don't have enough time or resources, meet high demands, and achieve tight deadlines? What does the culture value or prioritize? What do they identify as success? What in the environment is creating a fear of missing a deadline or failing?

Giving this person access to more meditations and mindfulness alone is not going to impact their wellbeing or the underlying cause of the issue.

Identifying & Addressing Root Cause

The Environment or Culture

Workplaces need to look at the underlying issues or root cause of wellbeing issues rather than simply implement "doing" programs that shift responsibility away from the workplace.

Workplaces can and should look at their past patterns and practices that might be negatively impacting wellbeing.

I'd bet 7 out of 10 times an issue (especially the most common people problems) stem from a workplace practice.

High stress and burnout is usually due to:

  • interactions with toxic managers or co-workers,

  • pressure to perform at all costs and fear of failing leading to job loss,

  • absence of trust, vulnerability, and transparency of leaders

  • a lack of empathy and compassion for life challenges and issues,

  • and other cultural practices and patterns.

Traditional work design and organizational structures have led to high levels of job demands, excessive workload, lack of autonomy, and poor work-life balance which directly causes the stress, burnout, and poor wellbeing of people.

The past patterns and practices of poor work processes, unclear expectations, inflexibility, lack of feedback, mistrust, and poor management have formed and solidified neural pathways in employees over the years and forced them to merely be surviving instead of thriving.

An Individuals Past Patterns & Practices

Just because a person has access to therapy, a yoga class or financial advice, doesn’t mean their ways of being will lead them to actually use it and do it. Or that even doing it will actually fix the wellbeing issue.

People need to tap into their inner wisdom through practices such as mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-awareness. These strategies equip people with insights into their needs, values, and priorities regarding their own personal wellbeing.

Wellbeing is really about a person's capacity to be well. Are they well or struggling in an area?

The best way for an individual to improve wellbeing is to practice wisdoming.

Wisdoming is the practice of accessing, aligning, and applying the full intelligence of human beings to our lives.

When individuals tap into their full body intelligences or multiple "brains" they can identify the root issue (or issues) that is (are) contributing to their lack of wellbeing.

  • What do they really think, know, or understand?

  • What do they truly feel, value, and connect with?

  • What do they deeply sense to act upon, need to feel safe, and identify with?

Maybe the person in our example thinks (believes) that stress is part of the job, and they can handle it all. Maybe they feel it's important to meet every commitment they make even if it hurts them. Maybe they are afraid if they fail or miss a deadline they will be fired.

Whatever the root causes identifying and addressing these are far more important to wellbeing than is any extra perk or program.

We must start helping people improve their "being" before we ever start adding in more "doing."

Call to Action

Stop trying "to do" your way out of a "being" issue. If we want to improve wellbeing (including all its elements) we must start by addressing our individual and workplace past patterns and practices.

CEOs, leaders, & HR Professionals - Replace typical wellbeing programs with:

  • Programs that identify & transform workplace practices that prevent or negatively impact wellbeing.

  • Programs that support individuals in identifying the root causes of their wellbeing issue and addressing those causes.

Aren't sure where to start? Reach out to me directly and let's have a conversation. I've spent the last few years focusing on how to do this effectively in a practical, sustainable, and agile way.

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