Originally published at agoraworld.one.
Last night, our panel brought together a diversity of perspectives on wellness in the workplace: Ry Morgan, Founder of Unmind, a B2B mental health platform; Madeleine Evans, Founder of Levell, which helps people manage their work-life balance; Katie Massie-Taylor, Founder of Mush, the number one social app for mums in the UK; Kristina Barger, a specialist in positive psychology, depression, anxiety and PTSD with postgraduate degrees in both Mental Health and Wellness; and Kiko Matthews, founder of The Big Stand, a charity based around the environment, adventure, leadership and education, and the fastest female to row the Atlantic, solo and unsupported.
The panellists defined wellness as different for everyone, relating to one’s biopsychosocial environment, and Ry even pointed to financial security as another element of it. We define what mental wellness is for ourselves as individuals, as opposed to physical wellbeing which is more objective. Madeleine called this “holistic fulfillment of your needs as you define them.”
Another way of looking at wellness, especially as it relates to the workplace, is as Kiko put it, “your ability to deal with setbacks.” Wellness can by synonymous with resilience, our capacity to be alone, to fail, or to be physically unwell. The world record holder divulged her “Kikenomics,” a formula for success and results: Ressources + Energy! Her positivity was inspiring as she spoke of how each experience — good, bad or indifferent — is an opportunity to learn and grow. Our energy comes from our behavior with ourselves (sleeping, eating exercising) and others (being honest about who we are, and giving back).
Madeleine emphasized the importance of loving our jobs and finding purpose in them, so they energize us rather than draining ues. She described stress as an imbalance of demands and resources. She also highlighted the win-win of socializing with like-minded people who also fill up your “energy bags.”
Katie, whose company helps mums make friends nearby, also emphasized the importance of socializing to feel positively energized. Mothers have a powerful sense of purpose and giving, she said, but being a mum can also be lonely, and sometimes simply having a good laugh with a friend can be the most essential tool to optimize our wellbeing. Like Kiko, Katie underscored the importance of honesty. Admitting we are not okay and asking for support takes courage, but is an essential first step. This can be especially difficult in the age of social media, which leads us all to show off our good times online whilst not necessarily leading to physical interactions and in-person conversations. These are conducive to validation and connection, which are absolutely integral to wellbeing.
Everyone agreed that balance is key, and that this balance is different for everyone. Maybe you are someone who relies on exercise to feel like the best version of yourself, or maybe getting your eight hours of shut-eye is the most important part of your routine. Even stress, which gets such a bad name, can be part of that balance when it pushes us to prioritize, makes us value our time, and stick to a healthy routine so we can self-actualize rather than be under-challenged, which limits our growth. But in order for stress to be conducive and constructive, learning to control it vital, and ideally this would be taught in school, along with mental health literacy. Ry’s company helps consumers manage their wellbeing to achieve their goals with consumer apps and 15 minute videos to help them find routines, focus and be present.
Having the resilience to know we will be okay by ourselves, thus tackling the anxiety of loneliness, must be balanced with having a sense of community. In other words, wellbeing is the feeling of being connected to ourselves and others in an authentic way, which will naturally lead us to tend towards a sense of clarity about our goals and our purpose, in and outside the workplace, whilst also having the confidence to be open to the inevitable unknown, in order for our expectations of our trajectories not to diverge too much from the reality of them.
In the context of us spending so many of our waking hours in the workplace, its environment needs to be conducive to wellbeing, so we find this sense of honesty, positive energy and connection there. Despite the relatively recent wave of awareness of wellness, burn out and chronic stress remain epidemics at work, as well as many people feeling threatened, be that due to their exclusion as a minority or their under-performance, rather than supported and secure. Even the cold-hearted capitalist can see the disadvantages of this as the health costs of absenteeism and lack of retention in the workplace is now being established, and the best talent searches for a a company culture that makes wellbeing a priority. Indeed, work place stress is estimated to cost the US economy alone 500 billion dollars a year! $31 billion is lost in the US due to depression alone, with impaired work performance and turnover also incurring significant costs. Mental ill health is in fact the costliest health condition in the United States, and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Deloitte calculated that in the UK, the cost of poor mental health in the workplace is between £33 and £42 billion. Despite limited legal policy surrounding work stress, the result of this data coming to light is an investment in wellbeing and a move to shift workplace culture, including interest from unlikely sources, such as financial directors.
Awareness of the impact of wellbeing on business is indispensable but it is only the first step in implementing change. Our panel emphasized the importance of businesses being “ruthless” with priorities and creating programs to support their employees, for example though weekly meetings directed at self-help and development. Communication with people of authority in the company is essential, and this may mean rethinking the line between privacy and sharing at times. Employers have a responsibility here to make sure their employees thrive — not just survive — so care should be preventive as well as reactive, leading to authentic connections of workers, not only to themselves and their private relations but to the people they work with and for.
In the same way physical health is branded as aspirational, mental health needs to be rebranded as such so we can change the dialogue around it. Not only does wellbeing support performance in the workplace, calmness, coping and happiness will support our sense of fulfillment in all areas of life, and need not be competition and achievement driven. So get to know yourself! Do what you love and what you’re good at, and you will thrive in and outside the workplace.