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Why it’s time to ditch the company wellness day

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 Apr 2023

Wellness in the workplace is in danger of becoming a tick-box activity, so rather than setting aside a special time for it, we need to build good habits into each working day.

Wellness is something of a buzzword these days. And, like most buzzwords, it has slowly become detached from its true meaning. Instead of having interesting conversations about what wellness looks like day-to-day in the workplace, it has simply become another item to add to the to-do list. For many organisations, occasional wellness days are the full extent of “wellness” within the workplace – but is this really comprehensive? 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wellness days themselves. They can bring lots of benefits in much the same way team-building days can. But here’s the thing: you wouldn’t expect teamwork to suddenly fall off the agenda as soon as your assigned team-building day has passed. So why do we allow this to happen with wellness? 

We’re living through an epidemic of burnout and feelings of being overwhelmed, and if employees are to perform at their best, they need to feel at their best, too. In recognition of the fact that April is Stress Awareness Month, here are four handy tips for building wellness habits into every workday.

1) Be strategic with meetings 

In our age of hybrid work, meetings are on the rise. They often feel like a stopgap for the lack of in-person contact, or an easy way for managers to check that employees are on task. Unfortunately, research from Microsoft has proved what many of us already suspected: back-to-back meetings are bad for our mental health, causing stress to build. 

This isn’t to say we should ditch meetings altogether. Everyone knows that, handled correctly, they can be a powerful way of collaborating with peers and finding solutions. The trick is to be strategic about when you hold the meetings, and who you include in them. 

Pausing before thoughtlessly arranging a meeting, setting a clear agenda, and only including the people who really need to be there is a good practice principle. By giving space for employees to work on what’s in front of them without the constant interference of meetings, you help to reduce stress and improve focus. 

2) Embrace trust and accept failure

Fear of failure is notorious for causing stress, while also deterring workers from pursuing their boldest ideas. We’re currently in the middle of a trust crisis. With more people than ever before working remotely, there’s an increase in micromanagement as managers constantly check in on employees, trying to make sure they’re working hard. But for individuals to feel safe and able to express themselves, they need to know they’re trusted. In fact, research shows that many home-workers report feeling more productive working from home than in the office – so that lack of trust is actually misplaced.

Failure is a part of being human, and while attention to detail is of course an important part of any job, occasional mistakes will sometimes slip through. When managers trust their team to get on with work, and treat mistakes as an opportunity for learning rather than a personal failing, stress is lowered and workers are empowered to explore creative ideas and more imaginative ways of working. 

And, of course, a culture of trust and openness is absolutely crucial for discussions about mental health in the workplace. After all, wellness is more than just mindfulness – it means being able to talk about mental health problems when they occur, and knowing you’ll receive support and understanding when you do so.

3) Promote creative thinking 

Creativity is often seen as something fluffy, that’s nice to have but not by any means essential. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is creativity necessary for finding novel solutions, it also plays an important part in wellness. The theory of cognition actually proposes that creativity is essential for happiness, and multiple studies have proven the link between creativity and enhanced wellbeing.

Also, research released by Ricoh Europe showed that almost 64% of workers said they would find work more enjoyable if they had time to be creative. That’s why the first step in promoting creative thinking is to make room for it. Creativity must be purposeful to take effect. This means carving out time specifically for creativity, or activities that promote it, whether that’s a design-thinking workshop or simply the opportunity to try new ways of approaching daily tasks.

Most importantly, workers must be allowed to engage with creativity in a way that suits them. This may mean rethinking current processes or trying new modes of management, but the important thing is that the creativity is respected and appreciated, not seen as something frivolous or unimportant.

4) Normalise brain breaks

Purposeful breaks are seriously lacking in the modern workplace, whether it’s because emails keep you chained to your desk all day, or lunch is eaten in a hurry while still working away on your laptop. Such behaviours may look like commitment from the outside, but on the inside they’re wreaking havoc. That’s why normalising brain breaks is one of the best things any organisation can do in order to promote wellness. 

To achieve a true ‘brain break’ you need to do more than scroll through social media or catch up on your favourite show. Instead, you need to relax your focused mind in order to offer respite from the stress exerted during hours of concentrated work. The best way to engage in this is the act of daydreaming. While people are often sceptical on first hearing this, the results speak for themselves. 

Unlike concentration – which acts like a spotlight, focusing all your energy in one area – daydreaming allows your brain to soften, emitting a broad, soft-focus light. In this state, many areas of our brain that are usually siloed are allowed to reconnect. This is why we tend to get our best ideas when our mind is wandering (whether that’s commuting to work or taking a shower). So not only does daydreaming give the brain a chance to recharge, it also promotes creativity and a plethora of other cognitive benefits

Chris Griffiths and Caragh Medlicott are authors of The Creative Thinking Handbook. Griffiths is also a keynote speaker, and founder of the AI-powered brainstorming app, ayoa.com

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