Try not to think of a donut.

What are you thinking about now?

It’s a bit like that when I’m making a special effort to be healthy. All I can think about is snacking.

The craving got really bad when I recently gave a talk about about how tech can influence wellbeing. I just kept thinking about donuts. Not one to turn down a good analogy, I worked it into my presentation.

Think of the perfect donut. Mine starts with a good helping of hundreds and thousands. Our Wellbeing Donut has four colours of sprinkles, each representing a major part of how we think about wellbeing at work.



Pink sprinkles: Mental

Though there’s still more to do, mental health has finally become a less stigmatised part of most workplace cultures, thanks partly to those organisations taking mental health in the workplace seriously. Apps like Calm and Headspace can have an amazing impact on the way you feel from day-to-day, while start ups like Sanctus are championing organisations treating mental health with the same care that physical health is given.

But it’s not just start ups that changing the way people view mental illness at work.

Crossrail have introduced confidential mental resilience tests which confidentially check for the mental health of their tunnel workers to help identify their non-physical needs. Developed by the University of Manchester, workers can access these tests with any device.

Wherever high stress levels were found, for example, Crossrail could help reduce workloads and offer coaching before it took its toll on workers’ health. In a highly macho environment, Crossrail successfully found a way to tackle mental issues that workers would’ve been reluctant to share in person.

The Blue – Physical

Corporate Fitbits, gym memberships and other complementary benefits all focus on getting employees more active.

But, they aren’t just about getting the heart pumping. Physically health employees are also better equipped to deal with the mental toll of everyday living in the 21st century. For most of us that means sitting at a desk for eight hours or more a day, which our biological make-up never really prepared us for.

Companies like Upright are making a big impact on how employees feel, as well as helping improve organisations’ bottom line! Upright makes a small device that sits on the back of your neck. The premise is simple: if you slouch and don’t sit upright you get a subtle alert to straighten your back.

Over time, this nudge encourages the correct posture, and eventually the device isn’t even needed. Some results from organisations that are using this: EY employees reported a 71% reduction in backpain; SAP reported a 60% increase in productivity; Siemens reported a 100% improvement to posture. That’s pretty impressive.

The Green – Rewards

Surprisingly, employees’ wellbeing can be directly affected by the rewards they receive . As long as employees are paid adequately, they rarely cite salary as the reason they leave their organisation (more on why they actually leave later).

The same is true for reward perks: they’re simply the icing on the donut. Gym, health and pensions, are just seen as part of a job offer. You don’t accept a job just because they give you a great gym membership, but a great gym membership does encourage you to stay healthy. And that’ll help you feel better at work, and be more productive.

On the other hand, research shows that a monetary reward actually decreases productivity and results, when compared to a social reward.

Meanwhile, soft or peer-to-peer rewards make a big difference to how people feel. Activities like team-building days weave the social fabric for organisational culture by giving people an environment to build meaningful relationships. This means they’ll enjoy work more and stay with their company for longer.

The trick is to balance hard and soft rewards.

The Orange – Environment

Breaking news: wellbeing wasn’t invented in the past five years.

So why is it that some people are quick to dismiss wellbeing strategies as a fad that doesn’t apply to them?

Groups of people have always – in some shape or form – thought about how they could improve the wellbeing of individuals.

Take the Roman army, for example. Their success had lots to do with their troops’ environment and how they were treated. Compared to the Anglo-Saxons and the Gauls, Romans were the best fed, the best clothed and had the best roads to march on. Therefore when time for action came they had an immediate advantage.

Now environment is not everything: it helps a huge amount to believe in your company’s cause and values. But studies show that a positive environment, and not just physical health, positively contributes to employees’ wellbeing. 

What about the jam?

The perfect donut has jam in the middle.

In the Wellbeing Donut, the jam is that core thing that affects how people feel at work. The jam is employees’ relationship with their manager.

Research shows that managers have the biggest influence on the engagement scores of employees (up to 70% according to Gallup), and it’s the number one reason people leave their organisations. This Forbes article from the co-founder of Lattice brilliantly captures how this core issue affects employee wellbeing.

And it’s not surprising. We can all remember those great bosses, who helped us reach our potential at work, and made us feel great. And we can remember those that held us back and made us feel like sh*t!   

Employees want to feel supported and connected to where they work. When people let their manager know how they're doing via a 1:1, by completing a weekly update, they become more motivated, more productive, stay at their company for longer and feel happier. 

It feels sometimes that organisations focus too much on the sprinkles at the expense of the jam!

Looking at how you help employees better manage their teams isn’t as sexy as introducing extra-curricular Bikram Yoga, but it’s far more important.

At the heart of an organisation’s wellbeing strategy should be training and systems that help employees, managers, and teams work together better. Introduce this jam with some of the other sprinkles and you’ll have a Wellbeing Donut that’s healthy, makes your people feel good, and that everyone wants to stick around for.

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