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8 Insights from the Thriving Workplace Conference

Sydney 2018

It was 4 o’clock on a Sydney Winter Wednesday and I glanced at my to do list and thought ‘golly, how am I going to get to Manly from Surry Hills for 6’. I still had so much to do and as I grappled with the dilemma and considered my options, Chef Kim suddenly appeared, carrying an industrial-sized box of the most delicious-looking, fresh spinach and kale leaves.

I suddenly remembered that Kim lives in Manly, so I rushed over to her desk and asked if I could hitch a lift. Thirty minutes later, myself, Chef Kim and Chef Louise were in Kim’s car bound for Manly’s Q-Station, the venue for this year’s Serenity Collective’s Thriving Workplace Conference where I stayed until the Friday afternoon.

It was an awesome experience.

Events are often judged by the quality of the speakers, the insights, the connections made, the venue, the food, with the true-value realised weeks, months and years after the actual event itself.

This year’s Thriving Workplace was much more than an event, but a mechanism that brought together some amazing people, stories, perspectives, brands and products together, all focused on the same goal: how do we transform the perception and role of work and business from a ‘necessary evil’ where as few as 13% of people are engaged, to an engaging, energising and important growth-driver in our lives. As Alana Bennett from Ooh Media said:

‘Life happens when you’re at work, not when you leave’ – Ooh Media sounds like an awesome company to work for.

I got to share my story of personal and business transformation on the stage on the Friday morning as part of the transformation segment, plus I heard so many amazing stories and experiences from the speakers on the stage as well as the sponsors, the exhibitors and the attendees during the breaks. It was an emotional experience on many levels and the venue itself was very unique, full of history of a time gone-by.

So what insights and actions have I come away with?

The Untapped Opportunity

Life and work are constantly changing. It’s a roller-coaster ride and we’re not going to change that.

What we can do, though, as individual leaders is work on ourselves and build a personal wellbeing and resilience tool-kit that gets fuelled in the highs and supports us to get through the lows quickly. Organisations have a huge amount of untapped raw energy in their people that can be unleashed simply by helping employees feel psychologically safe and look after themselves better.

In short, employee wellbeing is good leadership and good business. In a short-space of time, Wellbeing has moved from a peripheral ’nice to do’ to an important driver and contributor of business performance.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

Life and business are always in transition, though there are burning platforms that need immediate action. Having worked in publishing, data & analytics, marketing and now fresh food retail, change and transformation has been a constant my whole career. I’ve learnt over the years that leaders can really help to make it easier for people to transition in tough times, but we need to be there for them by focusing on our own wellbeing and resilience – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Models and frameworks make it much easier for leaders and quite a few awesome models were shared. For example, Genevieve Hawkins shared Coles’s mental health monitor that got us moving to different parts of the room. Genevieve’s key point: ‘’The Magic Comes when all five are in balance.’ Below are my scores. Try it yourself.

The power of recognition

Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale. More than one speaker made this point and emphasised that treating people with respect costs nothing. It’s the small things that make a difference, saying thank you, recognising individuals, focusing on improving communication ‘Leaders want results, employees want communication’, introducing small things to support employee wellbeing. As Keith Ayers from Integro put it: ‘behaviour builds trust, not intention’. Keith also shared the Integro model of trust, encouraged us to ‘Judge performance and not people’ and made the point that ‘productive conflict is good’.

Keith’s underlying point is that as a leader you will have a big impact on another person’s life.

Consistency pays off

Start with one thing and do it consistently. So many of our actions are performed every day by our sub-conscious mind and muscle memory. That’s why change can be very painful. Even though on the other side of the pain is joy, people often resist and go through what Meredith Wilson, of West Farmers Industrial and Safety, calls the Change Curve. She shared her story of driving change with miners and encouraged us that in certain situations, it’s better to ‘go slow to move quick’. Culture is such a big and important part of success, it exists as soon as you have more than one person and requires consistent monitoring. Meredith shared that some things over-index: ‘Listening to your people & meeting them where they are’ for instance, and emphasised the important role of the leader in any culture change initiative: ‘No matter what speed you go at, it’s useless unless the leaders are on board’.

Think of employees as customers

Employee experience is often on the other side of the customer experience coin. Consider the whole employee experience from candidate to alumni, noting the moments that matter. Alana Bennett from Ooh Media shared what she has done to automate the communication at every touchpoint to both employees and managers. It was very impressive and delivered many benefits including freeing up managers’ time to focus on coaching, creating a positive experience for new starters and keeping in touch with leavers as part of an alumni. One to replicate for sure.

Upgrade your workplace food choices

Whilst there was a lot of discussion on the importance of mental health, the role of nutrition as a contributor to mental health didn’t feature heavily. I was impressed with the work that Dr Vicki Ashton and Anne Ohimus of Monash are doing in the area of creating a healthier eating campus culture. Their wellbeing programme included: healthy vending (the removal of 120 Coke machines), healthy catering, food as medicine education, dietician consultations, water fountains, community gardens, cooking demos, a food labelling programme plus the support of local retailers including an on-site SumoSalad.

A four day work week?

How about giving all of your staff a day off and paying them for five? That’s what Andrew Barnes did during a two month trial and asked his staff how to make it work – he gave them the challenge of figuring out how they could all get a paid day off without impacting productivity. And guess what? They figured it out. After two months, internet usage went down 30%, stress went down 15.5%, perceivable work-life balance went up 28%. His big message: ‘It’s not about time in the office, it’s about engagement, retention, health and stress’. Couldn’t agree more. The PR awareness from the experiment has also led to new business wins.

Measure consistently

So how do you track whether you’re doing a good job from a wellbeing point of view? Different businesses measure different things, but some of the common metrics included:

  • Employee experience
  • Relationship with manager
  • Relationship with employee
  • Employee Net Promotor Score
  • Engagement in wellbeing activities

Human-Centred Organisations: The Current State of Employee Wellbeing and it’s impact on Business

So there we have it. Having created and grown a corporate wellbeing program from the inside, I know how important it is to have external, specialist support. Back in 2014, I had plenty of ideas and willing volunteers, but no resources to help coordinate it all and create value. Thanks to a short ‘plea for help’ post on LinkedIn, I found Kamwell and together we built the RBI Living Well programme, and the rest as they say, is history.

Now, Kamwell and Raw Energy have collaborated to write and publish a brand new report ‘Human-Centred Organisations: The Current State of Employee Wellbeing and it’s impact on Business’. Based on the insights of 500 UK HR Directors, the report is free to download here: http://bit.ly/RawEnergy

About Lawrence

Lawrence is CCO of SumoSalad and CEO of RAW Energy. Our philosophy and framework focuses on helping people upgrade and balance their energy across five dimensions: physical, emotional, mental, connections and time. We’re here to serve and work with conscious and compassionate leaders to help them unleash and channel the RAW energy that already exists through our ‘Fuelling Greatness at Work programme’, a collaboration with SumoSalad, Raw Energy and the Healthy Brand Company. 

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