Creating better wellbeing habits: why the office conversation matters.

The first time you see a video of yourself giving a presentation, it’s usually a shock. Is that really you waving your hands about like you’re practising semaphore? Do you really pad every sentence with likes, you knows, and erms?  Suddenly you’re confronted with a catalogue of bizarre verbal and behavioural tics that you never knew you had.

Fortunately, unless these habits make you a social pariah, none of them damage your wellbeing. In fact, you could make a good argument that ignorance is bliss.

But there are other habits that are harmful, and where a lack of self-awareness does real damage to mental and physical health. Many of these are ingrained into our daily routines, both in and out of the work environment.

Activity is a familiar example. There’s now overwhelming evidence that a sedentary lifestyle, with long periods of inactivity, damages our long-term health. The human body did not evolve to be parked in front of a computer monitor all day, followed by bingeing Netflix all evening. In fact, it’s estimated that we manage less than a third of the daily steps of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (5,000 vs 16,000 -17,000).

It’s no exaggeration to say sedentary lifestyles, including typical work practices, rob millions of people of healthier, longer lives. And the strange thing is that most of us already understand this. The problem isn’t a lack of knowledge — in 2022, most of us have a fair idea of what’s good for our wellbeing and what isn’t — it’s a lack of consistent self-awareness.

Why consistent self-awareness? Because although we go through patches of monitoring our wellbeing habits, they easily fade into the background. Maybe a health-related article pops up in our feed and we’re inspired to hit 10,000 steps a day, and that works for a while, but then there’s that work project that absolutely must be completed next week, then it’s raining for a fortnight, and then the kids are poorly, and before long we’re back to couch-potato land.

Without encouragement, wellbeing zooms up and down our list of priorities like a lift in a skyscraper.

When wellbeing becomes a thing.

Employers have every reason to keep wellbeing in the spotlight. Aside from the duty of care, good wellbeing has a positive impact on an organisation’s public perception, ability to attract talent, and on rates of absenteeism and productivity.

Fortunately, managers who want to keep wellbeing front-and-centre have one tremendous ally: the humble office conversation. Decades of psychological research have established the huge role our peers have in shaping our attitudes, feelings and cognitions — and that influence is largely communicated through conversation. For employees who aren’t especially interested in wellbeing, encouraging emails from management may hardly register, but conversation among their own colleagues is much harder to ignore.

It’s once wellbeing becomes ‘a thing’, a regular water-cooler topic, that real change begins.

The role of tech

Now obviously, managers can’t dictate what topics their employees want to discuss. But what they can do is facilitate conversations about wellbeing.

Wellbeing platforms, together with data-gathering tech, can play a major role in this. When a group of employees all have access to the same platform, conversations naturally spring up around wellbeing topics.

We’ve seen this in practice with our own clients. Our Omics app securely collects employee data on a whole range of mental and physical wellbeing indicators. Managers can access that anonymised and aggregated data, gaining invaluable insights into how teams or particular workplaces are doing. But for employees, their individual results are a source of great interest and even excitement. They are keen to compare their scores, friendly competitions break out, and our tests of cognitive function become a game. In short, we’ve seen our tech create a buzz about, and an engagement with, wellbeing that hadn’t been there before.

In our experience, once wellbeing is embedded on the conversational map, it tends to stay there. Thinking about wellbeing is supported and reinforced by other employees and becomes a new norm that’s better for individuals, better for productivity, and ultimately, better for the company.

Not every habit is bad, and the office conversation is a key mechanism to establish those which support better wellbeing.

ART Health Solutions is a wellbeing consultancy, providing effective, science-based wellbeing recommendations. Our bespoke solutions are generated by gathering data directly from the organisation and its employees. For all enquiries, please contact our friendly team.

Briony Sommers

Digital Marketing Executive, ART Health Solutions

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