Way back in the wacky 70s and 80s, a musical experiment called the Portsmouth Sinfonia gathered a cult following. It was a strange, simple idea: an orchestra (and eventually a choir) comprised of people who are either playing instruments unfamiliar to them, or who just aren’t very competent.
You can get the idea from a more modern incarnation, linked below. An appropriately amateur camera person captures an audience and players enjoying a joyful racket. The whole schtick is that no one’s trying to play badly. Everyone’s doing their best, everyone’s participating — and yet the end result is far from harmonious.
And that seems to us an apt metaphor for a lot of businesses up and down the UK. There are many companies where the workforce is doing its bit, managers are coordinating, but something is distinctively off-kilter. The company somehow doesn’t mesh quite as it should.
In this context, however, the results can be far from chucklesome. Workflow isn’t smooth, tasks take longer than they should, productivity falls — not to mention the effects on employee mood and engagement.
For managers, the causes can be hard to pin down. To use our metaphor, they know when the music sounds right, but it’s a mystery why things go out of tune.
When they do, one place to look could be staff wellbeing.
Orchestras within orchestras
Let’s pursue the music metaphor a bit more deeply: not only is every organisation like an orchestra, but you can think of every employee in the same way.
What we mean is this: within each individual, a host of biological and psychological factors work together to produce a healthy, functioning person. These factors interact in complex ways that science is only starting to unpick, and it doesn’t take much to disturb the ensemble.
To take just one example, it’s well established that poor-quality sleep can impair cognitive performance, which makes work-related performance more difficult. The knock-on effects from this may be greater perceived stress, low mood and poor diet choices — all of which can further compromise sleep and wider health.
Just one ill-timed instrument, one flat voice, and our personal wellbeing descends from Beethoven’s 9th to bad karaoke.
The same principle applies to an organisation as a whole. All the staff are trying to follow the same score, but if just a few individuals are having problems, the effects are ear-gratingly obvious. In an interconnected organisation, individual wellbeing ripples outwards to affect the team or the wider organisation. In the long term, poor wellbeing in a surprisingly small percentage of the workforce can sap morale, productivity, engagement and motivation.
Wellbeing sets the stage
Now, of course we’re not saying that staff wellbeing lies at the root of all discord within a company. Many other forces may contribute, including workload, changes in management, market conditions, recruitment difficulties, infighting — the list goes on.
But what we can safely say is that good individual wellbeing makes a great foundation for a harmonious organisation. When each member of the team is healthy, happy and functioning well, the stage is set for a fantastic group performance.
We’ve written extensively on how companies can support the wellbeing of their employees. As evidence-based consultants, our view is that the best interventions are data-driven, allowing employees to gather information about their own lives. Ideally, and with employee permission, managers should be able to securely gather anonymised data, allowing them to monitor trends and anticipate problems. And as should be apparent from our argument above, monitoring should be holistic, looking at a range of physical, mental and cognitive factors. The best wearable technology can facilitate all of this and provide a cost-effective basis for a wellbeing strategy.
It’s a beautiful thing when a company moves from Sinfonia to symphony, and supporting individual wellbeing may be the key.
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.