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Wellbeing at work - Oxymoron?

"I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my noseholes - everywhere. Until it's every breath I breathe. I'm going to go out like a fucking meteor!” ~Audre Lorde

We would heartily agree with Audre Lorde and we know that sometimes it's not as straightforward as it sounds. What is the intersection between wellbeing and work? Between love and work?

  • If we’re fortunate enough to have choices, what’s needed to ensure we can do the work we love without compromising on our wellbeing?

  • What might we need to stop doing in order to ensure we don’t burn out but are able to sustain ourselves and “go out like a fucking meteor!”?

  • Is it even possible in a world of work that’s designed to squeeze the juice out of people without regard for things like love and wellbeing?

These are just a few of the questions that are emerging as we speak to people in our own working circles and consider our next conversational focus, which we've distilled into the question: Wellbeing at Work: Oxymoron?

What we’re seeing in the organisations we work with:

  • Most organisations openly espouse care for the wellbeing of their staff.

  • Corporate wellbeing is defined as - activities, programmes and policies designed to support healthy behaviour in the workplace e.g. health education, medical screenings, weight management programmes, and onsite fitness programmes / facilities.

  • The proclamations about healthy workplaces issued by large organisation are juxtaposed by the actual levels of overwhelm and burnout reported by staff.

  • We rarely see people in large organisations displaying wellness.

  • Salaried employees are working longer hours than ever before with technology-enabled communication 24h a day.

  • Unsalaried workers are often on limited or zero-hour contracts, have no consistency of working hours, and no security of income.

  • People are still seen as human 'resources' and are expected to take care of their own maintenance so that they can be productive at work.

  • Self-care and wellbeing are ultimately considered the responsibility of an individual.

Dimensions of Wellbeing:

Wellness, of course, is not a binary state. It’s a complex system in our individual systems and this wheel captures some of the elements most significant to a well-rounded state of wellbeing.

We bumped into our own wellness wheels two years ago when we both ended up in hospital, for different reasons, within a month of each other. Clearly, there was a massive imbalance!

We've actively made wellness-prioritising choices over the last two years and are definitely better off for it health-wise but still regularly find ourselves with a tension between our overall wellbeing and our financial health.

We appreciate that we're incredibly fortunate to even be in a position to ask questions and be able to make some of these choices for ourselves. For us, it's an ongoing balancing act. How about you?

Wellness = the active pursuit of lifestyle choices that lead to a state of holistic wellbeing

Factors that contribute in workplaces to wellbeing:

  • Remote working, whilst attractive to some people, is not enough.

  • People are asking for more varied flexibility options, higher wages, reduced workloads, and shorter working weeks to support wellbeing choices.

  • Vital for sustained productivity.

  • Experiments with 4-day weeks and reduced working hours have shown increases in productivity & wellbeing but many corporates still resist the shift.

  • In a world that values visible effort, prioritising rest is revolutionary!

  • Wellness can be financially costly – for example, buying good food is often a privilege, as is paying for gym memberships, trainers, holidays, retreats etc.

  • Often costly in other ways too - it can come at the expense of visible productivity, promotional opportunities, and workplace 'success'.


Looking at all of this, we must admit, we don’t see a lot of work contributing positively to wellbeing in the world around us. But does it have to be this way?

There's a proliferation of workplace programmes designed to build employee resilience and improve performance through enhanced wellbeing, which is generally defined as being comfortable, healthy and happy. We're wondering how this tracks with the unprecedented levels of dissatisfaction and disengagement being reported by people at work... let's talk about it!

What’s your take on this? How do work and wellbeing co-exist in your world?

We’d love to hear from you and we are hosting a conversation later this week to explore this with some of our community (Thursday, 4th May, 12:20-2:20 BST) and if you haven't already signed up to join us, we'd love to have you there or let us know below...


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