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The movement to foster greater wellbeing at work is growing. But let’s not forget what work can do for us.

14 November 2013

Wellbeing is a hot topic. A spate of high profile cases recently have highlighted the growing pressure we all face, especially at work – from the death of a 21-year-old banking intern to the resignation of senior Barclays executive Sir Hector Sants following a leave of absence due to stress and exhaustion.

The 9 to 5 is now an archaic descriptor for the average day and out of sync with the realities of modern life, and work is getting a lot of stick as a result. It’s easy to bemoan the rise of email culture and the diffusion of work-life boundaries that are changing traditional social habits and routines. We are quick to stigmatise the workplace as negative, but perhaps this is because of our tendency to underestimate the role work has to play in making us happier.

What’s interesting is looking at how progressive organisations are moving the dialogue away from ‘coping mechanisms’ and instead taking a broader attitudinal shift, which recognises that things aren’t so clear cut any more and that we need to change our behaviour accordingly.

Lasting change will only come if we rethink how we define the relationship between our working and personal lives – both influence each other more than we’re willing to admit. There’s no doubt that work is infringing on what we traditionally think of as our home time. So by taking a progressive approach to how we use our time at work, we can start to appreciate work’s proper function.

We place a lot of trust in the benefits that work gives us, often without realising it. It gives us companionship, the stability of routine and, hopefully, a sense of pride and purpose. These are all vital to our wellbeing but are often overlooked in favour of stories where this relationship has suffered a negative imbalance. Working really does help us bring a positive change to our outlook on life, so we need to start recognising that ‘wellbeing at work’ isn’t a one way street.

It’s never been more important for employers to repay the trust of their employees, and this isn’t necessarily achieved through a pay rise or massive bonus, either. Companies need to do more to help us support our own personal interests and activities too. Incentives that reward healthy behaviour – cycle to work schemes, lunch clubs, flexible working hours and opportunities to socialise outside of the office – are some of the simple ways in which we can adopt a more human approach to our relationship with work. Feeling valued will help us to perform at our best and get the most out of our jobs. And a greater sense of purpose and meaning in our work will have a wider impact on the happiness of society in general: better levels of motivation, a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfilment and lower levels of stress and anxiety that things are getting too much.

Lots of our projects at Forster Communications are helping to demonstrate the value of progressive approaches in this area.

We’re helping pharmaceutical company Astellas to communicate the positive impacts that employee volunteering has on local communities where the business operates, and on Astellas’ staff in turn. With BITC Workwell, we’re helping to influence businesses to think more sustainably when it comes to people management. This concerns a new approach to wellbeing and highlights the importance of supporting people to look after themselves properly – both within and outside of work – and the positive effects for business as a result.

Renegotiating our relationship with work will have a huge impact on how we view ourselves and society, and communicating the benefits of better business practices is key to driving this change. More than anything, it’s important to remember that our work shouldn’t define us – but it should have a key role in helping us become who we want to be.