Contemplating Leadership Series:
What’s wellbeing got to do with talent management?
‘Wellbeing’ is on the agenda for a number of Developing U clients. But what does it mean and what’s it’s place in the 21st century world of work?
When I first brought home my new puppy, Milo, he was 11 weeks old and it was bleak December weather. Before he had had all his vaccinations and I could safely put him down and let him meet other dogs, I carried him on’ walks’ round our local lake, past the farm shop and across the heath land of the New Forest so he could get accustomed to lots of different experiences; bird calls as the geese skidded across the frozen water, traffic on the winding country lanes, people, donkeys and ponies wandering in the Forest.
The bonus for me was that, seeing through his eyes, I too experienced new things. I delighted in wintry sunsets, the reflections of swans on the glassy water or conversations with strangers about my puppy. I saw a familiar landscape with new and wondering eyes. Experiences I’d ignored or often missed in my busy 12 hour working days. I felt more alive to my surroundings and energised.
The majority of managers and leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years have had many common and laudable characteristics, including a rich and diverse range of interests outside work. A more worrying common trait is working long hours, often coupled with taking work home and being unable to switch off from the job. (Do you know that British managers work some of the longest hours in Europe? A statistic that sadly doesn’t equate to the highest productivity in Europe).
Anyone currently involved in talent recruitment and management has a sharp interest in the new ‘millennial’ workers and the new perspectives and requirements generations x and y have of their workplaces. My contemporaries (I am a child of the 70s) were brought up in a work culture that accepted long hours as a necessary evil to get ahead and indeed almost a status symbol, an indicator of success. I started work in an era where employer and employee were often polarised and there was a clear dividing line between home and work life. My working life began against a backdrop of the three day week during the Heath administration, the miners’ strike, rate capping and the revolution of the print industry during the Thatcher years). In those times, ‘workplace stress’ was a barely acknowledged and shameful concept. Perhaps as a consequence many of my generation now misread the 21st century workplace language of ‘well-being’ as a euphemism for being unable to cope with work pressure.
So what does this have to do with my experiences as a new puppy owner? Milo’s arrival in our household coincided with a piece of work on Talent Management I was doing for a very large, very successful and extremely traditional public sector employer. I was interviewing a number of staff under 30 years old about their career aspirations to draw conclusions for an emerging Talent Management strategy. Without exception they talked about;
· wanting to feel proud of the company/organisation they worked for. An ethical track record and/or being at the forefront of innovation were as important as financial success
· seeing work and home life as a much more integrated and boundary less whole than my generation has done. (Work/life balance, a phrase much used by my HR colleagues, was an outmoded concept for them as it assumes a polarity rather than integration). This mental/emotional integration was mirrored by their expectation of far greater physical flexibility; traditional office boundaries replaced by the technology-enabled freedom to work at home, in cafés, on trains..and at any time of the day or night.
· achievement judged by output and outcomes, not by hours worked
· relationship was more valued than hierarchy – the boss might be the boss but he/she would be of a similar age to them, approachable, and work in an open plan environment shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the team.
· a rejection of an ‘office persona’ and a divide between clothes for work and clothes for play.
And wellbeing? When I shared my delight in how my new puppy had helped me see everything around me with fresh eyes, rediscovering small joys and pausing to look and touch and experience, one bright young man said to me, ‘I don’t want to be in any work situation where I lose that way of seeing the world. I’ll only be passionate and fresh about my work if I can be fully me at work and at home. People’s wellbeing has to be about being fully alive, not about an absence of sickness or ‘managing stress’.
Of course it would be simplistic to claim that only the under 30s have an integrated approach to life or that their preferred ways of working can all be achieved – but it’s a strong theme, important for smart employers wanting to attract and retain talent.