Taking a Lens of Well-being to Work


A hand holding up a camera lens looking toward a lake landscape.In October of last year, the US Surgeon General issued their Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being. The framework makes sense to me because I desire to see workplaces that thrive (go beyond well-being). To move toward a thriving workplace, organizations must apply the lens of well-being.

Why use a well-being lens?

One piece of data presented in the framework came from the American Psychological Association’s 2022 Work and Wellbeing Survey. According to the survey, 81% of workers reported that in the future, they will look for workplaces that support mental health. So, expect that four out of five potential hires might ask about workplace culture and well-being during the interview process. How would you answer the question: how does your company support the well-being of its employees?

Another piece of data from the same report which was striking but not surprising was that 53% of workers aged 18-25 report that they often feel like their workplace does not accept them. That means many young people are seriously masking up, which limits creativity and innovation. How is the quality of work affected when employees don’t feel a sense of belonging?

My experience with well-being “in the field”

A couple of other experiences over the past few years have also led me to believe we need to take a well-being lens to all workplaces. First is my experience with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program Collaborative. I offered some workshops/topics around well-being, resilience, and human-nature connection. I also got to hear from young scholars about what they need from conservation as they move into the workplace. Acceptance and well-being were top priorities. These young people did not lack passion or skills. They were preparing to enter workplaces known to push them away for any identity that doesn’t match the status quo, often white, male, cis-gendered, and growing up with a family who hunts and/or fishes.

Second, almost two-thirds of participants in a fall workshop on Nurturing Trauma-informed Conservation Communities were college-aged students. About another 15% were young professionals. All were looking for well-being for themselves and for ways to make their current and future workplaces better.

Finally, the field of conservation, which is my primary network, is basically the “front-line workers” of climate change. They work directly and daily in situations that often feel helpless and hopeless. I know this because I often ask a question in my workshops, especially those on wellness, eco-grief, and eco-resilience. For a thriving future, we need to be able to open spaces to talk about the emotional effects of this work.

How do I use a lens of well-being?

The wellness model I use starts us on a path to well-being through awareness.

First, I recommend visualizing what a thriving workplace would ideally look like. You must see the possible future if you are going to help create it. If you’ve worked in a thriving workplace, then it will be easier for you to create one. If you haven’t, think about what has been missing that would allow you to show up with your full self and energy (or have compassionate coworkers on days that you can’t show up fully). Use your ideas to move from where your team is now to where you want to be. If you have team members that you would consider allies to such an effort, ask them to join you in this visualization.

Another important question to ask is what are my beliefs about wellness? Do you believe that well-being is an individual’s responsibility outside of the workplace? Where did that belief come from? It is important to unpack your beliefs about well-being and where they came from because knowing the source of your beliefs will make it more possible for change. You might also ask yourself how those beliefs have served you in your life. If your current practices have not served well, it’s clear that change is necessary. Embrace the future.

One way to look at your team/organization is to rank it on a spectrum. To the left would be the minimum – mental health resources provided to employees. On the far right would be a thriving and energized workforce where well-being is modeled daily. Where would your team or entire organization fall on that spectrum?

With regard to modeling, take a look at how well-being is modeled going up the chain of supervision to the highest levels of authority. What well-being behaviors are practiced and modeled by those with the most power in the organization? Are emails answered 24/7 or are boundaries set around response practices? Do they check in regularly with their teams? Do you see them taking breaks, getting outside, moving, eating well, and protecting time for reflection, creativity, and strategy? What happens if someone shows up with illness or family issues? How is vacation treated? Do people even notice if someone feels off – not quite themselves – and show concern?

To summarize, complete the following:

● Thriving workplaces look like __________
● My beliefs about workplace well-being are _______
● If I had to rank my current team or organization when it comes to modeling workplace well-being, I would give them a score of ______
● The organization’s authority figures model workplace well-being during the day by _____

This is my initial list. What else comes to mind for you?

Consider human needs

When it comes to workplace well-being, one must understand the basic human needs of safety, belonging, and significance. Human needs are the basis of Individual Psychology which comes from the principles of Alfred Adler. Many of Adler’s principles have been extended to many aspects of Positive Psychology today.

The Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being covers this and more. The first of five parts of the framework is protection from harm, including safety and security. Safety for everyone must be in place for a thriving workplace. However, I don’t want people to mistake safety for complete comfort. Transformation can be painful, and growth happens when we embrace our edges.

A second part of the framework is connection and community, where belonging lies. Everyone must feel like they are included no matter who they are and how they show up to the work. This is about building supportive relationships that include the ability to challenge each other’s thinking toward growth of the organization.

A third part of the framework is mattering at work. In the framework, this includes dignity and meaning. For me, this represents the human need for significance and a feeling of being valued and valuable. When our voice is important and we are all celebrated for the gifts we bring, we are motivated to do and be more.

The two remaining parts of the framework are an opportunity for growth and work-life harmony. In the wellness model that I use, growth is a part of the entire pathway. So, we need this both individually and organizationally. All of life is about movement. Finally, workplaces must realize that life is not all about work. Work is only one of five life tasks, according to Adler. The others are social, love, self, and spirituality. With too much emphasis on work to the detriment of our other life tasks, we can get burnt out.

Time to thrive

What is the worst thing that could happen if you look at your workplace through a lens of well-being? Yes, you are likely to uncover many things that need to change. And if there are strongly held beliefs about well-being not being embedded in the workday, then you’ll face discouragement in the process. Be prepared for how you will navigate it.

Go back to your vision for a thriving workplace and a realistic assessment of well-being using the lenses I suggested. Start experimenting. Take small steps, starting with your own well-being practices. Then model with others in the workplace. Keep experimenting by adding a team check-in process, well-being discussion as part of team meetings and other small acts to create more thriving workplaces.

If you are ready to go “all in” contact me. My partners and I have a series of workshops to help you move toward more humanistic and thriving workplaces. These include aspects of self-leadership, collaborating with others, and even thriving in our relationship with Earth.

Join me in creating thriving workplaces for the future through the lens of well-being and thriving.

Contact me

Use my Contact Page for any of the following: 

  • To request a copy of one or more of the four articles from The Wildlife Professional: A Wellness Path for Wildlifers, Tuning in to Burnout, Working in a World of Wounds, and Acknowledging Trauma in the Workplace.
  • For interest in any workshops in the Leadership of Self series, Regenerative Leadership Primer, Team Wellness, Nurturing Trauma-informed Conservation Communities or any of the others you can find HERE and HERE

Written by Michelle Doerr

©anavahconsultingllc 2023

Tags: #leadership #thriving #well-being #wellness
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