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Wellness culture: why you can’t leave it to chance

 

According to the ‘godfather or modern management’ Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” – makes for a great headline, but culture is a notoriously difficult thing to pin down.

As a small agency, it’s tempting to let culture grow organically among the tight knit team who work, and often play together – and for a while it works, kind of. Off the back of lockdowns, remote working and the overwhelming impact of a global pandemic, agency culture is no longer something that can be left to chance. But where to start?

Superficial, performative gestures are spotted a mile off, so any forays into (re)building the cultural fabric of an agency like XYZ must be grounded in authentic behaviour that has been seen and felt before. As we returned to hybrid office life off the back of the lockdowns, our tireless and dedicated operations team saw the need for an active programme of collective, positive experiences that rewarded and supported time in the office (as part of a flexible, hybrid remote working policy). Initially starting out as a one-off wellness week, overwhelming positive reaction from our full-time and freelance team saw it expand into a rolling programme of rooftop yoga, sound baths, reiki, meditation, and mindfulness workshops, that became a key part of the XYZ cultural fabric during the past year. These sessions were coupled with professional coaching and a renewed commitment to individual development plans for every member of staff, helping to build a sense of growth and high performance. Underpinning all these programmed wellness experiences were unforced, informal cultural conversations surrounding new exhibitions and shows, must-see TV and streaming, and a summer full of obligatory festival war stories. Even with the need for active curation of workplace culture, it’s important to leave space for naturally occurring moments.

However, these sessions and experiences alone won’t entirely address one of the most pressing mental health situations we’ve ever seen, how an agency goes about its work must also be part of the solution. Coming off the back of two years disrupted work that equated to an existential threat to agencies like ours, the risks of over-work, stress and financial recovery could easily add up to a cocktail of burnout and toxic work/life imbalance. Taking steps to protect our teams from these threats must go hand-in-hand with wellness programmes, otherwise you find yourself trying to fill a leaky bucket. If we are not providing a psychologically safe and empowering environment for our teams, how can we expect them to work creatively and effectively?

A holistic and collaborative approach to supporting wellness and mental health isn’t exclusive to the workplace, in celebration of world mental health day (October 10th), we were fortunate enough to work with Nike and Gurls Talk, creating an open, safe, and fun space for young girls to come together and celebrate mental health, connecting through shared experiences and nurturing self-love. Working closely with both organisations, we designed and delivered a range of experiences for girls to make new friends, get creative at customisation stations and express themselves through dance. Hosted by Gurls Talk founder, model and activist Adwoa Aboah, Gurls Talk Live also featured a line-up of experts ranging from a clinical psychologist to the founder or twerk dance collective, all on hand to show the girls how powerful a collective approach to wellness and positivity can help not only themselves, but each other.

Whether it be in our own office, or for the participants of Gurls Talk Live, the need for open conversations and actionable change to address one of the most important health issues facing us in the (hopefully) tail end of a global pandemic has never been more vital. This sentiment is shared by former Twitter Vice President Bruce Daisley, now celebrated author, podcast host and champion of improving workplace culture, who explores the secrets to inner strength in his new book Fortitude:

“True resilience lies in a feeling of togetherness, that we’re united with those around us in a shared endeavour. When we see ourselves and our identities reflected in those around us it is emboldening and enhancing for us. ”