For wellbeing in organisations we see both a defensive and an offensive strategy. The defensive is where we tackle negative consequences of working pressures. The offensive is all about increasing productivity. Both come down to the same thing: the ability to relax under pressure.
Work is often about control. We use numbers, spreadsheets and weekly discussions on targets, dead- and bottom lines. An organisation is something uniform, an umbrella we can all relate to and built our careers upon. That is a very good thing. It’s not called ‘organisation’ for nothing: work benefits from being well organised.
Yet there is a limit to functionality. People are ultimately emotional animals. Between 85 and 95% of all our decisions are based upon our feelings (sources: Nobel price winner Kahneman and Harvard University) even when we think we are being rational. Money for instance looks functional but is really highly emotional. Without it we don’t have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We need it to survive.
Still most of our business practices are functional in nature. Some are even designed to reduce emotional attachment, such as the uniform known as ‘the suit’. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you ask me the one thing that truly stands in the way of success in most organisations, it’s the embrace of the emotional.
In the case of company well being this emotion is very specific: relaxation. When we only emphasize functionality we interfere with our ability to relax. And contrary to popular belief, it’s feeling relaxed – even with swirling deadlines and yelling bosses around you – ultimately breeds the most success.
Relaxation has two mayor functions in our working environments. Of course, it alleviates stress, which in turn reduces the chances of burnout symptoms. But it also makes us much more focused and productive. Countless studies have shown that people in a relaxed state of mind perform better and are much more creative.
In psychology this is described as a ‘state of flow’, where you are so relaxed performing the most difficult of tasks, time seems to stand still. This happens to doctors on a ten-hour operating table or musicians in the middle of their concert. They stop thinking, start feeling and everything comes out perfect. It is similar to meditation: you see everything clearly and know exactly what to do.
The real trick for company wellbeing is to create such a relaxed atmosphere that even when things go tilt, your people are still able to perform to their best abilities. To reach this we don’t have to change our functional practices (so yes, you can keep the crunch times!) but mostly just our mindset towards pressured environments.
The first thing you need to build is trust. Employees should feel appreciated in their work. This in turn will build confidence in their ability to perform tasks. Secondly, you need to take a good long hard look at your office practices. Artificial lighting, time spent behind screens, crazy office hours, eating meat during lunch… these types of things increase stress hormones. In turn hurting productivity.
The third tip is to focus on the ‘now’, just as those in a state of flow do. Most of our work is geared towards the future with specific and (often large) targets on the horizon. Yet cutting those targets into tiny little workable pieces – what the Japanese call Kaizen – helps tremendously in reducing stress and reaching a state of flow.
Ultimately all emotions are contagious. Stress spreads easily but so does relaxation. Right now the business world is focused on decreasing the negative and combating burnout. I say turn it around. One of my main points in the book Restart is to put your focus on the positive and increase relaxation. Not only will this reduce stress but also it will lead you to greater success.
Rogier van Kralingen is a Dutch writer, speaker and musician with extensive experience in the business world. He is a three-time nominee and one time winner of the Dutch Innovation Literature Awards (PIM Award) and owns media production company The Whole Story.
Relevant work:Restart (on burnout - English) - buy bookThe Outerweb (on the future of the Internet - Dutch) - buy book
More books:De Groeimotor (on innovation - Dutch) - buy bookEmotional Innovation (on business values and emotions - Dutch) - buy book
Read more articles by Rogier:
- Restart your wellbeing- The importance of relaxation- Burnout recovery - podcast transcript