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Employee wellbeing: lessons I’ve learnt from making employees a strategic business priority

In this thoughtpiece, our CEO Kirsten Samuel shares the lessons she has learned from making employees a strategic business priority.

With organisations across the globe changing the way their employees work and interact as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus on employee health and wellbeing has never been more relevant.

For many organisations both large and small, the impact can be felt already: employees are losing their jobs, businesses are closing their doors for good, there is a daily stream of furloughed workers, home-working virgins are setting themselves up in unconventional (un-ergonomic) new ways, parents are juggling the demands of home schooling and work; and all this on top of observing challenging self-isolation guidelines. As we transition further into the unknown, we find ourselves experiencing new emotions of grief for our lost routines and habits, our social connections, our family structures and, for many, our sense of security.

For many years I have been beating the drum for employee wellbeing to become a strategic boardroom priority, and now more than ever, organisations will be tested and measured by how well they step up to support their employees when they need it most.

When I set up Kamwell at the end of 2013, I was excited by many things: the prospect of creating a purpose-led business, the ability to control my own destiny, the impact and difference I could make at a personal, business and societal level. However, the thing that excited me most was the opportunity to create a truly human-centred business. Being a small, agile company, we have a mix of full time and part time employees, virtual team members, associates and our fabulous 50 strong Kamwell Partner Network. I am extremely passionate about putting my people first, and I continue to learn, on a daily basis, how best to do so.

Culture: Creating a positive company culture and experience for my employees to thrive in is a key priority for me. You may be familiar with the term ‘Psychological Safety’ which, for me, means supporting every employee to bring their whole selves to work and to feel safe in doing so - without judgement, punishment or consequence. This is really important to me in order for people to really show up. I also try to encourage plenty of positivity (especially in times like these, when the chips are down). I listen and I’m interested in what people have to say. And it’s also important that my team feel they are valued, they belong, they are cared for and they can grow at Kamwell – both personally and professionally. In the blink of an eye, I would do anything for them, and likewise, I hope they would do the same for me. 

Trust: There are so many benefits to cultivating a culture of trust, yet I hear so often that this is missing, both for employees and employers. Take flexible working as an example (something most of us are currently having to do): trust is often cited as the most important factor in implementing a flexible working scheme, yet it never fails to amaze me when I hear of managers saying they don’t allow it because they don’t trust their staff to work from home! Either you’ve hired the wrong people or you’re not working hard enough to build and earn that trust. For me trust is about open and honest communication - especially when the going gets tough. It’s about being authentic, reliable and fair - and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Now more than ever before I find myself leaning on my team to help build the best version of Kamwell that we can, in spite of everything else that is going on around us, things that are out of our control - asking for help is most definitely a two-way street. 

Connection: Our relationships at work and a feeling of connectedness can be such a huge source of wellbeing and happiness in our lives. Connection also drives collaboration and knowledge-sharing, trusted relationships, productive and efficient working practices and an appreciation for what is going on for people in their lives. I am very intentional about ensuring the team always feel connected and more recently we have found ourselves building new virtual habits of connection: 9am check in calls where we all share three things we are aware of and three things we are grateful for – and – a 2pm virtual coffee break where we are joined by members of our extended team. Not only do we feel better for it in the moment, but I’ve also seen first-hand the benefits of a well-connected team that look out for each other. 

Purpose: Whilst we all strive to have purpose in our lives and our jobs, how many organisations actually support their people on their purpose journeys? Whilst my vision for Kamwell from the outset was to create a purpose-led business, only more recently have we started to work through exactly what that means for us and our customers, and how as conscious leaders we align building our brand with creating a great culture and place to work. The world and the way in which we work is changing and it’s important that everyone is aligned to Kamwell's purpose - this has to start with understanding our own individual leadership purpose. Help your people find purpose in their work.

Whole person wellbeing: How can we show up at work as our whole and authentic selves if we are not prioritising our own wellbeing, or if our organisational culture is based on the premise that driving people to the point of burnout is the only way. Wellbeing comes in many different forms and guises: from the food we eat, to the quality of our sleep, our relationships, our finances, our environments, our community (even more so now) and our physical and mental health - it’s all interrelated, it all matters. At Kamwell we do our best to practice what we preach - both as individuals and in how we support one another. We all have our own individual Wellness Actions Plans that enable us to recognise when we need support and how we can support our colleagues when they need it. I’ve seen as a team what we are capable of when we are energised, healthy and thriving, so this is a no brainer!

Many people talk about work as if it’s responsible for many of the bad things in our lives: stress, deadlines, poor relationships etc., when actually, for the majority, work provides a huge sense of purpose, connection, satisfaction and enjoyment. Whilst organisations may feel it is not their duty to care about what’s going on in people’s lives, if it’s happening to them, it’s real. Making your employees a strategic priority and putting them before your bottom line will deliver significant payback in so many ways. When I grew Kamwell to be more than just me, I realised from the outset that the success of my business was going to be wholly dependent on the fantastic people I invested in. 

As our ‘new normal’ in the wake of Covid-19 continues to emerge, where the way we work has been thrown upside down, I believe a paradigm shift is happening. It is my hope that we will emerge from this time with a renewed sense of purpose and vigour around greater connection, respect and purpose, and a stronger sense of gratitude for what we have. I also think that we will have re-evaluated the importance we place on our own wellbeing and that of others. Amongst all the challenges and devastation, there is hope and opportunity and I hope we will harness this for the better.