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Fit for purpose: making ‘strange’ the new norm

How do we create a culture of wellbeing when the biggest barrier is our own behaviour? Lendlease’s Natalie Slessor looks at creating the right space to shake off our inhibitions about healthier working

An increasing number of organisations are upping their wellbeing programmes in the workplace to match our growing interest in health in our personal lives. However a simple workplace wellbeing programme does not guarantee a culture of wellbeing in the company.

According to data from management consultancy Gallup, almost 60 per cent of millennials say that work-life balance and wellbeing are very important to them. Companies are responding by implementing a wellbeing strategy – you only have to look at the growing number of wellbeing-related job titles to see it is increasingly becoming a business priority.

But despite the workforce seemingly driving the need for wellbeing programmes, in reality it is the workforce itself that poses the biggest barrier to change. We are, after all, creatures of habit – and it takes more than a poster or company email to shake up our deeply habitual behaviour. Research also shows that it is our perception of what others might think which is a key barrier stopping us from being active at work.

Not feeling comfortable

A recent study conducted by YouGov found that 60 per cent of us would not feel comfortable keeping active at work by standing or pacing for a few minutes during a meeting that lasted longer than an hour. When asked why, more than 80 per cent said that they were put off in case management or clients thought their behaviour was ‘strange’.

When you think about it, it’s this perception that could be the reason many of our unhealthy behaviours at work seem impossible to shake. We need to let go of these inhibitions. We need to make ‘strange’ the new norm. Fortunately, our workplaces, where we now spend almost a third of our lives, provide the perfect platform to start.

I don’t mean installing a slide between floors or replacing swivel chairs with beanbags. It’s about making smart changes – that not only respond to the changing needs of the businesses we work for but also how each of us now works.

Give people control

Don’t get me wrong, creating a workplace that meets all the needs of a diverse mix of people is no easy feat. For some, the workplace is a space purely to collaborate – only useful for meetings, for others it’s a place to focus, be in the zone with the equipment and technology they need.

But by creating a work culture that encourage these, and the many other different work styles – we’re giving people control and ownership of how they want to work. And with that, the concept of doing something your colleagues may consider ‘strange’ or different to benefit your health, simply slips away. If we can nail that, we may never have to worry about the ‘norm’ again.