What 2020 has taught us about wellness

This could prove to be a watershed moment in the way we approach wellness and work

December 18, 2020

What 2020 has taught us about wellness

I can't help feeling that we'll end up looking back at 2020 as a watershed moment for wellness. It's the moment when it stopped being a buzzword that people referred to now and then – and started being an issue that businesses planned seriously around. 

The past year has been incredibly tough on so many levels – and because of that, a tremendous amount of energy, empathy and creativity has gone into keeping people feeling connected, empowered and understood. We've never been more aware of the fact that colleagues and team members might be struggling – and we've never been more aware of the need to provide meaningful support. I like to think that managers and business leaders won't lose that instinct as we try to move on from the pandemic and find ways back to growth. The past year has taught us a huge amount about wellness – and a lesson that's likely to stick is that businesses find ways to thrive and move forward when they help their people thrive and move forward – no matter how difficult the circumstances might be.

Over the last few months, I've heard from a range of sales and marketing leaders about how the pandemic has changed their approach to wellness. They've shared ideas from their own experience, including tactics and techniques that have worked for their teams – and how they'll be approaching making wellness a continued priority as we head into 2021.

1. Counter uncertainty with transparency

In uncertain times, nothing increases stress levels like withholding information. You can't expect employees to be resilient and adaptive if they don't feel you're giving them the full picture of what they're adapting to. 

I recently joined an episode of our Live with Marketers show, where I shared a panel with Andrew Harkness and Samairah Maqsood, Chief Operating Officer and Sales Director of the market-leading customer generation platform, MVF. I was impressed by the emphasis they put on being clear with employees about how the business was doing. Sharing the milestones that you're working towards, and why, helps colleagues to feel empowered and demonstrates that, as a team, you have some control over the outcomes. As Samairah put it, "it's about ensuring that you communicate these goals clearly to your employees and keep them updated on progress, enabling them to gauge the position of the business."

2. Manage by outcomes when it comes to morale

One of the dilemmas for managers during the pandemic has been finding the right balance between promoting togetherness and overloading employees with remote team building activities and "forced fun". Andrew Harkness at MVF recommends managing by outcomes as a solution to this balancing act; setting a clear end-objective around engagement and morale, but then empowering managers and employees to come up with the appropriate strategy for achieving it. 

"Fundamentally, we think it's more engaging for the team, and you get much better results when you empower them to determine how best to achieve something," he says. "The same thing goes for how we've thought about team engagement. We allowed the teams to find their own feet to work out what worked for them, and then we found ways to surface the most impactful approaches they discovered for building rapport."

3. Provide creative opportunities for interaction – but keep them optional

Virtual pizza nights with the entire team, stand-ups where everyone takes it in turns to perform in fancy dress, online yoga groups, Diwali-themed cook-alongs, virtual pub quizzes and telethon-style crowd-sourced concerts. Over the course of 2020, we've seen a whole host of creative solutions to the challenge of how to keep interacting with one another. For as long as remote working remains a feature of the path back to growth, we'll need such regular doses of interaction – and we'll need fresh ideas that keep them from becoming just another routine. 

Crowd-sourcing ideas across the business is one principle that helps to avoid the feeling of going through the motions – and prevents too much pressure falling on managers to keep coming up with something new. Another important principle is to keep things optional. We all need to maintain interaction with others, but some employees will need it to a different degree and in a different style to others. Resist the tendency for your team to judge its members based on participation. Aim to provide a range of different activities to try and include different personality types – and if people consistently don't engage, try reaching out directly to check how they're doing.

4. Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others

Utah Kim, LinkedIn's Senior Content Marketing Manager for APAC, uses this classic airline safety announcement as a reminder of the importance of managers looking after their own health and wellbeing. If your energy is depleted, it becomes very challenging to look after others.

Prioritising your wellbeing starts with giving yourself permission to stay well-rested, nourished and hydrated. There's nothing unprofessional about getting enough sleep and making sure you're eating properly. In the circumstances we're operating within, it's an important part of any manager's role.

You can build on this by organising your remote working day in a way that plays to your strengths, embracing the flexibility that's part of working from home. I love the phrase that VP Marketing at American Express, Rupert Bedell uses for this in a recent episode of Live with Sales Leaders. He talks about bringing as much Friday as possible into your life. That could involve turning calls into 'walking meetings' when you and the person you're meeting with switch a video call to your mobiles and take a stroll together; it could involve giving yourself and your team an extra hour off in winter, to make sure that everyone gets some exercise. It can help to schedule your work so that you're regularly ticking off at least a few deliverables each day, just to give yourself the hit of dopamine that comes from completing a task. I like Rupert's idea of internal office moves around your own living space. Moving from the kitchen table to the bedroom might not feel like much – but any change of scene can help.

5. Respect time – both your own and your colleagues'

Time pressure has become a constant in sales and marketing – and any opportunity you can find to relieve it can make an outsized difference to both yourself and others. Accenture's Managing Director Financial Services, Carmina Lees has adopted the tactic of changing standard call and meeting times from an hour to 45 minutes – and from half an hour to 25 minutes. "The little things can make a big difference," she says. "Even if it's just an extra five minutes to step away from your machine – or an extra 20 minutes to go for a walk in the mornings."

Another crucial aspect of respecting people's time is showing gratitude when others give up their time for you. Saying a simple thank you has never carried more weight and value when it comes to managing people – or simply supporting your colleagues. It's had an impact driving collaboration across functions as well. Being intentional about how we use others' time is often cited as one of the factors bringing sales and marketing teams closer together this year. It's a reminder that empathy and concern for wellness isn't just the right thing to do – it's one of the most significant steps you can take towards achieving key business objectives over the coming year.