How to cultivate a healthy relationship with wellbeing and performance

How to cultivate a healthy relationship with wellbeing and performance

Mental health and wellbeing at work needs to be much more than a box-ticking exercise. Here’s how companies are getting their people on board.

Sometimes organisations take a tokenistic approach to mental health. They’ll host a morning tea around R U Okay? Day or run a one-off resilience workshop as a way to remedy rising stress levels. Everyone feels good (for a day or so) and those tasked with overseeing employee wellbeing can tick that off their checklist.

One-off events can be a good complement to a holistic and organisation-wide approach. However, with the World Health Organisation declaring workplace burnout to be an “occupational phenomenon” earlier this year, it is now considered unreasonable for organisations to have single events and non-systemic initiatives comprising the total of their wellbeing efforts. Safety, health and wellbeing are expected to be integrated as part of the usual way of doing things in daily operations in today’s workplaces.

Australian companies are doing exactly that. After conducting research and looking at the hidden costs of turnover, recruitment, absenteeism and workers compensation costs and rising premiums, companies are realising that a comprehensive framework and holistic approach to workplace wellness is what is needed.

Most companies have policies, which are a great start however, most don’t have a framework around wellbeing in place with a healthy relationship to performance and the key business drivers.

Wellbeing and performance are a dynamic duo. You cannot perform at your best without firstly being well.

Whenever I run workshops or seminars, I ask participants to raise their hand if they, or someone they know, personally or professionally, has experienced a mental health issue. Nowadays, 100 percent of the people in the room are putting their hand up, and on many occasions a high proportion are putting both their hands up!

Since noticing this shift in organisations over 5 years ago, it has become the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy’s key objective to demystify wellness and normalise the integration of wellbeing and healthy leadership practices into workplaces. It is this driving force behind the development of the nationally recognised Diploma of Wellness Leadership Qualification Program to fill the critical role of team wellbeing management in workplaces.

Strategy is important however, for those of us with strong operations backgrounds, we know from experience that execution is imperative for any initiative or project to succeed and importantly, to be sustainable. Wellness projects are no different.

By identifying and clarifying your core values and having clear examples of behaviours and boundaries that are aligned with those values, key performance indicators (KPI’s) are more effective when wellbeing is integrated within them. This creates a defined framework for teams to work with.

Creating the framework

Comprehensive consultation over 2 years was conducted, with award-winning industry leading employers, both nationally and internationally, along with 28 experts in health and wellbeing, to design the framework of the Wellness Leadership program for the emerging role of ‘Wellness Leader’ in our workplaces and communities.

The original trail blazing group of wellness leaders came from the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, as these have traditionally been the leader-industries of consumer wellness for the past decade. The next groups were from the construction, finance and retail industries and we are now seeing wellness leaders in various roles and sections of the mental health, safety, community services and education industries. The private sector is certainly leading the way with wellness leaders.

With a strong desire to go from “good to great”, these ‘wellness leaders’ conduct comprehensive internal research within their organisations before formulating the strategy that will work best for their company. This includes gathering data from groups representing a cross-section of the organisation.

Ensuring diversity of thought is vital so a group of Wellness Ambassadors is also created, which consists of the employees from different parts of the business to boost buy-in and support the wellness initiatives from the grass roots of the organisation.

With the information gathered, they can then identify key goals for cultivating a positive and healthy culture and relationship with performance.  Here are some examples:

  • Build and maintain a workplace culture that supports health and wellbeing.
  • Increase team members’ knowledge and awareness of health and wellbeing issues and behaviours.
  • Enable team members to take control of their own health and wellbeing through facilitation and invitation to participate in a range of wellbeing initiatives.
  • Protect the health and wellbeing of team members by addressing workload and practices and putting preventative measures in place to reduce stress levels.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the impact of the initiatives.

Key performance indicators are then created that align with these goals. These KPI’s can include role modelling by the team leaders and managers and recognition programs for rewarding behaviours that are aligned with authentically living the values that underpin the wellbeing goals.

This framework is used as the basis for the various aspects of the wellness project  that, in partnership with HR and the organisational EAP and wellness providers, are rolled out throughout various phases.

As 70% of a team members’ behaviour is influenced by their direct manager, crucial to this phase is educating managers on the business imperatives of healthy practices for a well culture in the workplace, starting with themselves as positive and healthy role models. Each leader, manager and team member is empowered with strategies, tools and techniques to take control of their own wellbeing as well as to support that of their co-workers.

Impressive results

Prior to the adoption of the holistic wellness approach, less than 25 to 45 per cent of employees in companies are usually aware of the principles of wellbeing and how they can take control of their own wellbeing in a practical sense. At the completion of phase one of the wellness leadership approach, it is common for employee survey results to show 100 per cent awareness of staff of wellbeing strategies and tools.

That is just the beginning of the positive impact. The ability to safely speak about wellbeing, particularly regarding mental health, without discrimination, can be an important factor between employees staying or leaving an organisation.

In a survey of 2,000 employees, almost half (43%) said they are looking for a new job, and corporate culture was the main reason.

Source: Hayes

In an unsupportive work environment, employees are more inclined to exit.

Key learnings

So how can you get your organisation to this safe and supportive place where there is a healthy relationship with performance? Leadership buy-in from the onset is critical.

If you’re not the one making the financial decisions, you will need to build a strong business case and align wellness with business drivers. If you can demonstrate that what you’re doing is good for both people and business, you’ll be able to get the funding and support that you need. Wellness leaders are enabled to do exactly that with their theoretical knowledge and practical implementation skills and their ability to link wellness to performance, productivity, engagement and the retention of staff.

There are no shortcuts in a holistic organisation-wide wellness project. You need to have your project management structures, support and sponsorship all in place. Twelve to twenty-four months is a standard roll-out time for such projects and research and experience shows that such projects are most effective when driven from within the organisation.

Aligned with proven best practices, wellness leaders in organisations are integrating  wellbeing throughout their organisations to cultivate a positive work culture and a healthy relationship to performance, both of which are essential in order to win the war for talent and achieve sustainable success.


The ASWA wellness programs helped Melissa to make a positive and healthy difference with her coworkers. Make a difference with yours. 

Find out more about the program.



Angela Derks, ND is the Founder and CEO of the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA) - the award winning accredited leader of wellness training and consulting services for organisations. Her life’s work is helping people achieve optimal health, wellbeing and business success through skills-based learning and healthy leadership strategies. She is the lead developer of the nationally recognised 10299NAT Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification, delivering relevant skills to effectively integrate evidence-based wellness and management practices into organisations. The ASWA Wellness Solutions Team delivers an integrative approach for individuals, organisations and communities.