The trailblazing qualities of wellbeing leads

When I set out on my recent research project, I really wanted to be open to new insights about the role of wellbeing lead. Having worked closely with many in this role for several years, I was keen not to let any preconceptions I might have guide my findings.

Of course, this is hard to do. As humans we can’t just ignore previous experiences and perceptions. So to be completely honest, I did have an expectation about the direction the interviews might go and the natural interpretation they might lead to. And I didn’t expect it to be that positive.

I thought the overriding theme that all these conversations might end up pointing towards would be about how challenging the role of wellbeing lead can be. The frustration, the isolation, the overwhelming amount of work still to be done…

Wellbeing trailblazers

Now these struggles did all feature, but they were by no means the stand-out takeaway. Other than the fact that a higher number of the interviewees than I’d expected reported working for organisations that were supportive of their role and actively championed wellbeing, there was one inspiring message that couldn’t be ignored. It related to a characteristic all wellbeing leads I interviewed had in common: their trailblazing disposition.

It came across vividly in so many examples mentioned by those I interviewed: several had single-handedly created their own role, making a case to management and writing their own job description. One wellbeing lead, frustrated by the fact that the wellbeing team’s hard work wasn’t receiving the recognition it deserved and was being taken for granted, described taking matters into his own hands and directing employees who used the service to leave feedback using a link set up to go directly to the highest levels of the organisation. Senior leaders were left in no doubt as to the value of their wellbeing function! A couple of those I spoke to resorted to what I can only describe as ‘undercover wellbeing’, providing support to colleagues well beyond what was expected, and even contributing to wellbeing initiatives out of their own pocket.

The theory behind change agency

It makes sense that such a new and emerging field as workplace wellbeing would attract individuals with an appropriate mindset for driving change. To better understand these characteristics, it’s well worth delving for a moment into social cognitive theory, the phenomenal body of research into human agency developed by Albert Bandura from the 60s onward. Bandura described some of the core characteristics of personal agency. They include intentionality, forethought and goal setting, the ability to self-regulate and motivate oneself and self-reflectiveness. Crucially, they also include self-efficacy, the belief in one’s own power and abilities to drive change. In a work context, agency is a significant factor shaping personal identity, social connectedness as well as satisfaction with one’s work (Bandura, 1997).

What does it mean for wellbeing leads and this emerging profession?

  • Driving change in workplace wellbeing requires a trailblazing mindset, which must be cultivated and celebrated for progress to happen.
  • Certain ‘soft’ skills are key to the role and they are not to be overlooked when it comes to professional development as well as selection and recruitment for wellbeing lead roles.
  • Change agency is a vital ingredient for organisations striving for wellbeing authenticity and moving beyond ‘wellbeing washing’. Without the mindset and determination to overcome the barriers (described in a previous blog post) workplace wellbeing remains a tick box exercise and fails to deliver both for employees and the organisation.

A slippery trailFinally, change agency requires much more than a strong mindset, in particular there are two further skillsets which are essential (and are reflected in Bandura’s social cognitive theory): influencing skills and the ability to form strong support networks. I’m looking forward to delving more into those in my next post!

In the meantime, all this talk of trails has brought back memories of a bumpy and slippery trail down a sheer cliff to the beautiful wild coastline in El Sauzal, Tenerife, with very ill-suited sandals. Not quite trailblazing but rewarding in the end…


As part of the work we’re doing at SuperWellness we are looking to create a training course and community of peers that will be truly practical and relevant for wellbeing leads. If this is something you would be interested in, please add your details to our waitlist and we’ll keep you updated.

Read previous posts:

3 common barriers facing wellbeing leads

Shining a much needed spotlight on workplace wellbeing leads


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