Who looks after the wellbeing of wellbeing leads?

There’s a supreme irony in the fact that the role of wellbeing lead often comes with its own set of challenges. It’s certainly something that came up a lot in my interviews with wellbeing leads last summer, and that regularly crops up in conversations with the wellbeing leads we work with at SuperWellness. It warrants a bigger conversation because the profession of wellbeing lead is still relatively new and unchartered and many of these (potentially significant) problems aren’t immediately obvious, but they do have implications for wellbeing leads and the organisations they work for.

Three key risk factors for wellbeing leads

1. Psychosocial risk factors of the role

Why is the role of wellbeing lead particularly exposed to wellbeing risks? One reason lies in the nature of the role itself. Often working as a stand-alone one-person team, wellbeing leads can feel isolated, not just in a practical sense but also in the sense that others across the organisation may not understand the role of wellbeing. Some of the wellbeing leads I spoke to said that even their direct line-manager had a limited understanding of the work they did, and this meant that expectations could be quite ill-defined beyond ‘looking after employee wellbeing’.

Additionally, heavy workloads are a common occurrence for several reasons, a couple of which I’ll come to later. This issue is made worse by the fact that wellbeing leads are often asked to juggle their role with other responsibilities – HR, Health & Safety or facilities for example – and to do so with very limited resources.

As one study participant put it, “when we put on some of our wellbeing events, our health events, the irony is not lost on me that for example I would never have the time to attend them if I was on the other side.”

2. Wellbeing is a career calling

Wellbeing leads tend to choose this career path because it allows them to pursue a greater purpose. Often motivated by their own experiences, they want to have a positive impact for others. If you are a wellbeing lead yourself, you may have found that this sense of calling, if it applies, has several implications for your own wellbeing.

Defined by Dobrow and Tosti-Kharas (2011) as an experience of deep meaning in work, a calling can be extremely rewarding (Park and Peterson, 2009) whilst also being associated with negative outcomes for financial, psychological as well as physical wellbeing (Dobrow et al., 2023). With a seemingly limitless brief to improve colleagues’ wellbeing, wellbeing leads can find it hard to draw the line, often working long hours as a result, and paying a heavy price in terms of their own work-life balance.

3. A heavy emotional burden

Supporting colleagues’ wellbeing sometimes means dealing with difficult and even harrowing situations. Most wellbeing leads will not have received specialist training to equip them to support others experiencing severe mental distress, financial hardship, bereavement or domestic abuse for example.

It can be hard for wellbeing leads to switch off at the end of the day and several of those I interviewed mentioned the challenge of setting boundaries to protect their own wellbeing. One participant described their experience: “At the very beginning of my job I would think about it nonstop and I’d be like, “we need to do something”. And that’s been one of the biggest things I’ve learned is setting that boundary, because otherwise I do hear a lot of bad things, and if I take that all in, then I’m gonna go crazy. So I’ve learnt to set that boundary and be like, “OK, so have I done everything I can?” and if it’s like, yes, then that’s it.”

What’s the way forward for better protecting the wellbeing of wellbeing leads?

Employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees, and it’s important to raise awareness of the particular psychosocial risk factors (HSE, 2023) wellbeing leads are exposed to. Regular risk assessments are all the more important when it comes to the wellbeing lead or team themselves, and pave the way towards providing more support where needed. And support doesn’t always require extra investment – it can simply start with outlining more clearly defined and realistic expectations for the role.

Ensuring workplace wellbeing roles are appropriately designed and managed will go a long way towards alleviating the frequent issues around workload. Beyond this, employers might consider which measures could be put in place to counterbalance the sense of isolation often experienced by wellbeing leads. Ensuring that wellbeing leads receive regular feedback and benefit from social support from colleagues and have access to external networks and training to help them develop in their role.

Finally, where wellbeing leads are regularly exposed to emotionally demanding situations, access to psychological support and supervision should be considered.

As part of the work we are doing at SuperWellness we are developingtraining and a community of peers that will be truly practical and relevant for wellbeing leads. If this is something you would be interested in, please click this link to find out more.

Read previous posts:

3 common barriers facing wellbeing leads

The trailblazing qualities of wellbeing leads

Winning friends and influencing people as a wellbeing lead




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