‘Social wellbeing in the workplace’
A special insight into social wellbeing
— By Julia Hobsbawm OBE, author, social health expert, and Moving Ahead speaker

The idea of measuring and valuing workplace wellbeing is in full swing, and is about a decade old. That’s great…but. The ‘but’ is that a decade is an awfully long time in our ‘always-on’ era. The world is changing; wellbeing, and how we understand and implement it, needs to change, too.

For instance, in under five years, Facebook’s active user base reached one billion people – a seventh of the planet – and then doubled. Of those active users, the average time spent a day on the social network is 50 minutes. Given that social media is now embedded in the office, that’s a lot of time we’re fragmenting away from, well, actual work. Here’s another ‘for instance’: Research shows that the average workplace interruption from email can rise to 80 separate episodes in a day; that contrary to what we have told ourselves, it is rather difficult – not easy – to multitask, and that, when we do, it plays havoc with our attention and our wellbeing.

In short, the radical reshaping of how we live and work around permanent connectedness, usually online, is causing problems. And there’s another problem: To date, the language around solutions and the narrative around ‘wellbeing’ is a bit stuck. This is not surprising given that even the OECD cited ten metrics of wellbeing in 2014 and none of them focused on connectedness, even though it now pervades everything. Connectedness is becoming as important a metric in social wellbeing as class, social welfare, nutrition and sleep.

Understanding how we are connected to each other and how to bridge the divide between physical and mental health, and social health, could provide a breakthrough to reducing the 10 million working days a year lost to stress across the UK annually (an average of 23 days off taken by those affected) and the estimated £27 billion cost to ‘UK plc’ as a result. All of this means that the way we talk about, think about, and implement wellbeing in the workplace has to change. We need to be honest about where wellbeing is a tick box exercise (no, we don’t need ‘mindfulness rooms’).

“At the heart of the problem is, I believe, an obesity of information”

At the heart of the problem is, I believe, an obesity of information, deluging and disorientating us from our tasks; a serious shortage of time as a result of emails and social media, and a tangle between the networks we cultivate and build online, and those we need to nurture most: offline, face to face and in small groups. I call the solution to this knotty problem ‘Social Health’, and have a straightforward ‘KNOT’ solution: By putting management of ‘knowledge’, ‘networks’ and ‘time’ in your organisation, your team and your individual working practices, you can wrestle back control – just like you have learned to do around what we now consider ‘basics’ of wellbeing: sleep, exercise and diet.

Everyone can make a difference. We are all capable of switching on a lightbulb in our organisations. But, as the old joke goes, only one person is needed to start the process but, ‘The lightbulb has to really want to change’.

Julia is the author of Fully Connected: Social Health In an age of Overload. She is Honorary Visiting Professor in Workplace Social Health at Cass Business School, and the Chief Curator of the Content & Connection business, Editorial Intelligence.