If you have ever wanted to know more about how shifts in approaches to well-being are changing the workplace then you need to listen to this conversation with Chris Cummings. As Founder and CEO of Wellbeing at Work World, Chris is uniquely well placed to identify and understand the global changes taking place that underly the increased emphasis on workplace wellbeing and how top performing companies are responding. Chris shares his insights, the genesis of his deep commitment to workplace wellbeing, and the evolution he has witnessed and helped drive in the last ten years.
For Chris wellbeing has never been about wellness initiates but rather a fundamental rethinking of work, leadership and culture. And it has always been about the performance of your people and your company.
Chris delves into the value of acknowledging neurodiversity, particularly the role introverts play in shaping an organization. Learn why it's not always the loudest voices we need to heed, and how a work culture that encourages everyone's contribution is key.
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted our perspective on work-life balance, and as we transition back to office life, leaders need to consider their employees' varied needs. We discuss the varying reactions to this change, underlining the importance of a holistic view on wellbeing at work.
Chris emphasizes the need for a transformation in traditional work cultures, with a focus on creating an environment where people can truly thrive. Tune in and discover how investing in well-being at work can make a profound difference - not just in terms of employee engagement but in the business performance of your organization.
Find our more about Wellbeing at Work's Global Summits, our Global Hub Community of C-Suite executives and our Bespoke division at wellbeingatwork.world
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Conversations at Wellbeing at Work, the podcast by Wellbeing at Work World, where we largely feature speakers from our summits. We run summits all around the world. I'm involved as a content on the content side in North America and I'll also be chairing a couple of events in the UK coming up in a couple of months, in September so you can find out about all those summits at our website, wellbeing at Workworld, and also there will be information there. We have an information hub, host a number of podcasts and also webcasts, so it's a great resource for anyone who's wanting to find out more about Wellbeing at Work pretty much anywhere around the globe. Now, today we have a very special guest with us. Today. We've got Chris Cummings. He's the CEO of Wellbeing at Work World. So welcome Chris. Hi John, how are you? I'm very well. Thanks, and that's my first question to you, as it is to all my guests how are you doing? And you can't get away with just saying fine.Speaker 2:
I'm pretty good, john. Thank you for asking. I'm looking after myself, getting plenty of sleep, eating fairly well, exercising, so I'm feeling pretty good at the moment, and the sun's shining here in the UK, so that's quite a rarity, so it's all good.Speaker 1:
So do you get out much into the country? I know you live in Brighton and there's a lot of nice countryside around there, as well as the sea. Do you get out onto the Downs a lot?Speaker 2:
I do, yeah Well, like you, I'm a dog owner, so yeah, that's usually is an early morning walk on the seafront and weekends in the Downs. So yeah, lots of, lots of good walking at this time of the year.Speaker 1:
Great. So maybe she kick off with you telling us a little bit about Wellbeing at Work World I mentioned. You know we've got this hub and obviously the events but pass you can tell us, you know, fill that out a little bit around the areas of the world we work in and what we're up to.Speaker 2:
Yeah, so I mean, the overall mission of Wellbeing at Work is to make Wellbeing at Work a strategic priority. So we want to provide our communities all around the world that connection, that insight, that information to help them to be able to do that. So the summits are a great way to connect, hear what others are doing, meet your peers and meet those wonderful providers who can help you on that journey. But they're just annual summits in particular regions and what became apparent very quickly is everyone needs support throughout the year. So the hub provides that online community where you can connect with others and share but also have some wonderful content at your fingertips. I think there's a lot of content out there. When you Google workplace Wellbeing, there's a lot of stuff, and what we've tried to do is curate the best of it and bring it all together in one platform. And then the bespoke side is really working more closely with employers, so actually spending time really understanding their challenges. So we inspire at the summit. The hub is like the platform, but then bespoke. We'll work with employers to really deliver that in-house experience. So masterclasses, workshops and more consultancy and strategic approach to workplace Wellbeing. So it's all under the umbrella. We don't work in any other industries. It's all focused around Wellbeing at Work and it's there and designed to provide employers that broad offering.Speaker 1:
So you know, I've been working with you for over a year now, I guess, and I might say you know one of the things that clearly you know it was clear for me right from the get go that this is an area that you have a real commitment to. This is not. This is not. I mean, it's obviously a business, but it's not just a business. I mean what? What inspired you to launch Wellbeing at Work?Speaker 2:
Yeah, so it was just over 10 years ago. It was actually my partner's condition and subsequent poor treatment at work and I think probably a decade ago. We look at 2013,. Workplace wellbeing, mental health at work wasn't really top of mind of leadership and organisations. We had a lot of celebrities and famous people talking about their own situations, but in the workplace there was still a strong stigma. So it sort of motivated me what I saw happening at home to quit the corporate job in international events and see if I could create a community of leaders where we could make some changes within the workplace. So that was the motivation back then. We did our first summit in 2014 in the UK and again, you know no real bigger plan to make this a global business, but that's that's how it panned out really. But the motivation and, like you, everyone in the team has a real deep link to this subject and so not only do we have a fantastic team of great quality and skill set for their own areas of the business, but there's a real deep passion around making that change and that runs through the business. So our purpose is strong and, you know, it doesn't really feel like work to me because it's such an energising industry to be in. It's full of great people, purpose driven people, and we've seen some some wonderful changes over the last 10 years. There's still work to do, but I feel really inspired and energised by what's happened in the last 10 years and really looking forward to what the next 10 years bring. So that's the long answer to your short question.Speaker 1:
Sorry, we'll get. We'll get later on to that Because obviously you know, you're in a, you're in a great position to assess what you know, what progress has been made and what's still to be done by virtue of the work you're doing in all those areas and the global footprint. But I thought, first of all, maybe we just, we just just just chat a little bit about the difference between I know it's something that that that comes up occasioning conversation, and I tend to use the words a little too loosely, I think you know between well being and wellness. I mean, what's the distinction you draw? That?Speaker 2:
Yeah, it's. I mean it really informed. Why? Why we chose well being work as a phrase? And if we go back to basics and look at the definition, wellness is an act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis. So I would you know, I started off this conversation by saying I've slept well, I'm exercising, I'm eating well, I'm doing all the right things that we know give us wellness. Well being is the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. So it's a state of mind. It's a much broader subject and my call really is to organizations to really, and, in particular, leadership teams, to not look at well-being as a simple, soft, fluffy Subject. That doesn't. You know, we can, we can give people an app, we can, we can do Various wellness tactical strategies. It's actually, it's a much broader piece than that and you know, in times when we're all looking for high productivity, higher performance, these are, these are, these are heavily linked to, to well-being. If we, if we feel happy, healthy, comfortable within our organizations, we will perform well, we will deliver amazing results, will increase productivity. So so I think there's some and there's lots of data around this now but, but, but I really want to Get us away from thinking that well-being is. It is just a side subject and and something that can be fixed by you know, a quick app or whatever it might be. It's it's a much broader piece and I think it should be top of the leaders Agendas because of of that reason. So, yes, wellness is important. Happy, healthy habits on a daily basis that you know we all try to practice. We don't always get it right, but well-being is much broader and and yeah, I guess trying to try trying to get organizations to think like that and then when we look at things like investment, we don't just think, well, let's, let's get an app, and that solved everything. We were talking a much broader sense.Speaker 1:
Yeah, I think I think you know if I think about, you know my work in this area in Canada and I got into it through through events on our mental health at work. There was that initial, the initial sort of thrust was very much around you know, if you invest so much in people's mental health, you're going to save X. You know X plus dollars on benefits and and payouts and absenteeism and and they're all those kind of you know important stats around ROI. And then there was a sort of issue of stigma sort of floating around there as well. Look, that people were focused on and and then that that tended to sort of focus, you know, on sort of you know, well, you know, we'll do a lunch and learn what it will put in some yoga. Well, you know we'll have some healthy snacks at the lunch thing, versus now you know you're saying there you mentioned there that the link to To people's well-being and productivity it seems that now the conversation is much more about how the issue of well-being optimizes the performance of the workplace is that. Does that characterize some of the shift that you've seen in that time?Speaker 2:
Well, yeah, I think it. I think it plays into a much wider subject. So I guess when my point is is is the investment a well-being investment is seen by organizations as an app or as a lunch and learn up on well-being, whereas actually, you know, leadership development, executive coaching, that's a well-being investment because if we have better leaders, we and many organizations will still consider that as L&D. You know, learning development, that's that that budget's over there when we, when we put in a fantastic new operating system within an organization that saves people time, saves people time, allows them to be more efficient, but also Gives them far more autonomy, and that is a well-being investment because that is making their life more comfortable, more happy. So so I think, just just thinking about well-being as a much broader subject, and and that level of investment, because if we, if we can start to really Embed across an organization Everything that we think about has that well-being lens, then suddenly the Organizations really start to work much more efficiently and much better because the people, employees, the teams have that state of well-being.Speaker 1:
And the other. The other, I think, very direct business advantage to it and sunny in so many of the conversations I have now With with people in the field, is they sort of identify the needs of Gen Z or Gen Z and how younger employees are a Demanding or you're looking for a culture that that really allows them to be there to Experience that sort of happiness and belonging and and well-being and and they start prioritizing their health in terms of where they work.Speaker 2:
Yeah, I think our generation John, we Supported up and, and we we didn't complain. And I've got huge respect for the younger generation who have come into the workplace now and said, actually we're not going to do that. We've looked at what our parents have gone through and actually we're going to change the way we're gonna, we're gonna work and, and by 2030, I think it's 70% of the workforce will be from either Gen Z or Millennial generations. So, yeah, absolutely it's changing and but there seems to be a lot of focus around the younger generation. You know, I consider well-being as a really important aspect to to my work in life and I think you know the research shows that a lot of more mature workers, should we say, are thinking the same. So I Think there's been a shift change Culturally. As a society, we are more conscious about our health, we want to live happier lives and and we don't want to be stuck behind the desk for 16 hours a day and then have a wonderful retirement at a certain age, because you know that's completely changed now. So so, yeah, whilst whilst it's being driven by the younger generation and and more power to them, keep keep on Changing that and I think actually it's accepted across all age groups. It's the. It's the right thing to do.Speaker 1:
Yeah, I just, I just feel that you know that conversation I have. When people talk about sort of retention and recruitment, they are, you know, which tends to be very focused on younger folk. I would say it's very kind of you to include me in your generation.Speaker 2:
I do, I do appreciate, I do.Speaker 1:
I do appreciate that. Um, I so you know from where you're sitting, I mean, and it seems to me that that's. There has been a big shift post COVID. You'd agree with that? That COVID sort of open, you know, put this in the spotlight and has raised its profile of well-being in organizations. And we see study after study of sort of CEOs and senior executives. Where well-being is cut, you know, is in that the top five concerns at the very top of organizations. I mean, it has become more of a strategic imperative for people, right?Speaker 2:
Yeah, for sure. I think COVID certainly raised the awareness and brought it to a lot of individuals and organizations who maybe hadn't thought about it before, which is a good thing. Again, my concern is how that awareness is developing into actual action. And it's all very well saying on your website that your people are your most important asset and then putting in a couple of lunch and learns, but that does you know, that's tick boxing. We need a fundamental shift in organizations to really think. And don't get me wrong, there are some amazing, there's some amazing work going on in many organizations around the world who have really embedded this as a strategic priority. You see leadership teams who have really bought into this and there's some wonderful examples, but there's still a lot of work to do.Speaker 1:
So, on that subject of there being a lot of work to do, what do you see as being? You know? What do you think will be happening in the next 12 months in the well-being space Crystal ball?Speaker 2:
time, crystal ball time, that's right, and we'll be.Speaker 1:
of course, this is recorded, so I'll come back to that all once and for all.Speaker 2:
Yeah, thanks for that. So I think work will continue. I think the direct, I think we're at a bit of a. It's almost like a stalemate period at the moment where the awareness has grown, organizations and leaders realize that this is an important thing. But I think we're still having some conversations that feel like they're very similar to five years ago, and that's that's why I say about having this really strategic approach. Don't think of well-being as just ticking a few boxes and don't think it just sits with HR. I think this is a. This is a everyone's responsibility. And looking at all of your systems and processes and culture across the business, you know how does onboarding work? What sort of communications happen there? Do you have a link to purpose? Are your leadership fit for this day and age? You know we're not. I was speaking to an employer the other day who said, yeah, our leaders who are currently in post have got us to this point, but actually, looking ahead to the next 10, 20 years, they're not the right leaders to take us to that point. So there's a real shift in. Some will be developed and some will be coached, others will leave and new people will come in. So I think, just looking at the business overall and think, thinking, what does the next 10 years look like and how can we embed well-being into that? So I'm hopeful that, in answer to your question, more organizations take this seriously, more organizations really embed this and don't just tick the box and that continues to gather pace. So everyone has that feeling that well-being can be achieved within the workplace.Speaker 1:
Yeah, and I think you know the conversations that we plan for, the events in Canada and in the UK as well, very much reflect that. And the other thing I would say that I see again on those agendas and also in conversations I have is very much the link with with diversity, that there seems to be a natural and strong coupling of those two issues.Speaker 2:
Yeah, I mean it's been an area that we've covered since day one on the agendas at the summit. I think you're absolutely right. I think the broader piece around equity, really for all everyone. I know from personal experience if you can be yourself at work, then you're going to perform better. It's as simple as that. You're going to be in a much better state. So if we don't allow people to be themselves, then that's exhausting for them and it's another barrier for them on performance and being able to deliver on their role. So, yeah, really important that everyone feels fairly treated across the board and we have equitable workplaces in cultures.Speaker 1:
Well, on the subject of being yourself, a personal question. I know you're very open about the fact that you're quite introverted and you mentioned the other day you read Quiet by Susan Kane, which I know is a book that for a lot of people has had a big influence on how they think about introversion and leadership. I just wondered were there any well-being messages you got from that book, or for yourself?Speaker 2:
Well, it was a game-changing book. I have to say I can't believe it's been out there for 10 years and I haven't read it. And being an introvert doing a podcast is a wonderful thing. It's a great tool. So I'm going to be doing more of these because it doesn't mean I have to stand on a stage and perform as much. But I guess that the crux of the book is for the last 100 years, we've been conditioned to believe that extrovert means success, so presenting well, always contributing in meetings, being the biggest and the loudest. But the data and the evidence is clear. There's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. And Susan Kane goes into a number of things like the financial crisis, where the loudest voices were listened to but the quieter ones weren't. So I guess the link and where I see it really playing a role in the workplace is neurodiversity is now finally getting the recognition it deserves in the workplace and whilst being an introvert is considered neurotypical, workplaces, and particularly leaders, should consider those in your team who are deep thinkers, who might not necessarily shout the loudest and create environments. We talk about. Coming back to the office Now. You might find, as a leader, that there's a lot of people jumping up, putting their hand up saying I'm desperate to get back to the office. Why? They probably are extroverts and they feed off the energy of other people. So working at home on their own has been a real struggle for them. And introverts might say well, where's that quiet space in the office where I can just put my headphones in and get my head down? So, whilst working at home for me in my little office is lovely and perfect for me, I know there's members of the team who are experts who need that connection on a regular basis. So I just think it's a really interesting area to explore, and you might find that, or you will find that some of your workforce are desperate to get back to the office, others are not, and that might be one of the reasons. So yeah, like I say, it was a game changer for me, because and this is not a criticism of extroverts at all we need both introverts and extroverts in the world to make it a better place. But I think introverts tend to be, and I can speak from experience. When I was in a corporate environment, I might not have been the loudest, and so my ideas were generally kept under wraps and not brought to the surface. And not saying that I have the best ideas all the time, but a space where people are allowed to share and creating that safe space might just bring out some genius ideas for you, and that's essentially the crux of the book.Speaker 1:
Yes, as you're describing extroverts there and we're not knocking extroverts. The phrase that immediately comes to mind is one I don't hear here in North America very much, which is your all mouth and trousers. I don't know if that's still yes, if that still has any currency in the UK I haven't been back for a while but that does speak very directly to the issue of psychological safety, doesn't it? That idea of which I think is is another one of those issues that that's sort of Come to the fore in in in recent years and link and you know, is one of the linkages between the diversity space, the well-being space and sort of workplace culture space. So I think that you know it's a very central kind of message there within that about, about introvert.Speaker 2:
Yeah, and again, you know I am picking on some fairly successful companies, but again, susan Cain just just highlighted that without introverts we wouldn't have Google, apple or Microsoft. So those are the types of companies that have been started up by introverts and and and brought to the market In such a way that you know they are amazing ideas. I'm not saying all introverts have Wonderful ideas like that, but it just shows you that if you are given the time and and the environment to really share your thoughts, then amazing things can happen.Speaker 1:
Yeah, yeah, so so, shifting the focus back to the sort of big picture you mentioned earlier, this, just the phrase you think we're sort of a stalemate almost with well-being, I think was how you characterized it. You know, again, I think through through my conversations, as putting together the agenda in Canada particularly, you know it's clearly, you know organizations scrutinizing their budgets a bit more closely. You know there's a, you know we're seeing the same, you know a parallel situation, maybe even more extreme, within the diversity area, and I'm guessing that's that's probably true pretty much everywhere right now. What's your message to so HR leaders, well-being leaders who are working in this area, and how they can maintain momentum in an environment that's maybe not quite as conducive to greater investment?Speaker 2:
Well, I think the investment is still there. I think it's been scrutinized a lot more, and that's a good thing. And it feeds into my earlier point about impact. We're not talking about widgets here. We're talking about people's health and we're talking about ensuring that people are healthy and happy and work doesn't make them sick. So we've got to have an impact with these solutions and we've got to deliver. It's easy to implement a very basic solution into an organization, but if the culture is absolutely rotten, then it's not going to work. So, talking from a broader point of view again, looking at well-being as much more holistic, much more comprehensive and across the business and yes, of course there's a very much there's definitely a place for lunch and lunch and apps and all of the other solutions that are out there. But we've got to fix the wider point and I think that's where organizations and leaders are looking now how can we have the best impact? And, in order for us to do that, what are the steps that we need to take as an organization? And we've been doing quite a lot of work around this with our Global Advisory Group to really understand what are the key drivers within an organization from a leadership standpoint, on how we can create that environment where people can thrive. So until we do that and that's where the investment and the time needs to be spent, and then we can really start to roll out all of the solutions. But again, thinking about well-being as a much broader investment than just the prevent, just the reaction things that are in the market. Looking at preventative approaches, looking at how we can make organizations work more efficiently, is really going to help people's well-being.Speaker 1:
And I know from again thinking about how well-being is prioritized. I know from a global point of view and I've just been digging around a little bit recently I've noticed that some legislative developments in Australia, I think, the Netherlands, there's a report out in the UK of trying to define standards for well-being in organizations Are there from again, from that sort of global viewpoint, accepting that no one's really got it, got all the answers. Where are you seeing the most sort of innovation in terms of progress in terms of well-being? Do you think?Speaker 2:
Well, I think that the legislation in New South Wales, australia, is really interesting around psychosafety workplaces and there's already been some fines given out. So organizations are working super quick to ensure that they're on the right side of the law there and I think legislation will be developing in other countries because, having had conversations with legislators recently, they are looking at what's going on in Australia, I think, from a global standpoint in terms of who's doing things really well. That's probably the most popular question I get asked on a weekly basis and my answer is always quite similar and it doesn't dodge it, but it just says look, there are great examples in all parts of the world and when we look at the cultures within certain countries, I remember eight years ago going into a major organization in Dubai to meet their chief well-being officer and I met him on a floor which was literally like a hospital. So we're talking about nearly a decade ago, where a Middle Eastern based company had essentially you could do anything within that space around people's health, so that to me, was mind-blowing. You're walking into an organization that really took to the point where they have a team of doctors there if you need it. Now there's examples like that. There's wonderful examples of flexibility in Australia, the US and North America. I think what Canada have done to support younger people's mental health before they even get into the workplace has been really, really innovative. The UK has done a number of things. I remember various governments recently really put in mental health top of the agenda. I think some of the tech and health solutions that are out there globally are really exciting. Obviously, ai is going to play a big part, so there really are some interesting things happening all over the world. I guess the big thing is trying to bring all of that together, all of that expertise from the different parts of the world, and bringing that to our communities. That's really what we're about, because I think we can learn so much from other territories. You don't have to jump on a plane as a HR director in the UK. You don't have to jump on a plane to come to Canada to hear about that. We bring that to you. So I think that's a real benefit and a real value that we're trying to bring.Speaker 1:
Yeah, and I would certainly encourage leaders in this field whether they are to broaden their horizons in terms of looking to other jurisdictions. I know when I used to do events here in Canada a few years ago, we were lucky enough to get someone from Australia who happened to be touring at the time, and also people from Ireland, bringing just really rich, different perspectives. It's easy, I think, to sort of as a nation, to get a little siloed and not think about the other things you're while the place is doing and well-being at work. Well, it's obviously a great place to find out about some of those things. So, a little over time, but I've enjoyed our conversation. I'm going to conclude with the question that I asked all our guests on the show You're having asked how you are at the beginning, just to say and I know that you've certainly made it very clear that well-being is not about individual little things that you do. It's more of a systemic concept. But what's the one thing that you do on the regular that you think best supports your well-being?Speaker 2:
It's quite difficult to know it down to one thing, but I would say I always start the day with a dog walk down at the sea front. I'm very fortunate to live very close to the sea, so my dog walk in the morning is a great way to start the day and just kicks it off Rain, wind or shine, and we get all three of those in equal measure on a regular basis. So, yeah, that's certainly my go-to to start the day.Speaker 1:
Yeah, well, I share that with you actually. I mean, I also have a dog, unfortunately, I know, and I used to people listening. I used to live in Brighton, where Chris is based, so I hugely missed the sea, but I do let my dog jump in the fountain at the park, which I'm not supposed to do, so but I think that, again, is a great way to start the day and also getting out in nature, which is really important. Well, thank you, chris. Really appreciate you taking the time to be on the podcast, and we'll be sharing a stage in London at the end of September looking for 19th of September. Yeah, looking for and again in Manchester and you know some of the things we've covered here. I know I know you know you've got some actual stats and research that you do, that you share at those events, so looking forward to seeing that and stay well. Stay well till then and thanks a lot, thank you. Thank you, john, really enjoyed it. Okay, and thank you all for listening and we'll be back with another episode shortly. So thank you all. Bye.