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How leaders can harness eudaimonia to prioritise wellness

How leaders can harness eudaimonia to prioritise wellness

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Leadership strategies are always being developed and adapted so that managers can unlock a team’s full potential and efficiency. Matthew Gonnering, SVP and GM at Widen, an Acquia Company, has adopted a more natural approach, focusing on happiness and making the individual flourish. He tells Intelligent CXO his experience with a eudaimonia leadership style and highlights the impacts it can have.

Matthew Gonnering, Chief Eudaimonia Officer at Widen, an Acquia Company

The word ‘Eudaimonia’ is Greek – Ancient Greek actually – and it translates to happiness, well-being and success, or combined, ‘human flourishing.’ But say the words ‘human flourishing’ in conversation and, although you’ll see people nodding in agreement, what does this term ‘human flourishing’ look like?

First, let us start by looking at what it doesn’t look like. In the UK, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive, an independent UK regulator for work-related health, safety and illness, a massive 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, in 2019-20. This stemmed from 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, all of which are defined as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.’ It’s not acceptable. The report goes into quite some detail on specifics around industries, occupational categories and age and gender, but to summarise, the rate of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety has increased in recent years.

The actual causes of stress can vary. The report cites tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support as factors contributing to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. By its very nature, stress is difficult to measure and in terms of the role work plays, it may only be a catalyst for issues outside of the workplace!

How can the workplace promote wellness?

You don’t have to look far – a quick Google search will suffice – for ideas to promote wellness within a workplace. Over the past 18 months, during the unprecedented times of the pandemic and lockdowns, the majority of workplaces had to very quickly adapt to a ‘new normal.’  In order to facilitate remote and flexible working, employers had to adopt methods to not only enable their employees to comfortably work from home (or in their chosen lockdown location), but also invent ways to maintain the feeling of a team.

COVID-19 also brought with it a lot of stress and anxiety and, not to mention, the feeling of isolation. The disruption to the economy due to the national health issue helped catapult employee wellness firmly into the spotlight and now is very much the right time for employers to tackle happiness and well-being and promote human flourishing as we move forward.

This is where the term ‘eudaimonia’ comes in.

Leading with eudaimonia

The concept of eudaimonia should be integrated within the role of any business leader. While they will still very much be accountable for business functions, prioritising eudaimonia within their leadership strategies will help to enable human flourishing, helping people understand the individual and collective rewards that are already built into the system of work. It also encourages leaders to lay down an infrastructure that allows people to develop to their fullest potential, which is very important for gaining the full team’s buy in.

The following tips will help in putting a eudaimonia structure into place:

  • See the value other people provide and recognise it. Saint Mother Teresa gave great business advice when she referred to doing small things, “He doesn’t expect great things of us, but rather little things with great love.” Think about starting or ending your meetings with simple statements of gratitude for the people and teams around you. The only words you need to remember are, “I am grateful for…” and then let the rest just flow from the soul.
  • Build deeper social connections with your team. This is more of a practical tip; open team meetings with simple check-in questions that allow you to build stronger emotional connections. For example, going through a round of these 36 questions that were assembled in 1997 by social psychology researcher, Arthur Aron, one question per week, consistently, over time, will build strong connections between you and your team. A whole company will flourish together through building strong relationships with one another.
  • Think about business as an enabler to human flourishing and advocate for business. It is celebrating the voluntary exchange of goods and services. The freedom for the entrepreneur or business leader to choose what market problem to solve and people are free to choose if they like it and are willing to spend valuable resources on it. In addition, employees are free to choose where they work and employers are competing for talent by setting forth strong cultures that build transferable skills that provide opportunities for employees to better themselves. It is a beautiful system, and we need to continue to celebrate how business unlocks human potential.

The impact of eudaimonia

If it is not enough to justify just wanting your employees to be happy, well and prosperous, the cost of work-related stress and mental illness costs British businesses an estimated £26 billion per annum. Therefore, at such an unaffordable expense, businesses really shouldn’t ignore the negative impacts that workplace burnouts can have on their employees – and more should be done to help combat and protect their staff from it.

As a leadership model, eudaimonia can transform organisational thinking by inviting people into a celebration of human dignity by inspiring individual wellbeing in pursuit of the common good. Adopting positivity and celebration, as well as championing your teams and colleagues for the work they do, can go a long way in transforming a workplace. While there is a long way to go to tackle the full scale of work-related stresses, we can certainly look forward optimistically towards a happier workplace by prioritising eudaimonia.

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