How to communicate solutions with clarity
Imagine your team in a meeting with a consultant pitching a wellbeing solution. The consultant may be a doctor, nurse, psychologist, neuroscientist or lay person. They will present what they think is 'wellbeing', 'resilience', 'psychological safety', 'mental health' or many other labels. Seldom do they define what they mean.
What would you hear in the minds of your team?
- Health & Safety Rep: “This might protect people from COVID-19".
- Human Resources: “This can help us reduce virtual work stress issues".
- Training Manager: “So, this is psychological safety”.
- Operations Manager: “Let's toughen up our non-performers".
- CFO: “We are already spending $2,000 a month on ‘health’ insurance".
- CEO: “This has nothing to do with business performance but we need to reassure the board on mental health".
We have little insight into how people process the concept. The focus might be depression, anxiety, bullying, keto diets, exercise, sleep, stress, resilience, emotional intelligence or mental skills. The problem is compounded by a confused research agenda and limited research on the business benefit (ROI) of a wellbeing solution.
Here, is an approach that has helped us make sense of this confusing topic. Our recommendation is that service providers and leaders take some time to clarify their thinking and communication. There are many legitimate explanations.
The goal is to encourage you to be clear in your thinking and precise in the language you use. Most importantly define the meaning of the words you use.
Sick, Healthy or Well
We operate in a massive, interconnected and reinforcing crisis that is in effect a SICKNESS SYSTEM. The way we live our lives, the products we sell to each other, and distress (physical, emotional and mental) we tolerate make us sick. Preventable diseases – specifically heart disease, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression – continue to increase globally crushing the lives of individuals, compromising productivity, and costing us all a fortune.
Unfortunately, the players in the sickness system benefit from more disease and desperation. Industries behind insurance, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, guns have little interest in reform. Globally it is predicted to be worth USD $8.8 trillion in 2021.
Health is perhaps the absence of disease. We have the knowledge and tools to prevent about 75% of disease – physical, emotional and mental. If we successfully prevent disease, we have a HEALTHCARE SYSTEM. We spend less than 3% of our health budgets on prevention.
WELLBEING is a state of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social vitality. Life is aligned and feels good. Energy (physical), pleasure (emotional) and realistic optimism (mental) are abundant. Even when we are unwell or suffer serious setback, we are able to access our wellbeing to bounce forward and continue our growth and connection – RESILIENCE.
How to reduce confusion, paradox and conflict?
Be clear as to whether you mean sickness care, health care or wellbeing (resilience). For example, New Zealand made quite a show of launching a wellbeing budget of NZD $500 million and promptly dumped it all into treating mental illness. In the US, sickness is so expensive to treat that people will compromise their careers, entrepreneurship and wellbeing to secure insurance. With employers spending $2,000 a month on 'sickness' insurance, is it any wonder they might baulk at spending an additional $5 a month on a proven wellbeing or resilience program?
Develop a coherent concept to embrace a proposed solution. Don’t be seduced by simple, part solutions. Mature employers now have multiple operating solutions – mental health, safety, health, insurance, wellbeing, mindfulness, EQ, mental skills, resilience, EAP, sleep, and engagement. This is expensive, confusing and de-motivating. Each one has its own language, budgets and territorial owners.
Be precise on whether you are mitigating risk – depression, anxiety, substance abuse, diabetes or high blood pressure – or building strengths – fitness, sleep benefits, clarity under pressure, emotional agility, empathy or mental skills. Define the costs and the benefits to the people involved as well as the business. For example, sleep disturbance is estimated to cost businesses—USD $2,000 per person per year. Can you show evidence of how the intervention will improve sleep – say 25% - and demonstrate how that would save $500 per person per year?
Articulate clearly where responsibility lies. Views are split between total individual responsibility and total employer responsibility. This is not helpful. It is always a shared responsibility. Both the individual and the employer have a duty of care. Be precise about what you expect from individuals and what you are prepared to contribute as an organisation.
This trap can cause conflict. Take depression for example. You promote positivity or mental skills (CBT), which have good evidence. A depressed individual has been told that it is an imbalance of chemicals caused by genetics and that the only solution is anti-depressant medication. Then you get a grievance that your bullying triggered the depression. Messy!
Be sensitive to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual perspectives. We are moving into a biological age where objective signs (blood tests or brain scans) are being matched to physical, emotional and mental experiences.
Take anxiety for example. It is described as a mental illness, yet nothing is seen on brain scans. We observe clearly the presence of excess and persisting fear emotions. We also observe that heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline and cortisol have increased. From a biological perspective, anxiety is a sustained flight reaction. It is a physical state of being. Should we treat with a potent anxiolytic medicine or teach the person to breathe slowly?
Psychologists in particular must watch for thinking traps and be precise. No-one has yet seen a psyche. If our approach and investment in mental illness was sound, mental illness would be in decline, not accelerating.
Spiritual wellbeing must be handled gently. Perceptions are most diverse here and a challenge can be taken seriously.
Finally, there are no quick solutions. An app, webinar or workshop will not solve the problem. Preventing sickness and building wellbeing (or resilience) takes years of deliberate attention, practice and reinforcement. The medical paradigm lets us believe that the drug, the surgery, or the procedure will solve the problem.
Just as you continuously invest in improving your logistics or digital marketing, so health, wellbeing and resilience is an ongoing journey. Clear definitions, precise language, integration of concepts, patience and tenacity can truly transform your people, your culture, your brand and your productivity.
Please note: This article is republished with the permission of Dr Sven Hansen from the Resilience Institute—our global research partner.