Why wellbeing should be at the centre of how we work

workingwise.co.uk speaks to Andrew Armes, director of Emei Consulting, about the need for a more self-aware, open form of leadership.

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Read about National Older Workers Week

Wellbeing at work is a very personal thing for Andrew Armes. As a former head of talent acquisition at pharmaceutical company Roche and now as director of Emei Consulting, he says a sense of purpose and a desire to contribute to the wellbeing of others is what gets him up in the morning and that that focus on wellbeing and purpose is at the core of unlocking the full range of talent in an organisation.

Knowing what gives you that sense of purpose is about greater self-awareness, something that Andrew sought out in candidates applying to Roche and which he thinks makes for a happier, more motivated workforce. He says that, although you can be self aware at any age, greater self awareness often comes with more life experience and time to reflect, which is a great reason for employers to hire more older workers.

Andrew, who will be speaking at National Older Workers Week, left Roche during Covid after a restructure saw him moved to a global role that didn’t motivate him as much as his previous role. He left to set up Emei Consulting

For him, the most important way of engaging and motivating employees is to spend time understanding what drives them.  “If you miss that you are missing a lot of richness,” he states. He acknowledges this takes time and many employers faced by the current pressures might feel that they don’t have much of this.  Yet for Andrew, going slow to get the basics right means you can go faster later. “In the long term it is a time saver,” he says.

He says anything that derails people from their purpose – and separates them from themselves –  such as unfairness and barriers to progress makes it more difficult for them to engage with their work, with their colleagues and with themselves and, ultimately, forces them into survival mode and coping mechanisms that are often damaging both to them and their employer. “By creating structures that stop certain people from being able to progress you create a cycle of diminishing returns,” states Andrew.

He adds that good leadership is vital to change this state of affairs and to ensure the purpose and values of the organisation are aligned with the way it treats people. He says that if the systems a company creates reinforce the idea that it is okay for people not to be fulfilled it becomes very difficult and uncomfortable for leaders to talk about motivating workers generally. “Basically you are reinforcing the idea that it is fine to be unhappy at work,” he says.

Self awareness

When he was at Roche, Andrew took an untraditional approach to interviews with candidates. For him it was more about a conversation than a grilling. The aim was to get to know the candidates and for the candidates to get to know the company so they could make good decisions both for their career and for Roche. The idea was that hiring people who are self aware and able to speak truth to power could create a groundswell for change. 

At Emei Consulting the focus is more on creating a more empathetic leadership. He and the coaches who work with the consultancy focus on what he calls cultural architecting. “The idea is that you can be mindful and smart about how you coach in order to unlock the best in people,” says Andrew. It’s not traditional coaching because it’s about coaching for behaviour and for what is holding people back, particularly leaders. As such, he states, it can lead to uncomfortable conversations.  “It’s about letting leaders see the unintended consequences of the behaviour they have been exhibiting,” he adds. That includes people feeling unhappy, disengaged and unfulfilled.

Asked what the impact of Covid has been, he says it is divided with employers often being at different extremes. Some leaders are in survival mode and resistant to change, while others want to do things differently and have had enough of the status quo. The latter have experienced the pressures of Covid and emerged with a more open approach and an appreciation of the value of kindness, connection and purpose as well as the central need for wellbeing. 

Emei Consulting starts first with a conversation with leaders or the leadership team about what they want to achieve and what their current organisational culture is like.  A cultural audit follows which seeks to investigate the gap between the vision and reality. That can make for uncomfortable conversations because it can be hard to see what you are resisting, says Andrew. “Leaders may have to unlearn their constructed reality,” he states and they may then have to let go of some of their ideas about work and life.  

Emei Consulting works with them to identify the levers that will make the most difference, which are typically linked to behaviour change within the senior leadership team in the beginning. Then they drill down into specific structures, such as appraisals and the recruitment process.

Escaping what he calls ‘the thinking traps’ that keep us doing things that are not good for us requires strength, bravery and courage, says Andrew. Once we are more self aware and understand what is holding us back, we can unlock the best human potential. 

Emei Consulting has been going for a year now. Andrew says what often holds HR and senior leaders back is fear. He adds that most HR people are pretty smart and can see the merit in a more open, empathetic approach, but he wonders whether many have lost their nerve to drive forward the kind of deep-rooted change that is necessary. He is grateful to the employers he has been working with who have been able to take that next step. He states: “We want to thank the clients that have been brave enough to let us walk beside them.”

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