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Wellbeing at work – keeping the conversation going

Expert Knowledge Geraldine MacCarthy

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But, lately I’ve started to worry that wellbeing is becoming a box-ticking exercise and losing its meaning. Companies are, thankfully, beginning to recognise that they need to look after their employees - but this can result in selecting a random range of initiatives and saying ‘job done’, without tracking whether it’s actually working and having a genuine impact on people’s experiences.

That’s why it’s so important to keep up the conversation about wellbeing, and really interrogate what it means for each of us. And I wanted to share some thoughts that I had on what it means to me and the ways that I keep myself well at work - and if you have any thoughts or tips of your own, please do comment!

1. When time is short, focus on managing your attention

One of the most common questions I get - especially from other women - is how I balance all the different draws on my time, whether it’s my day job, networking, family, friends, fitting in alone time…and it’s true that there is a lot to juggle! My answer is less about time management as it is about attention management. Once I decide how I am going to allocate my time, I commit to it, knowing that I have planned for what matters. So when I’m at work, I’m focused on work. When I’m with my kids, I’m present and thinking about them. It’s taken practice, but I have learned to focus and give 100% to the task at hand - it alleviates a lot of the guilt & stress that can creep up if you let the list of all the other things you ‘should’ be doing nag at your mind.

2. Pressure isn’t always negative

One of the biggest myths about workplace wellbeing is that when teams are under pressure their wellbeing automatically suffers. Of course, if that pressure is unrelenting, and you have no outlet for it, it can have a negative impact - but many people thrive off pressure. Achievement is a huge part of good wellbeing - not a counter to it. As my favourite tennis player Serena Williams says, “Pressure is a privilege”. What’s more, this myth about pressure being only negative can be really damaging, as businesses may avoid focusing on wellbeing because they wrongly assume it means letting their teams ‘slow down’.

3. Balance v juggling

Wellbeing at work isn’t about perfection - because if it is, then achieving wellbeing becomes yet another stick to beat ourselves with! Wellbeing at work is not achieved by fitting everything into every single day - that is not balance at far as I’m concerned, that’s juggling! Some days might be all work, the next day might be all about kids. You can have a really bad and imbalanced day. That doesn’t mean everything is lost. I think about achieving balance over a longer continuum, rather than striving to hit it daily.

4. Tame the tech beast

Technology has had a big impact on our working lives - and this can be negative if we aren’t careful. When businesses expect employees to be ‘always on’, and respond to their emails and messages at midnight, that’s really damaging. I make a rule of never checking my phone in bed, and I certainly don’t expect my colleagues to respond to me out of hours, unless there’s a genuine crisis.

5. Flexibility is so important - and partly about trust

Technology has freed us in a really positive way, for example allowing us to work from home. This was really brought home to me a few weeks ago when I was able to work from home and then go around the corner to see my daughter in her school concert. It was so important to me that I could be there, and gave me such a good sense of wellbeing. I think flexibility is the thing I value most about working at Dropbox: not just being able to work from home, but having all kinds of different spaces in which we can work and not being physically chained to your desk. It feels like a very freeing office environment, where everyone is trusted to get their work done without needing to be watched over all the time.

6. Most importantly - there is no right answer!

Wellbeing at work is personal. What works for one person’s wellbeing won’t work for everyone. That’s why it’s good practice to keep checking in on teams, and also to keep mixing things up and trying out new things. When I first started out in my career after university I had such a hard time managing my wellbeing at work - I wasn’t used to the timetable or the lack of breaks. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what works for me and prioritise my life accordingly. At Dropbox, we encourage people to try out new things - for example, during our annual ‘Wellness Week’, everyone gets points for the wellbeing activities they take part in - walking, meditation, music etc - and this is a great way to encourage experimentation with what works for each person.

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