Are You Flourishing at Work? What It Means and Why It's Important * CoveyClub

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Are You Flourishing at Work? What It Means and Why It’s Important

An interview with Dr. Jummy Okoya, Organizational Wellness expert

By Lesley Jane Seymour

You’ve probably heard the word ‘flourish‘ thrown around by HR directors or Silicon Valley founders talking about their companies. But what does flourishing at work actually mean?

Dr. Jummy Okoya, the MBA Director at the University of East London, chair of the UEL Women’s Network and the Equality and Diversity lead for her school, says that it’s a deeper way of talking about what we used to call work/life balance. Instead of just focusing on work and life, flourishing is about experiencing a state of flow from having a positive outlook and the ability to manage multiple commitments. Jummy coaches companies on how to help their employees flourish, so we sat down with her to talk about the state of happiness at work.


Q. How do you bring wellness and resilience into an organization? How do you make sure that it impacts the workers?

Our reasons for focusing on wellness and resilience are that the cost of not getting it right is too high. The negative impacts are absenteeism and mental health issues with employees, poor decision making, low team performance, low productivity. All these cost the organization a lot of money. Therefore getting it right is in their interest. It generates internal investment. You get more engaged employees, the environment is more collaborative, and you’re not losing money from absenteeism and sick days.

How do we introduce it to an organization? We have regular programs and workshops to raise people’s awareness—so you can raise your own awareness. The organization has a responsibility to create an environment that enables that. They have awareness programs, wellness month, even things like fruit on the tables. It’s a kind of making people go for more healthy options.

I went on a training where we used a psychometric tool; we encourage employers to measure their wellbeing and resilience. We’re using it in the UK. It’s called a Workplace Resilience and Wellbeing index or the WRAW index. Organizations pay to use the tool. They administer the instrument and it generates a report that shows how you’re doing on the five pillars of well-being.

I’ve used it to work with teams that are underperforming. I use it to measure the individual wellbeing of team members as well as doing a whole team resilience report. I talk to the team about how to improve on those pillars—where are the areas of development?

The trend I see most commonly is to do with the climate in an organization. We all experience stress or heavy workload. If you have leadership willing to support and listen, it does help. Sometimes they expect that people will come forward and mention it themselves. But research shows that 15% of us are dealing with mental health issues—mild depression, withdrawal and silence and not wanting to engage, avoiding social events. It’s all linked to being overwhelmed at work.

Some companies are aware but would rather do a mental health awareness day. It’s not enough. It can’t be a once a year event. It should be on the agenda as a regular part of the month. Make people aware that it’s okay to say I’m feeling depressed.

I worked with an organization that launched a “Dignity Advisor” program. The idea was you can go and speak to the advisor if you’re feeling overwhelmed or in a low mood that is persistent. You don’t want to talk to HR, where it’s recorded. But these advisors will talk to you and listen, share resources, and give referrals without reporting back to the manager. People like the confidential part of it. People are worried that if they let their manager know they’re depressed it might work against them. They might be going through a divorce, domestic violence—anything at all that is making them feel in a low mood. This is a way to create an open channel where you can talk about it.


Q. With all this talk about well-being, has organizational life gotten better, or has it not changed at all? 

A lot of companies are slowly paying attention to it. There’s a lot more to be done. We’ve learned it’s not just something that should sit within HR. We should give individuals responsibility for their own well-being and resilience.

When I speak to companies, I can come in and do a workshop and they say it’s brilliant. When [they find out] how much it will cost, they [tell me] it’s important, but they’re not putting money where their mouth is yet.


Q. Do men and women respond differently to the idea of well-being?

Women by nature will talk about things more and will generally be regarded as more resilient. We take on domestic responsibilities and leadership roles at home. Those force us to be resilient. We talk to our network. We’re more outspoken about our well-being than men. For men, it’s still a stigma to say ‘I’m feeling depressed,’ where a woman will say it to a girlfriend.

Men would rather “man up” and continue when they’re suffering. They still think they shouldn’t show they’re overwhelmed or depressed.

Men and women face the same issues but respond differently. But we all benefit from the same input. Men are slower to engage. Women will jump at the opportunity. If I say “do journaling and a gratitude list and go for a walk in the park and talk,” women will try [all of] that. Men will listen and leave the place and then say, “how do I write a gratitude list?”

Women are more willing to take responsibility for their well-being, where men think it’s not serious enough to garner attention.


Q. Why are we still talking about diversity and inclusion as important to the bottom line? What is holding us back?

There is a common analogy we use here: diversity is inviting people to a party; inclusion is giving them permission to dance.

My own solution is not to wait until you’re given permission to dance. You give yourself permission to do it. Put yourself forward if people don’t do it for you. Women are modest and humble at times, and that is our greatest undoing.

This is not true so much for the younger generation. They are more upfront, challenging the status quo, identify opportunities for themselves. Women of our generation—we’re still in our old-fashioned way, waiting for someone to say “you’ll be good for that opportunity.”

The solution is to have a network around you and include people one or two steps above you, people who you can surround yourself with and will motivate you. People who are striving for more, who are already doing what you’re aiming to do. Ask them for help.

[But] don’t go connecting with people [just] because you want to ask for help. Do it because you want a complimentary genuine relationship with them. Invest in the relationship before trying to withdraw from the relationship.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is when they connect with someone new, they ask them for help right away. Get to know the new connection first and ask what they do. Find commonalities. Ask what you can do for them.


Q: What do you think is really preventing women from achieving 50% representation in the work world? How do we change that?

The solution is for each of us to become a sponsor for others. For women ourselves to sponsor others. I’m unashamed — I say I’ve been very lucky to have women have put my names in places and recommended me for things, and I did get the job. It’s not just about mentoring people: be a sponsor. It’s different from mentoring, which is just giving advice and you leave. As a sponsor, you are in these places where others are asking for people with skills, [and you] drop the name of the person you sponsor. In positive psychology we learn that when you invest in other people, the happiness you derive from it lasts for six months. But when you spend money on yourself, the happiness you derive is fleeting — a week or days. We should be intentional in investing our time and sharing our expertise with others.

Every Monday morning, I send inspirational messages to my contacts. I feel good, a buzz. People respond. Just knowing I’m making other people happy makes me happy, too.

Women should unleash the inner hero inside them. It stands for something: H is for hope, E is for self-efficacy, R is for resilience, and the O is for optimism. All of that is part of the psychological capital we build in ourselves. We can release that confidence and hero factor in us.

Jummy will be the keynote speaker at the Global Women 4 Women International Women’s Day Accelerator event in London on March 6. CoveyClub members who want to attend can go to the Gw4W event site and pick member pricing to get a discount.

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