Have you heard of positive psychology? It’s a relatively new area of study, begun by Martin Seligman in 1998. Until this point, traditional psychology focused on fixing problems; it would study things like mental illnesses and negative thinking and look at ways of resolving them. Positive psychology instead focuses more on the idea of having a good life; of feeling good. It focuses on the absence of any problems, and how to promote and improve upon that.

Twenty years later, positive psychology has become a vast movement with many followers; the wellbeing industry and movement have benefited and grown from this focus on promoting health and wellness rather than fighting off illness and disease. I was brought up with that wonderful questioning retort which asked, “which side of bed I had got out of?” Suggestion perhaps the wrong side had my most recent response been less than full of the joys of spring. It occurs to me now, I had a bed in a flat in Hong Kong where there was either the bottom of the bed – the short end, or one side to get out of? Irrespective of this the message that I should jump out of bed with a positive mind-set has never been lost on me. I have talked myself many a times into a positive, forward thinking, outwardly determined mindset simply because I was brought up to believe that bringing positivity to the world makes the world and all that reside in it a better place. What a gift. Free of charge to all the parents that care to bother.

Back to positive psychology, this shift in focus has seen big changes in how businesses function. Wellbeing has become more a priority and people expect more than just to work for 8 hours per day and collect their pay at the end of the month. Fewer people are settling for this transactional approach to work; they want fulfilment from their jobs. That might sound like a challenge for more dinosaur like business owners, but actually I see it as an opportunity. Where I think the balance has also thought to be struck is the honest deal that comes where a growth company, one investing in team members, these that do the flexible giving, agile, learning workforce piece can also expect more, ask for higher levels of engagement with an expectation that the team members appreciate give and take.

I built my first company using a much under-rated commodity called common sense. Pacific Direct grew into the 57th fastest growing company in GB as we gradually perfected the recruitment process and meticulously set standards and expectations that were fairly and consistently applied to all. We hired people who wanted more than just a payslip; they were invested in the company and derived fulfilment from their work. This meant that if a delivery was running late but needed to go out, people chose to stay behind and get the job done. They came in earlier; they stayed later; they worked harder. Not because I was cracking the whip and they were in fear of losing their jobs, but because they believed in what we were doing as a company, and they wanted to succeed. They got fulfilment from their work; we all did, we had a clear purpose, we reviewed and agreed the purpose as we evolved and we sense checked we performed as a team expecting the best for each other. From the best receptionist in the world, Dawn Davies through to partnerships with the suppliers and the customers, this was a very big team.

Back then, the idea of “wellbeing” was something that corporates would expect an HR department to deal with, in our company the management team, my direct reports, they were really the heartbeat of the company culture which very much included wellbeing. Events included everything from rounders in the park, dragon boat racing, endless sponsored walks and participation, balanced wisely by cake competitions and any other activity that seemed to motivate. I believe more and more businesses will make wellbeing a priority for everyone. The value of cycling has made some executives reconsider their own life balance, the value of their own mental state brought by fresh air and a switch off from digital should have had a trickle-down effect. Where there is a great deal of stress and imbalance in the world, and neither of these is particularly good if you want your business to succeed small investments in care for your own business community will pay big dividends. It is in everyone’s best interests to ensure your workforce are as happy, happy people infect others with positivity and in that regard the momentum can be priceless through times of thick and thin.

For many years the idea of “workplace wellness” was restricted to things like “employee health and fitness day” once a year, (Indeed many corporates still tick the box by having wellbeing at work week?) Some feel a sponsored walk or a fun run is enough…. Some companies might offer discounted health insurance or similar. You might have a similar situation in your company, but the tide is turning and it is definitely better to be ahead of the wave on this one. More and more companies now are focusing more on the overall experience of work, of energising employees and customers alike. If you don’t get on board with this, you are likely to be left behind, and to risk losing your best employees to companies who do focus on holistic wellbeing for all rather than a more traditional and restrictive approach to such things.

I have always believed that an intelligent business owner will encourage employees to discover and pursue their own personal goals and purpose in life. That might mean allowing them out of work to attend related and unrelated educational opportunities. Depending on the length of service, it might mean paying towards their course from company funds. It might mean allowing them to perhaps take calls at work so that they can build their “side hustle” network marketing business….albeit they would have to be an exceptional value adder to my organisation to get granted this level of exploration and certainly this is not possible in the early start up phase of any company.

All of these things may mean that your employee outgrows their current position and eventually moves on – but they also mean that while that person is working for you they are happy and fulfilled and motivated to achieve great things, both inside and outside of work. As small businesses we need people who are motivated and if that means they are eventually motivated to fly the nest, so be it. In the process you will have created a workplace and a culture that attracts more like-minded people. Imagine getting to a point where you don’t need to pay for recruitment, because people come to you – people want to work for you because they’ve already heard about what it’s like to work here.

Essentially, Pacific Direct sold soap to hotels. When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound too inspiring – actually we sold hotel amenities and brand licensed products to the best hotels in the coolest places all over the world. We worked really, really hard. We also had team outings and fun days. We also encouraged each and every person to pursue their own purpose in life. During career development reviews I was often counciling individuals on their real goals and aims, I am proud to say I have even had 18 months of notice from a lady, Penny Ferguson who gradually concluded she wanted to be a foster Mum. In my eyes a legend.

I honestly believe that by encouraging individuals to thrive, this allowed the business as a whole to thrive too – and this is an approach I will bring post the enormous sacrifices for start up, to every business I am now involved with, and where possible viable and to the benefit of culture from the outset.

If you have a brand that promises to restore lifestyle balance the hypocracy of working like a dog makes no sense. That is my choice as the owner but I constantly fight my urge to drive the team relentlessly and have to be realistic. I am the main shareholder, my choice to work is not the same as theirs. Scentered is a wellbeing brand, so with this business especially, it would be hypocritical of me to not focus on the wellbeing of my team. We all work exceptionally hard, but we also look out for each other and support each other. As such we have come together to achieve some amazing things in the relatively short life of the company so far.

The world has come a long way since positive psychology first became a thing twenty years ago; we would be foolish to ignore these changes. Rather, it is beneficial for all concerned if we embrace the idea of wellbeing and happiness, and find as many ways as possible to integrate this approach with our businesses

Written by Vicky Charles

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