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Rethinking Wellness Culture in the Workplace with Petra Velzeboer

Samantha Huntley
Thursday, Feb 22, 2024
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The business world is rapidly evolving, and with it, the understanding and prioritization of mental health in the workplace. Petra Velzeboer, a renowned future of work and wellbeing expert, TEDx speaker, and CEO of a mental health consultancy, stands at the forefront of this transformation. Her unique approach, shaped by her own life experiences and professional expertise, offers a fresh perspective on workplace wellness. After growing up in a cult, leaving the cult as a young adult, and studying psychology, Velzeboer knows the intricacies of power dynamics that show up in the workplace better than anyone else. 

2024162161055Petra-Headshot-Web.png (28 KB)Velzeboer challenges the conventional ideas of mental health in the workplace by emphasizing the importance of organizations promoting positive mental health rather than focusing efforts on intervention after there’s been a mental health crisis. Velzeboer envisions a world where individuals not only survive but thrive and work itself becomes a positive contributor to mental wellbeing. As Velzeboer puts it, “What if work was good for your mental health, not something you had to recover from afterward?”

The 80/20 Rule: Redefining the Paradigm

At the core of Velzeboer’s philosophy is the 80/20 rule in which 80% of internal branding and programming about wellness and mental health should revolve around promoting good mental health, and only 20% should be focused on how to address mental illness. This paradigm shift helps to empower individuals to explore what good mental health looks like, emphasizing aspects of thriving and excelling rather than perpetuating a focus on struggle and crisis. While providing guidance for those who are struggling is undeniably crucial, Velzeboer urges companies to refocus and create an environment where less of that is needed.

Pay attention to your Narrative, Language and Imagery

As part of the 80/20 rule, Velzeboer urges organizations to scrutinize their employee journey concerning wellness and mental health programs. Take a look at the photos, language, and messaging used in your programs. If the narrative is dominated by the portrayal of struggle, it may result in minimal engagement, as individuals may be reluctant to associate themselves with a narrative centered around crisis. 

Acknowledging not everyone identifies with the image of despair, especially high-functioning individuals, is vital in crafting a mental health strategy that applies to everyone and promotes a proactive and positive mental health culture. 

The Future of Work: A Collaborative Responsibility

In a world often characterized by stress and uncertainty in the workplace, Velzeboer emphasizes the importance of a joint effort between individuals and organizations to establish a wellness culture. This collaborative approach ensures that employees feel safe, supported, and valued, leading to a more content and healthy workforce. Involving employees in the development of workplace wellness plans is crucial. Giving staff a voice in these discussions not only aids in the effective adoption of these programs but also fosters trust and a sense of ownership among all members of the organization.

Individual Responsibility

Much of Velzeboer's work is centered around empowering individuals to actively manage their mental health. She advocates for personal responsibility in mental wellbeing, urging individuals to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, maintain a clear work-life boundary, and partake in activities that positively impact their mental health. While organizations play a role in offering supportive programs, Velzeboer emphasizes that it is ultimately up to each person to integrate these practices into their daily lives.

From a leadership perspective, small and consistent changes in team engagement can have a significant impact. Leaders are encouraged to foster positive mental states within their teams by initiating conversations focused on gratitude and accomplishments. Questions like "What's one thing that's going well for you?" and "What are you grateful for today?" can shift focus to the positive aspects of life. This approach not only enhances individual wellbeing but also contributes to a healthier and more positive workplace culture, aligning with the company’s broader wellness goals.

Organizational Responsibility

In addition to individual responsibility, organizations must take an active role in creating a mentally healthy workplace culture. Velzeboer highlights the importance of organizational decision-makers implementing policies and practices that prioritize a holistic approach to employee wellness, addressing both mental and physical health while promoting a supportive and inclusive work environment. Some program offerings can include:

  • Mental Health and Education: Access to counseling services, stress management seminars, resilience training, and inviting guest speakers to talk about mental health.
  • Work-Life Balance: Allowing flexible work arrangements, telecommuting options, and policies that facilitate a healthy balance between professional and personal life. Involving the individual to be a part of creating their own schedule can empower and motivate, as well as promote a better work-life balance.
  • Physical Wellbeing: Offering fitness programs, ergonomic workspaces, and regular health screenings. Healthcare packages are important in creating a healthy team, as well as attracting top talent. 
  • Personal Development: Encouraging mindfulness workshops, personal growth seminars, and activities aimed at enhancing self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Embracing Daily Bravery 

Another key element in Velzeboer's approach is the urge for leadership to focus on bravery in the workplace. This involves creating a workplace culture where individuals are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, take risks, and express their authentic selves. The cumulative effect of these small acts of bravery can have a transformative impact on individual and collective mental health. By fostering an environment that values courage and authenticity, companies can contribute to a positive and supportive workplace culture. This model of leadership is integral to creating a work culture that values mental health and nurtures employee potential. 

The workplace, as envisioned by Velzeboer, can become a space where individuals thrive, and the very nature of work contributes positively to mental wellbeing. As organizations navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, Velzeboer's unique perspective can offer a glimpse into a brighter future. She calls to move beyond crisis management and cultivate a culture that fosters continuous wellbeing and excellence. By embracing daily bravery, acknowledging the cumulative impact of small positive actions, and empowering individuals, companies can contribute to a positive and sustainable future where work itself becomes a catalyst for mental health and personal growth.



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