I went along to a fabulous conference earlier this year, “Building Resilience and Wellbeing for Growth”. Organised by D2N2, there were around thirty exhibitors, the hall was packed, and the administration was first-class. The presentations were excellent and thought-provoking. Over the day, I connected and reconnected with several wellbeing therapists and coaches.

At the event, I asked my connections and I tweeted this question:

“Is anyone interested in creating wellbeing through improving core work processes”?

I was curious to know if anyone in the audience believed that effective work processes actually contribute to wellbeing. My experiences as a Continuous Improvement (CI) and Lean practitioner persuade me there are huge opportunities to leverage wellbeing through making the work work well.

I didn’t get a big response to my question, and I wasn’t surprised, as the causal link is normally the other way round – that wellbeing helps to improve work, performance and productivity.

So, I decided to write this blog to explain and explore the links between wellbeing and good work in the hope I can find therapists and practitioners who are interested in a more holistic approach.


What is good work?

A Lean or CI practitioner identifes opportunities to improve processes and systems across a diverse range of organisations by looking at how they flow and add value from a customer perspective. Put simply, in an organisation this could mean introducing:

  • clear roles and responsibilities
  • team problem solving skills as routine
  • processes mapped and streamlined
  • teams resourced and engaged adequately to achieve targets
  • inclusive, collaborative leadership

Below are two flowcharts which further explain a bad work process and a good (Lean) work process. This example is about a team that deals with customer complaints arising from a standard letter being confusing to customers. (Click on the images for a reader-friendly view.)

In the first flowchart, there are several management and supervisory interventions and checks. This not only slows down the flow of work, it indicates a lack of trust in the team, and disengages them. It runs the risk of escalating complaints as customers continue to receive confusing letters. Operational staff are in the firing line for complaints and abuse. They feel helpless and out of control.


Chart 1 – Command & Control Management

The second flowchart reflects the position after leaders and the team have been trained in Lean thinking (good work). This could include brainstorming, process mapping, collaborative working, and critical thinking skills. The process is more streamlined, there are fewer hand-offs to supervisors and leaders. Teambuilding, training and good leadership ensured the team collectively found a solution. Operational staff are acknowledged trusted and involved. They own the change.


Chart 2 – Lean Leadership

Following this Lean training,  the team has not only resolved this issue, they know how to approach new issues in the future. Increased self-belief, trust, and empowerment follow.

Collaborative, streamlined processes have reduced the team’s frustration and improved their wellbeing.


What are others saying about wellbeing and productivity?


Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The ONS Productivity report (updated July 2018) comments on the slowdown of economic growth against plans.

UK labour productivity in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar 2018), as measured by output per hour, grew by 0.9% compared with the same quarter a year ago, however this growth remains below the 2% figure pre-2008, continuing the “productivity puzzle”.

The  ONS interprets the data in many ways, however the trend diagram below clearly shows a downturn in the productivity growth post-2008, which has not yet recovered.

In this document there is no reference to a causal link from good work to wellbeing.


Personnel Today

Personnel Today provides the case for linking employee wellbeing and productivity. They report surprise that:

“employee health and wellbeing’s impact on sickness absence and presenteeism is not front-and-centre in discussions about improving productivity”

Read the full report here

In this report there is no reference to a causal link from good work to wellbeing.



Chronologic states that the effect of employee wellbeing on productivity rates has long been suspected. Many organisations are now adopting wellbeing as a practice for staff to get the best out of their business.

The article continues:

“Research indicates three ‘causal mechanisms’ when workers feel high levels of wellbeing which lead to higher job performance”

  • employees’ cognitive abilities and processes are improved
  • improved employee attitudes to work
  • better general health and energy

Read the full article here

In this article, there is no reference to a causal link from good work to wellbeing.


Wellbeing – Productivity and Happiness at Work

Ivan Robertson and Cary Cooper have written a book called “Wellbeing – Productivity and Happiness at Work”. The chapter summary does not indicate a strong focus on tools and approaches to improve productivity.

Based on the chapter summary , there is no reference to a causal link from good work to wellbeing.


HR News

According to Iain Thompson, HR News’ guest blogger, Director of Incentives and Recognition at Sodexo Engage, there is a causal link from good leaders to engaged teams.   

“There’s no ignoring the importance of productivity for our economy and the effect of bad managers on employee engagement is part of the problem. The numbers prove it – teams with high employee engagement rates are 22% more productive”.

This potentially takes the debate part way towards the ‘good work’ link on the basis it takes a good leader to engage teams to improve work processes.

This article describes how ‘Good’ leadership includes being a good coach, trainer, and recruiter, also an expert at empowering teams. It certainly goes some way towards indicating that team engagement can stem from good work. Wellbeing or other extrinsic motivation aren’t referenced. Read it in full here and see what you think.

This article does reference a causal link from good leadership (inferring good work) to wellbeing.


The assumed causal link in the literature and in discussion with wellbeing practitioners is predominantly from wellbeing to productivity.


Thoughts from a Lean coach

I’ve been researching this article for a few months, wondering why Wellbeing programmes and Lean are regarded as two separate disciplines when they so clearly have the same objectives.

Although I’m a Lean / Business Improvement coach, and not a wellbeing therapist or yoga teacher, my objectives and my business ethics are very similar. I offer tools and approaches to enhance people’s confidence, capability and culture. I strive to make work work better, because people’s health and wellbeing are are my priority.

Total Quality, Lean and all models of Business Improvement in the UK, when done well,  are employee-centred and continue to see great success in companies such as Toyota and Unipart today. Such intrinsic reward is proven to be more effective than extrinsic reward, and there is ample literature around this. See for example these articles from Businesstopia and Iveybusinessjournal:

In the second article, intrinsic motivators are listed as employees having a sense of:

  • Purpose
  • Choice
  • Competence
  • Progress

The article describes the enablers – or building blocks – that give employees these four senses.

“Some are “hard” elements, such as job designs, information systems, and formal authority. Others involve “softer” aspects of organizational culture and managerial style, such as a non-cynical climate, celebrations, trust, and skill recognition”.

It’s interesting that there is no direct mention of wellbeing among these building blocks. Even the softer enablers refer to the style of work, rather than to wellbeing programmes.


What next?

We seem to have two schools of thought about supporting people at work, and I would like to encourage a more holistic approach by combining wellbeing therapy and programmes with business improvement.

I suggest that if an employee has a calm, clear and intrinsically rewarding working environment, the right sort of leader, tools and approaches, this can result in deep and sustainable employee wellbeing.

To further my interest in aligning good work and wellbeing to achieve a more holistic approach, I’ve signed up to some Wellbeing practitioner groups in the East Midlands and hope to explore my thinking with them.

If you are interested in exploring the potential for good work to cause wellbeing, please contact me on info@losethebox.co.uk or on 07824 660120.

Maureen Whyman

Business Improvement Consultant MA, CQP FCQI

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