A Strategic Leader's View of Wellbeing

8 March 2022

A Strategic Leader’s View of Wellbeing – Helping Your People to Perform

For the second part of Wellbeing in Aviation Awareness Week we are focussing on the organisational aspects of wellbeing. As a strategic leader you are probably wondering what wellbeing really means for your organisation and most likely, what the benefits are from a business perspective. Thankfully this article will explain how wellbeing helps your people perform better, which in turn helps makes your business better.

The benefits of implementing wellbeing strategies within an organisation?

You have potentially read something about wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s likely that you are concerned about the costs of wellbeing to your organisation. Like any new organisational initiative, the successful implementation of wellbeing needs your full support and buy-in. To help with that, it’s useful to be aware of the many positive aspects that wellbeing brings to both the safety of day-to-day operations and also to many of the wider organisational challenges you might be dealing with.

Wellbeing drives human performance, ensuring safe and effective operations

When you use wellbeing initiatives to understand and manage the BioPsychoSocial risks in your organisation the first natural benefit will be improved performance from your people. These types of risks and issues are often barriers that make it harder for operational staff to do their jobs. They include things like organisational culture, psychological and social support, psychological demands and workload management to name a few. One thing that is becoming clearer, is the need to provide leaders and managers with more information on these types of stressors and how to manage them effectively.

The more you can do to help your staff them perform to their best, this can only be a good thing. Imagine how powerful it would be if your staff felt psychologically safe enough to tell you about the all the safety and operational issues that get in the way of successful performance. You might read a lot about this concept of psychological safety. At a practical level is means “being able to ask a difficult question, make a point or come forward with an idea without fear of being ridiculed, ignored or discriminated against”. Interestingly, it sounds very close to what we are trying to achieve when we talk about Just Culture.

Ultimately, Wellbeing helps to create a positive culture that encourages reporting and open conversations about safety and operational performance. Your organisation will discover a lot more about many different risks and issues your staff are dealing with. This will help you to manage your risks effectively and avoid the potential costs of a major occurrence. Better still, you will be increasing the protection you provide to the lives in your care, both within your organisation as well as your customers and stakeholders.  

Improving efficiency and reducing costs

There are also a wide range of other organisational and business benefits when you implement and effective wellbeing programme. From a financial perspective, there are obvious cost savings in reducing sick leave, compensation expenses and organisational overheads. Prioritising health and wellbeing in the workforce also help staff to be more productive and engaged with their day-to-day work.

Additionally, when you address employee needs through an effective workplace wellbeing program this increases staff engagement and encourages people to stay within your organisation. As operations ramp-up towards the summer, we are already starting to see recruitment challenges in some parts of the industry. This means that an effective wellbeing programme will help to position your organisation as an employer of choice in these challenging times. Preventative initiatives can also assist in getting employees back to work sooner following a health incident, delivering further savings and benefits to the organisation over time. It also has the ability to reduce your insurance costs as well.

Peace of mind that you are meeting your regulatory requirements

It is perhaps worth providing some regulatory context for wellbeing in aviation. Following the Germanwings tragedy in 2015, EASA introduced new rules for the management of pilot mental fitness. These rules cover three key areas - psychological testing of aircrew pre-employment, access to a psychological support/peer support resources, and drug and alcohol testing on a random basis.

These guidelines do not specifically address the promotion of positive wellbeing and the more preventative activities that are a key part of wellbeing to support effective human performance. In this regard there is a clear link to Management Systems (Air Ops Rules – ORO.GEN.200) where the impact of wellbeing risks needs to be managed as part of your organisation’s risk management activity.

Similarly, creating a psychologically safe organisation is a key requirement to having an effective Just Culture that is a requirement in the rules on Occurrence Reporting in Regulation (EU) 376/2014. Where people feel psychologically safe to raise concerns and speak up, then this is the result of having a functional Just Culture. You can read more about the “Four Stages of Psychological Safety” in the follow-up article for operational managers.

The bottom line is, by embracing wellbeing initiatives you help to meet your regulatory requirements in a number of areas. This in turns saves you more time in the discussions you will have on these topics with your regulator.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Another topic that has come to the forefront of people’s minds during the pandemic is the needs for organisation’s to be more proactive when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). When a wellbeing programme is at the heart of your organisation’s DNA and is closely linked to your values and beliefs, when organised effectively this can also have a positive impact on your CSR initiatives and ultimately can help determine whether your organisation is viewed positively or negatively by your target customers.

What is Wellbeing at an organisational level

For organisations, the definition of wellbeing is adjusted from that for individuals to reflect the role of organisations in ensuring safe and effective operations by maximising human performance at all levels and in all job roles. The organisational definition is: 

A state in which the organisation, through its culture, policies, procedures, resources and actions mitigate the physical and psychosocial risks (e.g high levels of stressors, bullying, workload) to an individual, and the individual is able to work and develop in an atmosphere of respect, fairness, honesty and open communication without fear of sanction or discrimination.

There are two parts to managing wellbeing within your organisation. The first is then about the management of these BioPsychoSocial risks. How many times have you reviewed your culture, policies, procedures and resources from a wellbeing point of view with the express goal of mitigating the stressors that your workforce face every day? All these things are great but of course the key thing is what the day-to-day reality of your organisation is really like. There’s no point having a nice policy on the shelf if that lived experience of your staff is something totally different. It’s all about how people are led and managed. It’s all about actions, not words.   

The other part of the picture is a more individual approach. If you think of wellbeing as a funnel with optimum wellbeing at the top and the need for urgent help and support at the bottom, naturally different people will be in different positions on the funnel even if they do the same job in the same circumstances. Different people will need different types of support and interventions within an organisational wellbeing programme. It’s important to be aware that wellbeing is in constant flux and requires a constant and continual process to maintain it.

Wellbeing Funnel

The types of interventions needed to support staff wellbeing

The interventions needed to support people depending on where they are in the funnel are often referred to as primary, secondary and tertiary interventions.

Routine activities such as routine policies/ procedures, wellbeing programmes and community activities and support from wellbeing apps are the types of interventions at the primary level. The secondary level consists of activities such as health education and training, communications and promotion within the organisations. Then finally at the tertiary level are more specialist interventions such as peer support and specialist mental health support.

It’s important for organisations to empower that staff and foster continuous self-awareness by identifying preventative behaviours in the upper levels of the funnel to ensure and support people to get back to that position quicker when faced with challenging personal or professional situations. What might be termed personal resilience.

Continuous self-assessment will ensure individuals can maintain their resilience and optimise their performance by tweaking behaviours for cumulative incremental gains.

The positive steps you can take to improve wellbeing in your organisation

As organisations there are many different things that make up a functioning and effective wellbeing programme. In the coming days there will be additional material specifically aimed towards strategic leaders as well as operational managers – you are encouraged to consult this material and put it to use within your organisations.

As the aviation industry increases its understanding about how to implement wellbeing and manage BioPsychoSocial risks effectively, we will be able to develop more practical frameworks to help leaders, managers and staff with implementation. At this stage there is still a lot of work to do before a clear framework is available and easy to use. This means that we might have to start by focussing our efforts on the basic principles and parts of wellbeing that we already have.

If we start by using the current tools and knowledge at our disposal, here are 3 specific actions that you can take right now:

  • Manage the BioPsychoSocial risks that impact human performance as part of your management system. Consider the impact of your organisation’s culture, policies and procedures on the wellbeing of all staff as they play their role in ensuring safe and effective operations.
  • Extend peer support programmes to all staff (not just frontline personnel) and extend the reach of these programmes further up the funnel so that they provide the full spectrum of support beyond mental health first aid into more proactive supports and organisational activities. This enables us to at least get maximum benefit from this new regulatory requirement so that we can build a body of data to understand more about its effectiveness in managing BioPsychoSocial risks in aviation.
  • Seek to create a positive culture that encourages people to speak up when there is a problem, without fear of retribution.


Some Additional Reading - Values-Based Decision Making, Paul O’Neill’s 3 Simple Questions and Ted Lasso.

Perhaps you have read this article and it has inspired you to go and read some more about wellbeing and other related topics. There are lots of different papers and examples so it’s often hard to know where to look next. So here are some initial ideas of where to go next for some additional inspiration. We will continually add to this list as we find more resources.

Looking for a Book? Try Next Generation Leadership by Clive Lloyd and learn more about values-based decision making

If you are the kind of person that likes a good business book, take a look at “Next Generation Safety Leadership” by Clive Lloyd. The whole book is excellent and hopefully will continue to inspire your journey to develop more effective organisations. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the section on values-based decision making.

When you live your organisations values and use it to drive the decisions you make and the way you support your staff, you will be on a great path to maximising the performance of your people in an environment they enjoy working in. 

Paul O-Neill’s 3 Questions

As a follow on to this and a great organisational lesson related to wellbeing are Paul O’Neill’s 3 Question. Paul was the CEO of ALCOA, one of the biggest industrial companies in the world. Paul said, “I believe an organization has the potential for greatness if every person can say yes to three questions without reservation.” You can find these below. Think about how people in your own organisation might answer these questions.

  1. “Can I say every day I am treated with dignity and respect by everyone I encounter without respect to my pay grade, or my title, or my race, or ethnicity or religious beliefs or gender?
  2. Am I given the things I need – education, training, tools, encouragement – so I can make a contribution to this organization that gives meaning to my life?
  3. Am I recognized for what I do by someone I care about?”

The management lessons of Ted Lasso

If you are looking for something a little more light-hearted to help give you some inspiration watch the TV comedy series Ted Lasso and observe some of the things football manager Ted does to enhance the performance of his team.

When you get to be the leader who fixes the showers and surprises Roy Kent, then you know you’ve achieved a small step forward.

What is Coming Next?

A lot of the work we talk about in this article is very new to us in the aviation community. There are lots of great ideas but the next step is to pull together all the different parts of wellbeing to help mitigate the BioPsychoSocial risks as a fully integrated part of our management systems.

Key organisations from across the aviation community have come together in a collaborative project to develop a full set of guidelines on wellbeing in aviation that will help to support your wellbeing journey over the long term. Watch out from that in the coming months.



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