Hellen Davis: What surprised me about HR magazine's health and wellbeing survey


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Hellen Davis, CEO of Indaba, which provided our prize, explains why she found the results of the HR magazine health and wellbeing survey surprising.

These are fascinating results. They reveal a similar situation to that in the USA about three years ago, before health and wellness rose higher up the agenda for many American corporations. And we know that those businesses that chose to ignore the health and wellness issue at that time are busy playing catch-up.

As an executive coach, I was surprised that the survey didn't make the link between leadership, promotability and health & wellbeing.

Look at who sits in the boardroom, who is invited into leadership team meetings, who works on special, high profile projects and gets the best job offers. You'll find a direct link between a person's attitude to health and their recruitability or promotability. Leaders have a 'look' – and that look is 'healthy and fit'. 

In measurable human terms, helping employees take responsibility for their health and wellbeing is good – but the direct link between career advancement and health and wellbeing is rarely discussed.  How do you look someone in the eye and say: "Listen, you need to lose at least 10 kilos [22 lbs] because you don't look like a senior manager."  Or: "People are concerned that travelling might stress you out even more. We know your blood pressure is already high so we won't compound the problem by promoting you."

Often, as an executive coach, I'm brought in to help a leader advance their career. Everyone in the organisation knows that one reason this person has not been promoted is the image they project. No one says a word about it but they're thinking: "How can you ask someone with a poor health record to participate in a physically draining travel or work schedule? How can you promote someone into a leadership position where success depends on the respect the team will have for them, when they don't look like they have the willpower or mental discipline required to be a leader?"

And weight or medical conditions aren't the only factors. Many people don't want to work with people who smoke. They don't like the smell of smoke and don't like the fact that people take cigarette breaks so they don't invite smokers to join their team. And while drinking at lunchtime used to be the norm, anything that causes an executive to be less effective in the afternoon, meaning the people around them have to take up any slack, is a negative.

Many perfectly capable individuals are passed over for promotion or for challenging assignments because they fail to safeguard their health. They don't consider health and wellbeing as a promotion issue, yet job capability and health capability are intrinsically linked.

And if senior management can’t use the best person for the job because of a real or perceived lack of physical readiness, that has inevitable consequences for the whole organisation. 

Hellen Davis is CEO of Indaba and managing member and co-founder of Indaba Health and Wellness, which generously provided the 3 IHW Habit prizes for taking part in our survey.

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