“Senior level buy-in is needed for workplace wellness success.” It is repeatedly said but how do you actually achieve it? Kim Johnson from Wellness London gives an insight into this common question.

I’ve been in the workplace wellness sector for years, creating wellbeing programmes via Wellness London for numerous companies in various sectors, most prominently the world of finance. Arguably this is one of the hardest sectors to penetrate in terms of creating a wellness culture, but doable.

Every wellness company, every ‘how to’ guide, each and every influencer (myself included, I confess), will inform you the same thing: you need senior level buy-in for your wellness initiatives to take flight and be a success.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Get managers encouraging their teams to participate in the wellness programme and everything will be okay. And it’s true. If the ‘execs’ are on board, then the more junior employees will feel able and empowered to talk about their wellbeing and utilise services. Great. I could finish my point here.

However, whilst the words are true, actioning this crucial point is something quite different. The ‘how’ in the question is not as straightforward.

Most senior executive level employees cannot be put on a ‘exec coaching’ course and suddenly become wellbeing warriors. Even if they’re keen on their own personal wellness, it is something entirely different in the workplace setting. It doesn’t follow the same echelons nor etiquette. It blurs the boundaries between ‘home life’ and ‘work life’, which as we all know is a delicate place to tread.

Are senior execs responsible for the wellbeing of their junior employees? Is it their responsibility to ensure they eat well, get enough sleep and move regularly? Is that written in their job role? Is there an almost parental expectation upon them to lead by example?

Yes and no. As ever, it’s the grey area in-between.

There is no doubt, in all walks of life, those ‘senior’ to us can either inspire or repel. They can drive motivation and set a goal for who we want to be. Equally, they can make us motivated by being everything we don’t want to be.

Let’s start at the top. The founders / partners/ chair / CEO or similar. Do they believe in wellbeing? Do they see the benefit of providing employees with services and education to truly take care of their own health in the workplace and beyond? Do they themselves value their own wellbeing? Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history, reportedly lives on a diet of sugary drinks, junk food and limited vegetables. He still inspires millions in the world of investing and beyond. He jokes he read that the lowest death rate is among 6-year olds, so decided to “eat like a 6-year-old”.

Is he unwell though? Or is it that one area of his wellness is lacking? He reportedly doesn’t carry a mobile phone or have a computer at his desk. He is openly frugal and does not find joy in materialistic things despite his $85 billion wealth. He reads daily and shuns partying for playing bridge. He doesn’t drink alcohol.

The point? Senior execs should not be shining pillars of health at an almost un-obtainable level, nor be placed under expectation to be. They just ideally need to show they are willing to try, like everyone else, to be caring and thinking about their wellbeing. Showing honesty about areas where they aren’t doing so well could be an opportunity for junior employees to speak up too.

Wellness has so many spheres. It’s so much more than fitness and nutrition alone. It’s more than mental health. Instead it’s also about community, habits, communication, socialising….and much more.

In my experience, the clients where we have had the most buy-in from senior level employees are the ones where the “wellness” concept has been gradually introduced and built upon. Where certain services have been plugged in and left to run for a while, growing traction then built upon. No hammering of ideals. An ear has been kept firmly to the ground to listen to what people want and what managers have been saying. “You have time to go to a wellness talk?” gradually becomes “how was the talk? Any tips?” to “remember we are all going to the wellness talk at 1pm”. This can take months, it can take years. I advise you not to listen to promises contradicting this.

I watched the Chairman of a private bank once lead the way by getting a neck massage in front of all his employees, at a wellness launch. I’ve seen two CEOs turn up to a nutrition seminar and participate in a lunchtime Mindful Walk. I’ve also seen workplaces where employees have been to afraid to book counselling for fear their boss will think they are weak or have been told they should be behind their desk – not attending a class or wellness session.

Most importantly though, there has been change: by listening, making few assumptions and seeing, gradually, a recognition by senior level managers that wellness is not another ‘nicety’, but actually greatly improves the culture and success of a company.

Have I told you how? Not entirely. I’m still learning. Each and every company culture is different and faces different challenges. The answer isn’t a prescriptive one.

But the points to take away are that yes, senior buy-in is so important. But it won’t happen overnight. Instead, take a long view, gradually chisel away, listen and evolve services. It’s a matter of small not drastic changes – essentially building relationships, and that includes senior management as well as other employees.