Unlock employee engagement with wellbeing conversations

Have you ever had a poor experience with the appraisal process?

I’ve asked that question at the beginning of various conference and client presentations, LinkedIn and Twitter posts, and in passing discussions, and on average 40—50% said that they have.

Let’s put this into an organisational perspective. For every 1,000 colleagues you have, there’s a chance that 400-500 of them are having or have had poor experiences with a core process at any given time.

I have my own experience to share with the appraisal process.

I started my career in the fitness industry, working as a personal trainer with the public and as a strength and conditioning coach in professional rugby union. My example is linked to the former.

The fitness industry is often seen as a glamorous place work, full of young, fit, happy people who are living their best lives, surrounded by wall-mounted motivational quotes. However, in reality, it has a culture filled with very long hours, high pressure, and you’re judged on sales alone. So much so that I’m confident that it could give the legal and financial sectors a good run for their money.

I remember going to my first (and subsequently last) appraisal. I was looking forward to it. The opportunity to explore my personal and professional development, ways that I wanted to learn and grow, and the impact that my work was having on members and colleagues, were all exciting topics.

It turned out to be 55 minutes getting peppered about sales, “what are you doing to hit your target, Gary?”, “are you going to hit your target, Gary?”, how much are you going to exceed your target, Gary?”.

We just so happened to have five minutes left at the end and I was asked “how are you, Gary, are you happy?”. Just some flippant question with no real care for how I was actually feeling.

I handed my notice in the next day.

Together, we can do better

You can’t open a HR publication without seeing someone saying that the appraisal process is dead. You also can’t open a HR publication without someone saying that wellbeing is at the centre of their employee proposition. In truth, vast majority of cases neither of these are true.

I see a bright future for the appraisal process but we need to think about them differently. Let’s explore what the core functions of the process is there establish:

  1. What’s gone well since we last met?
  2. What would you like to achieve before we meet next?
  3. How are you going to get there?

These seem perfectly reasonable to me.

Often, the appraisal is centred around several key topics including performance, feedback, recognition, and goal setting.

Wouldn’t it be great to cover all of these topics but position the entire discussion around an individual’s wellbeing?

I challenged myself to create something which delivered exactly that.

Introducing the Conversation Canvas

Employee engagement doesn’t have to be complicated. At its core, it’s about the quality of relationships between colleagues, line managers, and senior leaders. Without these quality relationships positive employee engagement cannot exist.

According to Gallup, colleagues who feel strongly connected to their organisation’s culture are:

  • 3.7x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 5.2x as likely to recommend their organisation as a great place to work
  • 37% more likely to be thriving
  • 68% less likely to feel burned out at work always or very often
  • 55% less likely to be looking for another job.
Joy Junction Conversation Canvas

The Conversation Canvas provides the perfect starting point for wellbeing conversations between colleagues. I wanted to create something that could be delivered on one page, completed by all parties in real-time, and truly place wellbeing at the centre of this discussion.

The Canvas isn’t a crib sheet, it’s there to serve as a guiding light. Depending on an answer, we actively encourage colleagues to move away from the example questions and delve deeper. Through active listening we can ask the right questions, foster connection, and gather much more valuable information.

Whilst the Conversation Canvas does primarily focus on wellbeing, it also covers some very big topics. Amongst others, the Canvas explores connection, learning and development, team support and cohesion, operations, and goal setting.

The Conversation Canvas has been designed to replace an appraisal form, but it is most commonly being used to support the process but on a much more regular basis.

Founded on research

When I was designing the Conversation Canvas I wanted it to balance experience and research. The purpose would use the heart, and the method would use the brain. To achieve this goal, the Canvas leverages two core models:

Five Ways to Wellbeing

Joy Junction Five Ways to Wellbeing model - Connect, Be Active, Give, Take Notice, Keep Learning

The Five Ways to Wellbeing model, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation, unsurprisingly consists of five parts:

  • Be Active – Engage in regular physical and community activities to boost energy, reduce stress, and improve overall health and wellbeing
  • Connect – Foster positive relationships and social connections with others, both in and out of the workplace, contributing to a greater sense of belonging
  • Take Notice – Pay attention to the present moment, be mindful of your surroundings, and appreciate the small things, cultivating and enhanced sense of gratitude and awareness
  • Keep Learning – Continuously seek out opportunities for personal and professional growth, embracing new skills, knowledge, and experiences to enhance self-esteem and satisfaction
  • Give – Contribute to the wellbeing of others through acts of kindness, generosity, and volunteering, promoting a sense of purpose, fulfilment, and social cohesion.

Me, We, and Us

Joy Junction Me, We, and Us model

This model suggests that there are three key stakeholders to any given project. In a wellbeing context:

  1. Me – What does wellbeing mean to me? A happy and fulfilled individual brings their A-game to work
  2. We – What does wellbeing mean to our team and/or department? When we feel connected, motivated, and valued, we can conquer any challenge, together
  3. Us – What does wellbeing mean to our organisation? When the whole organisation embraces this culture it fuels motivation, engagement, and ultimately, success.

Where and how the Conversation Canvas is being used

For something that I made as a personal project, I’ve been blown away by the response that it has generated.

To date the Conversation Canvas is being used in five different continents; Australasia, Asia, North and South America, and of course, Europe. More close to home, a number of universities, NHS organisations, and a handful of SMEs are taking advantage of it.

What really made my head explode is HOW people are using it. Use case have included:

  • Regular wellbeing conversations, as is designed
  • Testing the onboarding process, ensuring new colleagues feel connected, supported, and heard
  • Wellbeing feedback events, providing a framework for gathering insights into how wellbeing services can be improved
  • Return to work interviews, exploring how we can best bring people back into their teams after a period of absence for any reason
  • Exit interviews, gathering reasons why that person is leaving the business and discussing ways that it could be avoided in the future.

These are all cool use case, but I want you to work through it yourself. With that in mind, collar a colleague and let’s explore Connect for just 10 minutes.

A screenshot from our Conversation Csnvas which asks "Do you feel positively connected to your colleagues?", "How well do you think our team is connected?", and "How can we as an organisation build on our connectedness?".

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On the final Thursday of each month, we tackle big employee wellbeing challenges and break them down into practical, actionable steps, so you can get the best out of your work.

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