Creating a culture of wellbeing

If you’re anything like me – naughty though it is – when you fly, you don’t fully listen to the safety demonstration. Yet, even though you might be dipping into Highlife magazine or reading through the presentation you’re about to give at your destination, there’s one phrase that always seems to get through…

’Put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you.’


Now why is it that particular phrase which always subconsciously gets through? What is it that jars in my brain about those words? My only explanation is that it seems a very selfishly motivated instruction. Most public address announcements need to remind us to think of others first. Not to push, for example, to allow others off the tube first before piling in ourselves – but not this message. No, this message is clearly saying look after number one.

Now I’ve got three kids, 7, 3 and nearly 2, and I have to say when imagining a situation in a flight when, heaven forbid, the oxygen masks are released, instinctively I see myself slotting masks over their little faces before my own. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this odd, aeronautical daydream either. So why the instruction?

On closer inspection the answer is pretty obvious: if you can’t breath, there’s no way you’re going to be able to help those around you.

Last evening I attended an Oyster Catchers Club event on the subject of Transforming Culture. There was a lively panel discussion chaired by CEO and founding partner of Oyster Catchers Suki Thompson, which focused on ways of championing employee’s physical and mental wellbeing within organisations. It was this discussion that got me thinking about oxygen masks.

The panel, Mark Evans of Direct Line Group, TV psychologist Anna Williamson and agency head Camilla Harrison discussed the need for leadership to build cultures that promote wellbeing, and that leaders had to look after themselves first in order to be effective at supporting their teams. You get the oxygen mask analogy now. So the question is, are the leaders within our organisations too busy trying to metaphorically help get masks onto others while forgetting to protect their own physical and mental wellbeing?

This is a vital question to ask – the impact of leadership on employee’s wellbeing is huge. In fact, the audience were asked last night ‘what factor do you rate as most important for wellbeing in the creative workplace?’, and over 60% answered ‘manager/employee treatment’.

What does this tell us?

It tells us to look after the leaders within our organisations and to foster a culture where looking after your own wellbeing is actively promoted, as the impact it has on the business is clear for all to see.

And the moral of the story?

Take time to breath – because if you can’t, those around you will suffer too.