Profile: Evolving the Wellbeing role to ‘Human Sustainability’

2023JenFisher (1)

Jen Fisher was one of the first Chief Wellbeing Officers of a professional services organisation (Deloitte US), after she put a business case together for the role in 2015. This was on the back of her own experience of burnout.

She’s now moved into the role of ‘Human Sustainability Leader’ at Deloitte US, which she describes as an ‘evolution’ of the Wellbeing role. We caught up with her to find out more….

So, you were there right at the beginning in 2015… How do you think Wellbeing as a profession has changed in that time?

When I started back in 2015, a lot of the focus, especially in the workplace, was really around creating a language and permission to talk about wellbeing from a work perspective. It was about creating cultural permissions because it wasn’t really something that had been previously discussed on a regular basis. The focus was on the core foundation components of wellbeing like movement, exercise, nutrition and sleep.

Fast forward to today – what do you think is the biggest change in Wellbeing?

What has significantly changed is the recognition of the impact that work itself, and the ways in which we are working, has on our Wellbeing. Perhaps that’s because of the pandemic, but I think it was there before the pandemic too. But the pandemic made us see that our ways of working weren’t working. And showed us that flexible work is absolutely possible.

Where we are today is trying to reconcile the need for true in-person human connection with the workforce’s desire for a lot more flexibility.

What resistance are we seeing to a new way of working?

There’s a big group of people saying we need to go back to the way that it was, which is understandable because as humans we tend to fall back on the familiar. But we’ve also got a newer segment of the workforce saying ‘no, I don’t want to work that way’.

What I think is unfortunate is there’s a lot of finger pointing going on, and certain rigid messaging around why employees need to be back in the office setting located together. Their messaging is all around productivity, which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t resonate with the workforces (because they know they can be productive outside an office). I think it would resonate more around the office being a place for human connection.

You now do a role which is head of ‘Human Sustainability’ – is that an evolution of your Wellbeing lead role?

Yes, it is an evolution. It’s really about taking appropriate action towards creating more sustainable work for humans. 

So, the wellbeing conversation started 10 years ago teaching people better habits around things like movement and nutrition. Now we’ve evolved to this place where work just isn’t working for people. There’s a recognition that burnout is so prevalent and is, in many ways, being caused by systemic workplace issues, which are outside of the control of the individual.

In other words, you can’t self-care your way out of a bad or toxic work environment. Right? 

So, while self-care is very important and organizations need to teach and support that, there’s also a need for leaders to get real about the ways in which we’re working, the expectations around work and the workloads that we’re asking people to take on – looking at these factors is what human sustainability is all about.  It’s asking organizations to take a long term view of the human impact of work.

Is the idea of Human Sustainability a new kind of capitalism?

You’re never going to get an organisational leader say that we don’t care about profits – we obviously do – but it can’t be profits at all costs. People should not be harmed in order for the organisation to succeed, and when the people are healthy, the orgnisation thrives too.

And does it go beyond just Human Sustainability into other facets of sustainability?

Yes, we need to have a much more collective view on the role and responsibility of an organization, and the impact that it is having on humans and on the planet.

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You were behind the introduction of ‘Wellbeing Wizards’ at Deloitte US. Can you tell me how valuable you think these types of champion networks are, as some doubt their effectiveness?

There’s no way we would have been able to do what we’ve done without our ambassador network.

To the naysayers, I would say that many people in the workforce are passionate about Wellbeing. They care about it in their personal lives and giving them a way to bring it to work with them that is seen, and that is recognized, is a very very powerful engagement tool. And it brings meaning and purpose into the workplace for them.

But after 23 years, we understand you are leaving Deloitte US – what are you going to do next?

Yes! After 23 years! I plan to take a sabbatical first because 23 years is a long time…. and rest is essential to your well-being. Then I’m going to focus on elevating the conversation about wellbeing and human sustainability and helping companies around the world create more human-centered workplaces that drive better wellbeing outcomes and business success.

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