The Watercooler Event 2024 – A Gen Z’s Take: Disability, Wellbeing, and the Workplace

watercooler collage

The Watercooler Event 2024 brought together diverse minds from various corners of the professional world, each sharing insights into crucial aspects of modern work culture. Among the myriad of topics discussed, disability and wellbeing in the workplace took centre stage, offering a profound perspective on inclusivity and mental health support in professional environments. As a Gen Z attendee, I found the discussions enlightening and imperative for shaping the future landscape of work.

Embracing Accessibility: A Business Imperative

Isaac Harvey MBE (Director – Male Allies UK) – whose journey from London to Cambridge, the same week of receiving his MBE and attending Disability Power 100 – underscored the accessibility challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. The usual hour-long journey ended in a nine hour exasperating ordeal, simply due to a broken down lift. He described it as being ‘brought back down to the reality of accessibility and the challenges that we face’. 

His experience highlighted the often-overlooked nuances of accessibility, from broken lifts to the need for accessible luggage solutions. Inclusive practices aren’t just ethical imperatives; they’re also good business sense. By embracing accessibility, companies not only foster a more diverse and equitable workplace but also tap into untapped talent pools and enhance their brand reputation.

From the Top Down: Training Managers for Wellbeing Support

The conversation shifted towards gaining organisational support for health and wellbeing initiatives, emphasising the importance of top-down commitment. Clare Kenny (Head of Wellbeing Strategy – PVL), Siobhan Bird (HR Lead – Knight Frank Promise), Ant Watson (Managing Director – Knight Frank Promise), and Sean Lofthouse (Senior Buildings Manager – Knight Frank Promise) emphasised the necessity of training managers to effectively support employees’ mental health. 

The prevalence of accidental managers, lacking in the necessary skills to address mental health challenges, poses a significant risk to employee wellbeing. As someone who has experienced the consequences of toxic managerial practices firsthand, I resonate deeply with the need for comprehensive training and support structures for managers at all levels.

Harnessing AI for Wellbeing and Organisational Growth

Mariyana Zhou (Head of HR – 1 Inch Network)and Kevin Lyons (Senior HR Manager – Pearson) delved into the transformative potential of AI in supporting wellbeing initiatives and enhancing the employee value proposition. Their insights underscored the critical role of technology in driving positive organisational change, particularly as Gen Z and future generations enter the workforce. As digital natives, we refuse to accept outdated or inefficient technological solutions, pushing for innovation and optimisation in workplace processes. 

After experiencing various organisational settings, it became evident how disconnected senior decision-makers in larger companies can be. Frequently, they strike deals on software and practices without soliciting input from those who will use them daily within the organisation. This results in the widespread use of outdated and inefficient software, with blame often unfairly directed at individuals instead of acknowledging the outdated systems in place.The contrast between decision-making processes in large and small organisations speaks volumes about the importance of organisational agility and adaptability in embracing technological advancements.

The Secret to Lasting Habit Change: Affordable Solutions for Wellbeing

Dr. Julia Jones (Author – The Music Diet, Neuron, F-Bomb) and Steph McGovern (Tv Presenter & Journalist) shed light on the secrets to lasting habit change, offering practical strategies for improving mental and physical wellbeing. Their emphasis on affordable, accessible solutions resonates deeply in a society grappling with the impacts of the cost of living crisis. In a world inundated with fad diets and expensive fitness trends, their approach champions sustainable, holistic wellbeing practices that prioritise individual needs and circumstances.

Navigating Generational Diversity in Workplace Wellbeing

Matt Elliott (Chief People Officer – Bank of Ireland) and Anna Hislop (Leadership Coach – Unfolding Success) also offered valuable insights into engaging a multi-generational workforce through wellbeing initiatives. They emphasised the crucial nature of prioritising employee satisfaction through wellbeing and flexibility, while also highlighting the importance of tailoring approaches to effectively manage the wellbeing of each generation within the workforce. This presents a challenge, as the needs and preferences of different generations may vary significantly. They stressed the significance of employee connection as a means to foster interest in wellbeing initiatives.

Acknowledging the unique experiences and challenges faced by Gen Z individuals, such as economic and social crises, Matt and Anna underscored the need for organisations to provide comprehensive support that extends beyond the workplace. This includes addressing mental health concerns and combating feelings of loneliness, which have become significant welfare issues. 

They advocated for leveraging social media as a force for good, emphasising that Gen Z individuals are seeking meaningful work and are willing to leave positions that do not align with their values and aspirations. 

As a Gen Z attendee, this perspective was refreshing, as social media is often cited for its negative impact on this generation. However, the positive impact of social media is often overlooked, as it has the potential to connect various members of an organisation and provide a platform to share crucial information regarding wellbeing.

Wrapping up

The Watercooler Event 2024 provided a platform for meaningful dialogue and actionable insights into the intersection of disability, wellbeing, and the workplace. As a Gen Z participant, I left the event inspired by the collective commitment to creating more inclusive, supportive work environments. Moving forward, it’s imperative that organisations prioritise accessibility, invest in managerial training, leverage technology responsibly, and promote holistic wellbeing practices. By doing so, we can pave the way for a more equitable, sustainable future of work, one that empowers individuals of all abilities to thrive and contribute their unique talents to the professional landscape.

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