Wellbeing @ facebook

Stephen Scheeler Former CEO Facebook, Australia and New Zealand posed important questions at the opening of last week’s Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit in Sydney around how to build a sustainable business for the future and to how to respond to the shift in values that employees are increasingly looking to have met. The specific need he cited top of the list was the need for health and wellbeing to be fulfilled in a more meaningful way that goes beyond gym and yoga classes, and that will do something more special for an organisation’s culture and resilience.

Stephen singled out HR as being legendary in Facebook for supporting the CEO to create and drive the culture, and that in terms of wellbeing, he encouraged businesses and employees alike to get very clear about what makes work meaningful, what inspires and excites about the way a role can utilise strengths and to create a ‘mission’ everyone believes in. He had unequivocal messages about needing to do some hard work on individual value propositions around meaning, purpose and direction, and on creating jobs and a culture that can facilitate high levels of intellectual engagement and being in flow. As he put it, “if people are to be working 40, 50 or even 60+ hours per week, what is their purpose or good reason in dedicating this amount of time?”

With an eye to emotional resilience and equanimity, Stephen went on to make some excellent points about mitigating the ‘valley of despair’ which can frequently surface in a high performance culture, arising from a combination of misplaced self-doubt and a rapidly changing world where even the best can experience free-falling self-confidence; his practical advice was to ensure we remind people, regularly, about why we hired them and what we love about them. It was hard to argue with any of it!

In addition to purpose and impact, the importance of job design and autonomy was also highlighted – if we want people to bring their whole selves to work, it’s important to give them the space to use and play to all of their strengths and to feel they have an influence in self-determining their performance and impact. There was surprise and smiles all round, where Stephen shared one of Facebook’s key ways of helping people to feel more fulfilled – it’s a company wide rule that says ‘no meetings are mandatory, only show up if you feel it’s worth your time’.  I think we entered a euphoric fantasy world, with the audience thinking ‘wow, how does that work?!’

Interesting too that in Facebook, the search for wellbeing is not about putting a glossy spin or sugar coat on the harsh realities of life. For example, when they moved to new headquarters they took over the now defunct but one-time giant Sun Microsystems – Mark Zuckerberg insisted on keeping the old sign on the reverse of the shiny new Facebook sign, as an important reminder for Facebookers to be humble and vulnerable, to be bold, think big, pivot fast, build social value and to be open and transparent in sharing and talking about worries and priorities. So Facebook, certainly doesn’t have a paternalistic protective approach to wellbeing. At EEK & SENSE we say that wellbeing is not something an organisation can give its employees, its everyone’s responsibility – individual’s, leader’s, team’s and the organisation’s.

Equally inspiring was the way Facebook has begun to tackle the very real levels of burnout arising from employees being so dedicated to the Facebook mission that their health and outside of work interests were being neglected and at risk of being unsustainable. Every single ‘Facebooker’ is now encouraged to ensure they have ‘something’ outside of Facebook i.e. non-work goals that help to build and sustain them as a person and which fuel their physical, mental and emotional energies. These are shared with line-managers so that Facebook and the manager can support them in this endeavour, including creation of highly tailored flexible working practices. So, the notions of work-life integration and having appropriate protective boundaries in place along the personal-family-team-company dimensions came through strongly.

In the more literal sense of ‘fuel’ Stephen appropriately underscored the necessity of good food, fitness and sleep patterns as pre-requisites to a culture of wellbeing and shared a veritable Aladdin’s cave of offerings by Facebook – in house healthy cafes, gym memberships, running groups, gaming studios and other creative environments, quiet space, a forest on the roof-top to promote fresh air and oxygen, 12 months paid maternity and 4 months paid paternity leave globally, return to work programs, engagement surveys and sabbaticals as well as periods of extended leave for health, family, personal development or other reasons.

Stephen’s bottom line message was that it’s not Business Growth v’s Wellbeing, it’s Wellbeing = Business Growth. At EEK & SENSE, we totally agree and it was great to see an iconic business like Facebook upholding and citing (even if unwittingly!) all aspects of the MEWS Framework and to be approaching wellbeing as a business-critical imperative.

There were lots of other valuable insights from the Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit, and we were quite blown away by the number of new conversations we started – so keep an eye out for details of the 2018 event – coming soon as a date for your diary!