Projects and Wellbeing

Why the Best Project Manager’s Incorporate Wellbeing Strategies

Nicola Kapala, in collaboration with Christine Moore - June 2012

We’ve all seen that person at work, the one who is flustered, attempting to do three things at once, a look of distress on their face. You sense they are overwhelmed but you need them to provide data for your project so you ask anyway. During the conversation they jump from one subject to another, they complain and ramble. You sense they will forget the important details of your request.

Think back to an encounter like this in your life and recall what sort of impression you were left with. How did you feel about the flustered person’s ability to be effective? Did your perception of this person instill trust and confidence?

Wellbeing Defined

In the last Connections Issue, Arthur Maxwell founder Christine Moore, stated in her article Leadership Imperative: Look in the Mirror, “How others perceive us ties into leadership and the power others grant us.” Also in Valarie Griep’s Connections article on Active Listening, she states the importance of listening in being an effective project manager and leader.

Both of these aspects of leadership, perception and listening, are maximized when we take into account what wellbeing is and learn how to foster it in ourselves and our people. As we do so we elevate everyone’s capacity for leadership, innovation, and fulfillment which infiltrates the culture, transcends the office to affect our clients and vendors and has a boomerang effect that multiplies out into all areas of life.

Number one Wall Street Journal bestselling authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter, define Wellbeing in their respective books Strengthfinder 2.0 and Wellbeing, the Five Essential Elements as:

    The combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities.

Rath and Harter organize these aspects of our lives into Career, Social, Financial, Physical and Community Wellbeing. They emphasize that “most importantly it’s about how these five elements interact."

Wellness and the Project Team

A project manager who pays attention to the wellbeing of their team members might just have an edge in the contest for the team’s effort and attention – and even project success. As project managers, we set the tone of our projects by how we manage and lead our team and stakeholders. It’s the smart project manager who knows that every aspect of our lives affects the other and recognizes that how we manage and lead directly impacts our team member’s lives through Rath and Harter’s five elements (Career, Social, Financial, Physical and Community). If we pay attention to our project’s impact on team members we can strive to reduce the negative impacts and leverage the aspects of our project that could contribute to team member wellbeing.

Stress and Wellbeing

Projects are stressful. Time, budget, and resources are often scarce and the time our team members spend working on project deliverables often feels like an intense race to some distant finish line. Studies in the field of neuroimmunology show that all this muscle tension in the body restrict not only blood flow but oxygen which is required for proper brain function. The tension that accompanies project work will eventually affect physical wellbeing which in turn affects capacity for the focus, presence and creativity we need to deliver the project.

For example, projects often require marathon meetings to solve difficult problems creatively. These meetings are hard on people both physically and mentally- especially after lunch or at the end of the day when it becomes increasingly difficult to pay attention and be creative. We feel tired in our bodies and soon our attention drifts. Anyone that’s been in a long meeting with me knows I’m apt to say “Let’s do a refresh.” Then I’ll have everyone stand up and lead the group in a series of simple movements. We may do runners calf stretches, jump up and down for a few seconds, and swing our arms side to side. Invariably first timers look at me sideways and chuckle as I encourage them to move and breath but by the end of the two minutes they are smiling and even laughing at times. These movements bring in wellbeing elements of the physical, social and community aspects of our lives. They are easy to do, and the effects are felt immediately. Try them for yourself and watch how the energy and engagement of the group changes.

Leveraging Wellbeing Factors for Project Success

Projects are important to our team member’s careers and can provide social outlets for team members as well as provide a sense of community which expands beyond the team to the stakeholders. In addition to using strategies like meeting “refreshes,” project managers should work the other side of the coin and leverage the innate opportunities projects have to contribute to the wellbeing of project team members and stakeholders.

For example, projects can be an important aspect of career success. Find out how your project can contribute to each team member’s career development and strive to align their project role with their career aspirations and contribute to their wellbeing. To appeal to your team’s desire for community, strive to incorporate time for team members to get to know one-another which will build trust and contribute to a sense of community on the project. Here are some additional wellbeing ideas for projects:

  • To emphasize the impact team member wellbeing can have on the project, be sure to include both the associated threats and opportunities in your Risk Register.
  • Plan working sessions to include refresh opportunities and be sure the agenda takes low energy times of the day into consideration.
  • Understand your team members strengths and leverage them with appropriate work assignments giving them opportunity to expand their confidence and build their career.
  • Emphasize the link between the project and it’s benefit to stakeholders thus building a sense of community and purpose.
  • Ensure your communication and stakeholder engagement plans include plenty of opportunities for team members to accomplish work and make decisions collaboratively, thus appealing to the social element of their wellbeing.

The smart project managers will see the opportunity to avoid contributing to an environment where people are overwhelmed, flustered, and unfocused. They will look for ways to contribute to the wellbeing of others, which in turn will improve their own wellbeing and contribute to project success.

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