Work is life, life is work. They are inseparable, so let’s make them count for each other. I am seeing this as a trend as companies embrace meaningful CSR, DEI (sorry, IED) and ESG activities, and are making real efforts in ensuring their organisations are purpose led— early days yet though!! It is not a work v life balance we are after, it is a life balance.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Manley Hopkinson.

Manley Hopkinson is an Inspirational Keynote Speaker, Author, Senior Leader, Facilitator, Adventurer, Mentor, Founder & Director of The Compassionate Leadership Academy, and the original voice of compassionate leadership, with his book on the topic first published in 2014 with the second edition released in August 2022

Schooled on leadership through a mix of practical and academic, as an Officer in the Royal Navy and the Royal Hong Kong Police, a skipper in the BT Global Challenge, the world’s toughest yacht race, and as part of the winning team skiing to the Magnetic North Pole.

Over the last 20 years, Manley has worked with an extraordinary range of organisations globally, bringing the power of compassionate leadership to create long-term commitment and so delivering sustainable high performance.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Hi Karen, it’s a real pleasure to talk with you, and about a topic that is very close to my heart. It’s funny, but we hear a lot about “work-life balance”. I think that is the wrong expression — it should just be life balance. We all must work — to add value to society and earn our way, and we all have to live — to add value to ourselves, to feed our sense of self-worth. In an ideal situation the two are the same — I mean we enjoy our work, so as well as our work helping to feed the world it also feeds us. There wasn’t a moment when this suddenly became conscious for me, it was more a part of my character. I am a hedonist at heart. I don’t mean the pursuit of superficial, momentary or artificial pleasure, but of a deep and profound sense of satisfaction in everything that you do. There is a powerful Buddhist philosophy that states “the meaning of life is happiness”. Add that to the principle that we already have everything we need to be happy, and you find a life philosophy that is not distracted looking for something outside of yourself to make you happy. It is not a fast car or a big house sitting atop Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; it is you! Happiness, wellness, becomes part of who you are as you do not become distracted by material things or the opinion of others.

A little story that perhaps was the source of this sense of accepting yourself is one that my Mother loves to tell. Apparently, I was a lively child — a euphemism for being a pain! I was about 6–7 years old and was, apparently, annoying my Mother whilst she was cooking. In her frustration you shouted out “Manley, if you keep doing that you will have to accept the consequences of your actions and redeem the situation”. I had not idea what it meant but it sounded serious, so I stopped. Later, My Mother explained to me, “If you chose to do something, you must accept whatever happens as a result, and if you find it has put you in trouble, then you need to sort it out” I interpreted this as, “Manley, you can do anything you want to do in the world, as long as …” I have held that freedom to be me all of my life. Yes, I have often got myself in deep-water, quite literally at times, but when I am there, I am not a victim, I do not divert fault, I just accept my position and sort it out! I’m good in a crisis by all accounts!

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

I believe that there are four realms of wellness, which are also the quadrants of our personal growth. We foster positive actions that feed us Intellectually, Emotionally, Physically and Spiritually. We don’t focus specifically on financial health, we find that becomes a outcome of the others and the associated commitment — I’ll tell you more about that as well.

Intellectual stimulation and challenge is key for wellness as we stretch and grow our rational and innovative capabilities. Learning something new releases endorphins in our brain — these are natural opiates that make us feel good. It is our brains way of saying “Thank you, I’ve made a new link, hurrah”! We believe that “everyday should be a school day” and I always refer to myself and all the leaders we work with to be “leaders, in learning”.

We cannot deny an emotion. It creates a physical change in the chemical make-up of our bodies; emotions are real. The key to wellness is emotional awareness. How are you feeling? No really, think about it. How is your body feeling? How are your senses? What emotions are dominant in your mind and soul right now? We all too often dismiss these questions with a “I’m fine” or “I’m tired — they are not emotions. Every organization that I work with creates a habit of regular check-ins — start of the day, start of meetings, at key or tense moments, before critical decisions. Knowing how we are feeling and how your colleagues are feeling is more than just wellness, it is critical to debate, disagree, decide and deliver.

Physically, we know that hours at the desk staring at a blue screen is just plain wrong. We know that, so why do we keep doing it and why do we, as leaders, keep forcing our people to do it? Stop it! Make movement and change a part of everyone’s work environment. Stand up, sit down, walk around, stretch! Make the embracing of physical challenges part of the cultural norm. Celebrate improved fitness in all.

The concept of spirituality is sometimes confused with religion. They are not mutually exclusive, of course, but they are not the same. We believe it is about connection and purpose and also perspective. Connection with ourselves, to begin with, then each other, our communities, wider humankind, our planet and whatever we may believe it is that drives or binds it all together. We encourage self-awareness and being cognisant of our real selves — our values beliefs, needs, motivations. Our organisation is purpose driven and our work with other organisations and leaders is to help them find and share their personal and organisational purpose. Purpose and meaning feed us deeply and sit at the core of wellness

And you can measure all 4 as well.

What have you learnt that is new?

We analyse the words that come out of the regular check-ins to check the emotional status

We encourage movement and for each person to take on physical challenges — at whatever level that may be for each individual — and to share and celebrate their achievements.

Spiritual measurement is a toughie. Here we use an extension of our check-ins and allow time for these discussions to take place. The measurement is in the engagement and the words that people share.

The overall measure is in frequency and size of the smiles on our faces!

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

This is where commitment comes in. One of the outcomes of a happy and well workforce is that you create a committed workforce, as you have fed their sense of self-worth and attachment. They feel cared for because they are cared for. That authenticity is powerful. You have demonstrated that your intent is compassionate, you are actively removing the potential stressors in their lives and have put in place not just symptom alleviators, but also source alleviators. Your commitment to them leads to their commitment to you. And with commitment, comes engagement, collaboration, innovation, ownership, resilience, wellbeing (a virtuous spiral), happiness and performance.

We work with our teams and our clients to put in place specific KPI’s and measures that will include, attrition figures, replacement recruitment, engagement scores, goal achievement measures and more. We map our activity to absolute performance and we engage with motivation metrics that look at individual as well as collective motivation. There is a lot you can measure — including the “feel”!

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

I guess the first challenge is on intention. Yes, the bottom line and productivity is key, but should the intention not be more than that? Surely, we have a duty of care as workplace leaders anyway? We should be intending to create a workplace that fosters mental and physical wellbeing anyway. But I also get that business leaders have a legal responsibility to do well by the company; their actions must be able to be evidenced to have been with positive intent.

So, they think they would like to do it, but cannot actually make the time or financial commitment to do it! So I suggest, firstly, that they look at the WHO report and then answer this question “Is it fulfilling my legal duty to do all I can for the better of the company if I properly invest in wellness”?, and possibly follow up with this one, “If I do not invest in activity with a proven 4:1 return, am I acting against my legal duty”?

My work as you know is founded on the principle of compassion as the means to gain commitment. I mentioned why commitment is so important already, but what is compassion? I hear may conflicting views, so I turned to what I consider to be the best earthly source of knowledge on all things compassionate — His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He describes compassion as “understanding with positive action” — and that’s it. In itself it is not mindfulness or wellness, but the outcome of being compassionate is. If we extend that into a definition of compassionate leadership, “to secure the best for all” we find that we create organisational cultures that deliver commitment, wellness and productivity.

So my advice on impact and intent, is to check your legal requirement as well as your moral one and I think you will find that wellness is right there in both

Become a compassionate leader and it will become natural

Don’t just focus on alleviating the symptom, focus on the source, the wider culture and leadership as well

Intention and impact then become one!

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Our clearly defined culture of compassion lies at the heart of everything that we think, say, and do.

Wellness is woven within our culture, so people know what they are joining and what to expect.

As we interview and induct people so they see that for us wellness is not an initiative or an “extra”, it is in our soul, it is core to our purpose, it is in our everyday thoughts and actions.

I believe this if far more powerful than just sharing a list of benefits that are optional and not necessarily even aligned!

Wellness is personal, so we ask people what wellness means to them and use that to develop our activity and culture; Wellness is in every action

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

The biggest impact we have internally, and with all our clients, is in embedding a culture of compassion and compassionate leadership.

I really do not believe you need a big bang wellness initiative. Beanbags and mindfulness do not make wellness in themselves. Wellness does not belong to HR or the Chief Wellness Officer. Wellness belongs to all the leaders and especially the CEO. It is in the every day actions and attitudes. For us, wellness begins with creating compassionate leaders. If you do that then you have a much better chance of wellness, or the lack of, not being a dominant issue, but just being part of the leaders’ awareness and actions

Our innovative new programme is the online CLA Digital course and the associated workshops in our CLA Plus programme. This enables leadership and personal development at scale and with consistency. This creates your coherent culture of compassionate leadership. This means you can invest in EVERYONE and so gain a collective commitment. This brings wellness into the everyday, and its now in 6 continents and 4 langauges!

You asked me to some examples of what we do across a few specific areas, so here they are

  • Mental Wellness: You must take it seriously; it is real for the sufferer. A broken leg is easy to see, but a mental illness is hard to see and easy to judge. As we work on creating a culture that fosters mental wellbeing so, as I have said many times, you must take a holistic view and work with both symptom and source
  • Emotional Wellness: Make Check-ins an absolute must. How are you feeling? What distractions do you have? Before every meeting, every session and at key decision points. It is the most simplest yet most effective tool we have as leaders to understand the reality of life of our people (and ourselves). Our openness, vulnerability of you will, is the role model in this process. Be authentically human, authentically you.
  • Social Wellness: Have fun, get together, do good, make a difference, give each other time, listen, be kind — be compassionate! Work is not just work; bring in elements of play too and the work will be easier, better, quicker and more enjoyable, and I don’t know about you, but I always produce my best work when I am enjoying myself.
  • Physical Wellness: As I said before, we do make our workplace one that enables movement, correct posture and healthy living. It’s not hard and I don’t believe you need to offer incentives like gym membership — they tend to be accepted but not used! Better is to create a culture of physical wellness at an holistic level and make it truly accessible — by that I mean simple, natural and as part of the day.

For all of these 4 areas of wellness, I am a firm believer in the power of nature. Bring the outdoors in and take the indoors out. You don’t need to climb Kilimanjaro (though you could it is awesome), you have grass, trees, water, flowers, birds and animals on your doorstep. Nature has a way to heal the deepest wounds; just ask her.

And the last one you wanted me to comment on was financial wellness.

  • Financial Wellness: I am not a financial guru — far from it. I have never made any fundamental life decision based on money. They have always been based on fulfilling my purpose or living true to my core self. Financial wellness comes from us not being distracted by the immaterial, material things. Living lives of purpose and meaning helps people be conscious of the choices we make and so to use our wealth and resources to fulfill purpose rather than over-extending ourselves in trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. Financial wellness also comes from the conscious recognition that we already have all we need to be happy, and that happiness, wellness, is an intrinsic concept, not extrinsic. I have always disagreed with those that expound of the virtues of giving yourself tough aspirational goals based on material symbols — stick a picture of a Ferrari on your wall, and you will work harder to get it. Yea, maybe, but at what cost? Have you just sleep-walked into the trap of consumerism? Nothing wrong with Ferraris — they are super, but not as a goal in itself. Enjoy the fruits of your labour but they are not the purpose of your labour.

One small financial tip though — my grand-mother aways said you had to have 3 months worth of living costs saved, just in case!

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

With pleasure Karen. The big three ideas that are the foundation of all our work are — develop everyone, shut up and listen and be compassionate

The first is a fundamental shift in who we develop and grow. The traditional way is to select an exclusive “talent group” and send them away for “development”. I just think this is plain stupid. Yes, I get the need to focus on a succession group to develop their awareness of the business strategy and leadership, but what are you saying to the 95% that you do not select for development? We don’t care about you. You have no future here, but I still want your commitment and effort!

Our focus is to help workplaces develop everyone — absolutely everyone, from the CEO to the intern, all departments and contract staff too. Knowing that you are cared for and cared about is a crucial element of individual and collective wellness and commitment.

We are also specifically growing self-awareness and leadership understanding, and capability, for everyone. If the leaders and the followers speak the same language then leadership is easier and succession is simple; both factors are part of creating a culture of wellness.

The second is for the leadership community to shut up! Listen first. How can you be compassionate if you don’t listen to understand first? Remember, compassion is understanding with positive action. You need to probe with conscious direction and be quiet to allow the true response to surface. There are many ways to create meaningful portals for dialogue and listening — some formal, others less so. My preference is for both but recognise that we tend to spend 80% of our time in formal communications, when 80% of the impact is in the informal. Walk around. Shut your laptop and get out on the floor — an open door policy is not so your people can come to you, but so you can leave you desk and go to them! “Leadership by walking about” is so powerful!

The third foundational concept is to be compassionate. Compassionate leadership is to secure the best FOR all. When we live this philosophy, it helps us to drop judgment, remove biases and act with conscious thought rather than just an emotional empathetic response. It is not an initiative; it is a way of looking at the world. It is to widen your peripheral vision and SEE the needs of others, and once seen — compassion is understanding with positive action — as a compassionate leader, we are compelled to act with positive intent. Compassion is not just for work; it becomes our whole being. You will be different and compassionate when you drive your car, go shopping, even when you use a public toilet — I did once write a blog about “compassionate crapping”!! Compassion is how you welcome the receptionist, the cleaners and the security guards — everyone. Compassion is your thoughtful action to minimise hard and maximise benefit wherever you go. Compassion is the source of wellness!

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

I begin through leading by example. I ensure that I make time to stay fit and active. I do take my breaks and my holidays. I do follow my hobbies and interests. I do spend great time with my family and friends. And I do work hard to add value every day. Then I don’t just encourage and enable the leaders I work with to do the same, I encourage them to act with compassion to enable everyone within their sphere of influence to be the best they can be at an holistic human level. We discuss what it means for the specific individuals — one person’s wellness could be another person’s madness — there is no “one size fits all”.

I guess the first and most important part of “re-skilling” is in creating a consciousness about wellness and a commitment to it by helping the leaders fully understand the benefits — and there are so many!

The re-skilling is to create compassionate leaders everywhere we go, recognising that we are all leaders and leadership is everywhere

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team, or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

May I share a couple of really simple, small and everyday steps to answer that one?

Begin with compassion. Challenge yourself each day — “what have I done that is compassionate today”? “Could I have been more compassionate in that last interaction”?

Gratitude — practice the art of gratitude. Every day, stop and reflect on the things to be grateful for. I recommend you start and end each and every day by making a thoughtful list of (at least) 5 things to be grateful for. Boy, it brings a smile, a sense of perspective and a reminder on precisely what is actually important for our happiness and wellness.

Check-in — it is the most simply, yet most effective compassionate action that positively impacts wellness, happiness, collaboration, communication and so much more. It is the living embodiment of a compassionate culture. It is deceptively simple, but life changingly powerful

Know who you are. Compassion starts with you. Understand yourself and be compassionate with what you find — warts and all. You cannot live a life of meaning and purpose (and wellness) if you are unaware of who you really are and what is really important to you — can you? Don’t just think it, write it down, refine it, reflect on it and then share what is really important to you and who you really are.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

Sadly, I see may distractions and tick-box activity in the wellness space and some of the trends I am witnessing do not, I believe, actually make a difference

Maybe this list if less of the trends I see, but more of the trends we need to see! It’s a bit of a mix.

  1. Flexible working. This is growing and must happen. I don’t mean that everyone must be in the office 3/5 — that’s not flexible, that’s just mixing things up within your own framework. Flexible working is recognising and agreeing what is to be done and then being flexible on how it is done. It’s allowing time to drop the kids off at school. It’s enabling your people to be active members of the community. It is not about time and effort, but about quality outcomes
  2. Awareness. I am seeing a raising of the awareness of the importance of wellness, and the increased self-awareness that is driving this. This is a positive trend, however, we must not disappear into our own backsides in introspection; it is awareness of self and others in the context of an active and engaging life. We must encourage this trend of having a personal brand — “This is who I am”. We must encourage this trend of consciousness and courage in being open and sharing of self.
  3. Leadership is everyone. This is more of a wish than a trend. I still see organisations stuck in the exclusive , bias-led, disempowering activity of focusing just on an elite “talent group”. This has been driven by “that’s what we’ve always done, by cost and, I believe, out of laziness — “We can only afford to send a few to do an MBA, so …” Invest in everyone, equally. This MUST happen. We must challenge the existing leadership and personal development practices. I hear talk of DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. But we need to change this to IDE — Inclusion first enables the power of diversity and the outcome of equity
  4. Holistic approach. Oh dear, again more of a wish than a visible trend, but perhaps, through your work, our work together, we can make it a trend. Leadership and wellness, source and symptom — we need to act on both. I want to see the conversation changing from “We need to do some wellness stuff” to “What leadership culture can we create that fosters wellness”? We need the whole leadership community to own wellness. We can being this trend here and now
  5. Work is life, life is work. They are inseparable, so let’s make them count for each other. I am seeing this as a trend as companies embrace meaningful CSR, DEI (sorry, IED) and ESG activities, and are making real efforts in ensuring their organisations are purpose led— early days yet though!! It is not a work v life balance we are after, it is a life balance.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

When my book on Compassionate Leadership was published back in 2014 there wasn’t much on the shelves about compassion or wellness. Now the book shops are heaving under the weight of some great work on the subject. Compassion is becoming mainstream and the acceptance that we are, actually, human, with emotional, spiritual and physical needs and not just intellectual is gathering pace. The old-style “just do it” principle is slowing withering on the vine (thank goodness). I just hear so much more, and from all corners, that brings wellness to the front. It’s happening. It’s real. It’s more human and more humane.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I guess I am easy to find with such an unusual name — Manley! I do post articles and thought pieces on Linkedin regularly. I also have a large global following who receive my blogs and posts directly, so they could sign up for that. My online Compassionate Leadership Academy is growing from strength to strength and is now in 4 languages and 6 continents, but they can always get hold of me through my website . I would be delighted to continue the conversation with your readers; I find that conversations and debate educate both parties — I like to call myself “a leader, in learning” — it’s always a journey.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.