People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. One way to do this is to understand the story in the world you are seeking to change. Then, share that story and make them feel a part of living it too. Help them to belong.

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 Paul Holbrook.

Paul is an author and leadership disrupter who believes little of how managers lead people changed in 20-years as he progressed from developer to managing director, in charge of a 350-person division in the City of London.

In 2017 he decided he’d simply had enough of standing by, watching the toxic effects of people’s diaries on themselves and those around them. From that moment, he decided he wanted to spend his time creating a world of better-led people.

As an all-round optimist and creator of the Diary Detox®, Paul believes the only thing stopping managers getting the most from their people and themselves, is having the time to lead. It all starts with what’s in their calendar.

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.

Inmy last role in the City of London, I was part of a management team in a large bank. Something wasn’t gelling with the team and the COO brought in a coach to work with us.

We dealt with a number of issues but one problem in particular niggled.

One of my colleagues, let’s call them Chris, never seemed to be able to step-up as a manager. No matter what they tried they didn’t seem to get it. It prevented them from engaging with their team and impacted on everyone’s wellbeing.

During the final group-coaching session, Chris said something that caught my ear and I asked the coach if I could respond. They agreed.

I asked Chris to list all the things they hated most at work. After they’d listed them all, I made a statement:

“Aren’t all of those things the very core of what you’re expected to do to be a manager and support your people?”

Chris just sat there speechless.

Something had changed.

A few weeks later, Chris had negotiated a move that removed them as a manager. They went back to being an expert — hands-on.

I spoke up that day because I was fed up with seeing experts promoted to management simply because they were great at being an expert and not because they love people and want the best for them. Chris was lured into taking that promotion using pay and title. Management was simply their way to climb the career-ladder and get paid more.

That’s when I realised that I needed to change direction and decided to spend my time creating a world of better-led people by eradicating accidental management.

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 think of wellness as the level of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

The best way to measure it is by asking people how they feel in each of those respects. That means consciously making time to sit down with people and starting the conversation with ‘How are you doing?’ instead of ‘What are you doing?’. But it also means wanting to know the answer and wanting to help if the answer suggests that help is required.

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?

You don’t have to look too far to find some troubling stats about today’s world of work:

  • 58% of employees trust a stranger more than their manager.
  • 65% of employees would choose to take a new boss over a pay-rise.
  • 75% of employees report that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job.
  • 50% of employees leave their job because of their manager.

Anyone who has worked for a bad manager will tell you that to get to the point where these stats represent you, your wellbeing will have taken a battering. The effect of that emotional turmoil is either disengagement — which means a drop in productivity — or leaving your organisation — which impacts the bottom-line profitability as the organisation has to hire and train someone new.

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’d say do your homework. The fact that that employers struggle to fund wellness programs means they either:

Don’t believe that poor wellness is costing them that much.


Don’t believe the program they’re considering will deliver the benefits promised.

Regarding 1, work with HR and look at attrition rates, sickness days, exit interview feedback, cost of hiring, cost of training etc. They will quickly highlight the true cost of damaged wellness within your organisation.

Regarding 2, find a provider who has been recommended and will deliver their wellnss program in phases. That way you can limit the risk of not achieving a return on your investment.

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

We have a flexible approach to working which includes:

  • Working where you need.
  • Working when you need.
  • Working how you need.

This means we focus more on results than on time spent working.

It’s such a simple concept but takes a significant shift in management-mindset to achieve.

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.

  • Mental Wellness:
  • Emotional Wellness:
  • Social Wellness:
  • Physical Wellness:
  • Financial Wellness:

For the first four in the list, we encourage people to plan their personal time before their work time. I call it a ‘Foundation Week’ and it contains all the stuff your people need to recharge: breakfast, exercise, breaks, lunch, time with loved ones and friends, hobbies etc.

Parkinson’s Law says:

“Work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.”

The problem is most people’s calendars start off empty, so Parkinson’s Law means they fill them with work, leaving the few scraps that are left over for recharge.

For way too long, people have lived in the gaps between work. I believe we should focus on working in the gaps between life!

It does mean that you end up with smaller gaps to do work but, in my experience, this makes people more focussed at work and less susceptible to procrastination.

Above all else, they get more time for their physical, mental, social and emotional wellness; recharge.

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

We put them through a program called ‘Time to Lead’. It lays firm foundations for managers by filling the gap left by existing leadership development programs.

Containing three modules it helps managers create the mindset shift from expert, to manager of experts and gives them the skills to lead themselves and their people.

In altering their mindset, they become laser-focussed on:

  • Protecting their and their people’s wellbeing.
  • Remove barriers to their team delivering.
  • Invest in the next step of their and their people’s career.
  • Plan their successor’s success.

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?

Making sure you only hire or promote managers who ‘love’ people!

Too many managers are ‘accidental managers’. They are promoted to management because they were great at a particular job or are simply looking for career progression. But being an expert at a particular job doesn’t mean you’re cut-out to be a manager. They are completely different competencies.

The way we identify managers who ‘love’ people is by asking them why they want to become a manager in the first place and truly listening to the answer.

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

  1. Use stories to connect with people.

People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. One way to do this is to understand the story in the world you are seeking to change. Then, share that story and make them feel a part of living it too. Help them to belong.

2. Create a culture of WE not ME.

The pandemic has seen most of us shut away in our houses for nearly two-years. Now more than ever, we need to be with each other. When we are together, we talk, and people notice when things aren’t right. Better still, they want to help. Most organisations are trying to achieve this by ordering their people back into the office. It’s not working. Because their people don’t see the need. Invest time in creating a culture of WE. Help your people see that being together with their team will be to their benefit. Then they’ll want to come into the office and be together.

3. Plan recharge time before work time.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work will expand to fill the time available for its completion”. The problem is most people’s calendars start off empty, so they tend to fill with work, leaving us the few scraps that are left over for recharge. Focus your people on working in the gaps between life! Before you plan any work, fill your calendar with all the things you need to make sure your wellbeing is protected: Breakfast, exercise, breaks, lunch, time with loved ones etc. It does mean that you’ll have smaller gaps in which to do work, but this will help you focus and become less susceptible to procrastination.

4. The 4-day-week.

About 20% of time is lost at work every week to activities that add no value. This usually comes from unnecessary meetings, email and interruptions. 20% is about a day, so why not experiment with the 4-day-week. The 4-day-week Global campaign, run by Andrew Barnes who also wrote the book, has some fascinating research and results that suggest productivity can go up as a result of working less.

5. Eradicate ‘Accidental Management’.

The elephant in the room here is that the other items above wouldn’t be a factor if we had better managers; managers who ‘love’ people. Too many managers have become one because they were great in a former role. Sadly, the mindset and skills required to be an expert are rarely the same as those needed to get the best from people. While nearly $300 billion is spent on leadership development each year, very little has improved. That’s because there’s a gap that no one is talking about. We need to invest in altering manager mindsets before sending managers on all sorts of courses to teach skills that will never be used. And we need to give managers the time to lead by showing them how to let go of what they used to do.

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

That the Great Resignation has swung the power dynamic from organisations to employees and their voices are starting to come through. This will force organisations to fundamentally question what’s happening to workplace wellbeing and why. From there it’s a small step to the fundamental change we need to protect wellness.

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 post articles and videos on LinkedIn where I share my thoughts and ideas. You’ll usually see me wearing a green, amber, red, brown or blue t-shirt. The colour I’m wearing is pertinent to the topic I’m discussing.

You can follow me at or you can follow Diary Detox® at

You can also find out more at

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

You’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure.