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Performance or Wellbeing...?

I’ve noticed that many organizations are now shifting from a focus on Wellness to a focus on Performance. In one sense, this is understandable - companies need to deliver results. In another sense, it feels risky, as companies turn up the heat on an already exhausted workforce.

Companies that swing the pendulum from a ‘wellness culture’ to a ‘performance culture’ might not end up with the type of results they are hoping for.

In our research over the last 2 years on how people can Perform & Grow without Burning out, we learned that it was possible for organizations to create a performance culture that was healthy and energising.

However, many accidentally went down a path that led to a ‘toxic performance’ culture. This was characterised by fear, relentless workloads, low psychological safety and a lack of boundaries. In these cultures, performance was possible, but it came at a huge personal toll to everyone involved.

In contrast, we discovered some teams and organizations took a path to ‘healthy performance’. In fact, some of the companies we studied went from an ‘unhealthy’ to ‘healthy’ performance culture and saw a massive shift in business results as well as attraction & retention of talent.

In the interviews we noticed that healthy-performance cultures came from alignment at three levels:

The work: people’s work provides a good balance of Performance focus (exploiting existing skills and knowledge to deliver results now) and Growth focus (exploring assignments that are new for you and require you to grow for the future).

The ways of working: people are encouraged to push themselves hard to perform, but also given permission to switch off and recover. There are norms about when it was OK to stop working, have an outside life and say no without repercussions. Leader’s role model this.

The workplace: the expectation in the team/ culture is that you would give a lot to your work, AND that you receive that much or more in return. People are held accountable to high standards, AND they are coached, supported, recognised & rewarded for their contributions.

When a team leader or organization creates alignment on these 3 levels, we saw healthy-performance cultures emerge and results follow.

Which leads to a warning.

If your company is refocusing on performance that’s good…… but do so wisely. In our research we found that teams and cultures which focused on performance, but neglected wellbeing, turned toxic and burned people out. In contrast, cultures which focused on wellbeing and neglected performance were unproductive.

The most effective leaders & organizations didn’t choose between them.

They asked - What would a healthy high-performance culture look like? And then brick by brick, they built it.


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