Waldinger’s “good life” and reflections for stakeholder engagement

Strong relationships are the key to “the good life” according to Harvard, but what does this mean for working life in the health sector? It’s a question of semantics and stories.

75 years ago, Harvard University initiated a longitudinal study of 724 men, with the aim of understanding the different “force factors” that would impact the trajectory of these men. Over time, the study has grown and spouses and children have been added to the research programme. The project is designed with two different experimental arms, to explore the impact of wealth and educational status on wellbeing. The research continues and the Programme Director, Robert Waldinger, recently gave a TedX on the findings – short and long versions available to view. What did he conclude? Relationships matter. They matter in terms of our physical and psychological health, and they correlate to what he calls, “the good life”. Waldinger acknowledges relationships take effort, can be hard work, and can be knocked off course by topics such as money, status and “leaning in” to work. But he warns of the risks of social isolation. So what does all of this mean for us?

Increasingly, collaboration initiatives are seen as the defacto way of working in the health sector. This assumption has bubbled up from the recognition of health as a “wicked problem”, one that requires multiple perspectives and inputs to shift the needle. In other words, we’ve collectively come to recognise that the comorbid, complex, chronic and costly nature of current and future UK population health can only be effectively tackled by disrupting traditional healthcare boundaries and pooling skills. But this pooling requires functional and valuable relationships to exist. Waldinger argues that we need to “lean in” to relationships, but how do we make that a reality in the health delivery context, where there are so many agendas and micro-politics that can undermine relationships?

Part of the answer might be to think about the things that shape our relationships. Semantics are one of them. An industry definition of “partnership” may be very different to that used by the NHS. The industry might think of partnership as working on a project together, whereas the NHS may infer shared governance, pooled resources and more. We may talk about “co-creating” and really mean, “let’s do a workshop!” In contrast, proponents of co-creation theory probably see co-creation as involving an ongoing and iterating programme of work where decisions and risks are shared by participants. In health delivery, we share words but perhaps don’t share meaning.

Words matter because words are the tools we use to express stories. Stories matter because they are what we collectively use to make sense of the complex world we live in. What stories do we tell within our organisations? Stories of patient-centricity? Stories of efficiency? Stories of value? Are these the same stories that are being told by the stakeholders we hope to have relationships with? What are the similarities and differences between our stories and how does it impact relationships?

Relationships are the bedrock of “the good life”. In the context of healthcare delivery, we should strive for a good life at work and aim to contribute towards “the good life” for health populations we interact with. This means taking a bit of time to understand our audiences, surface differences and agree how we can “lean in” together.

Since Aurora was founded a decade ago, we have placed relationships at the heart of what we do. We focus on relationships within the agency, with our clients and with the wider world. Access All Areas is the latest evidence of our belief that relationships matter. When the agency was founded, we hadn’t considered the work of Waldinger, but we did know that agencies like ours can play a vital role in “joining the dots” among the health sector. Alongside Waldinger, a whole body of literature suggests that the way we interact is the biggest determinant of success within projects. We’re proud to focus on happy team, happy clients and great work. To start the journey towards “the good life” in your work, why not give us a call and share some stories?


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