More frequently at Global OHS, we are receiving requests from companies for ‘wellbeing days’ and ad hoc ‘Know your Numbers Sessions’. To be rather frank, these requests are often poorly thought through and in essence is simply a perfunctory measure aimed at satisfying a well-intended notion to address organisational wellbeing.
So in this month’s blog, I thought I would focus on wellbeing, what it is, why it matters and why good businesses should bother doing it (and how to do it well).
Wellbeing is not only just about feeling good but also about the ability to function well-taking account of a person’s life experiences when compared against their life circumstances and weighted against the current social norms and values. In the Department of Health Document: “Wellbeing and Why it Matters to Health Policy” is it said that wellbeing exists in two dimensions:
“Subjective wellbeing (or personal wellbeing) asks people directly how they think and feel about their own wellbeing, and includes aspects such as life satisfaction (evaluation), positive emotions (hedonic), and whether their life is meaningful (eudemonic).
Objective wellbeing is based on assumptions about basic human needs and rights, including aspects such as adequate food, physical health, education, safety etc.
Objective wellbeing can be measured through self-report (e.g., asking people whether they have a specific health condition), or through more objective measures (e.g., mortality rates and life expectancy).”
Given these rather panoptic definitions, there is, understandably no recognised ‘one size fits’ all approach to organisational health and it is important to recognise that it is not the sole responsibility of the employer to become exclusively accountable for their employee's health; there is both an equal measure of organisational and personal accountability. Without wishing to become embroiled in a debate regarding the preponderance of organisational strategy and culture, when it comes to workplace wellbeing it is my opinion that a firmly embedded strategy will not only demonstrate senior-level commitment but also give structure and provide a framework to measure the efficacy; a wellbeing strategy that cannot monitor the ROI or outcomes adds little or no value to the organisation or business. So in reference to the opening statement, offering an occasional or wellbeing day evidences what exactly?
Workplace Wellbeing: The Evidence Base
In 2008, Dame Carole Black published a report entitled Working for a Healthier Tomorrow which considered the existing dichotomy of increasing longevity, morbidity and poorer health outcomes.
It was underpinned by the existing evidence base demonstrating the positive importance of work on health but advocated how healthy work is beneficial not only to individuals but also to communities by improving the determinants of health (and reducing health inequalities) and also by demonstrating the financial benefit to the UK economy.
According to a new report from the CIPD, Growing the health and well-being agenda: From first steps to full potential, the average cost of absence now stands at £554 per employee per year. It also reveals that:
• Fewer than one in ten (8%) of UK organisations currently have a standalone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisational strategy.
• The majority of employers are more reactive than proactive in their approach to well-being (61%).
• Almost two-fifths of employees (38%) are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.
• 43% say that long hours working is the norm for their organisation (to a greater or moderate extent).
• Well-being is taken into account in business decisions only to a little extent, or not at all, in the majority (57%) of cases.
• Less than two-fifths of organisations monitor the cost of employee absence.
HSE 2014-2015 Annual Report
• 1.2 million people who worked during the last year were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their work.
• 0.5 million were new conditions that started during the year.
• A further 0.8 million former workers (who last worked over 12 months ago) were suffering from an illness which was caused or made worse by their past work.
• Working days lost were 27.3 million days due to work-related ill health or injury (15 days per case).
• 23.3 million days were lost due to work-related ill health (4.1 million due to workplace injury)
As such creating and sustaining healthy workplaces, enabling and empowering employees to take personal responsibility and accountability for their own health and wellbeing, based on a preventative model of healthcare must be an integral part of any organisations future vision. If you align this alongside your corporate values and behaviours and externally facing priorities then it’s a win-win situation.
The Business Case: Employee Engagement and Organisational Performance.
One of the biggest challenges faced is the lack of an accountable person for the wellbeing agenda and strategic ownership. Often this is a task assigned to H&S or HR as it’s often not clear where wellbeing should sit and without senior-level commitment and drive any agreement is at risk of becoming nebulous and losing direction.
The first step is to ensure there is senior management commitment to employee wellbeing within your corporate plan and writing an overarching wellbeing strategy would help achieve this. There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the business case for improved employee engagement and wellbeing which are discussed briefly below. Employee engagement is defined as being;
“A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of wellbeing.”
There is a correlation between employee engagement and positive wellbeing. Research has demonstrated that those actively engaged were more committed to their organization. It was reported that work engagement is associated with higher levels of psychological wellbeing, lower levels of absence, and this also impacted positively outside of the working environment. It has been recognized that it becomes a self-perpetuating circle; healthy employees are more engaged and engaged employees are healthier.
When employees are engaged and healthy they are more likely to be more resilient and able to handle changes more effectively. They are less likely to have absence due to physical or mental health issues and are less likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression. This ultimately means improved staff costs, productivity and performance. However, a poll in 2014 found 54% of British employees believed there was little interest by their employer in their health and wellbeing as long as the job was done.
Replacing an employee can cost up to 150% of the leaver’s salary. Organizations that are engaged have the potential to reduce turnover by 87%. Raising the profile of wellbeing within the organization would also be consistent with the externally facing values and corporate responsibility, thereby ensuring the organisation views the health and wellbeing of its workers as a priority and ensuring a workforce that is fit for purpose.
Where to Start: Top Tips
1) Organisational culture. Wellbeing needs to be embedded in everything. Strong commitment and ownership will be needed from the senior management team and in my experience, the best way to achieve this is via a strategy. It does not have to be complex or lengthy - just a commitment to health and wellbeing and how this is to be achieved and monitored. Or simply, consider one of the frameworks below.
2) Review your manager’s behaviours, competencies and skills. Is there a requirement for training or a change in culture?
3) Strategic vision and alignment with your corporate strategy. Wellbeing is the golden thread that unifies all your policies.
4) Partnership working and stepping away from the siloed approach. The relationship between the Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health Service, approach to stress management & resilience as well as Health and Safety will need to be developed to ensure clear lines of accountability. Remove ambiguity and any potential for nebulous interprofessional boundaries.
5) Effective pathways also need to be considered in the wider context alongside any frameworks. For example, is OH the most appropriate place for a stress referral or workplace assessment? Who is best placed to undertake this, is your current approach cost-effective or simply an easy way for the manager to ‘pass the buck.’
Frameworks and resources for consideration
Once a direction is agreed upon a framework can be considered. This might form part of an overarching strategy and there may be various frameworks and schemes that form part of your commitment to wellbeing. Here are some good resources for consideration;
1) The Healthy Workplace Charter (if you are based in London)
2) The Workplace Wellbeing Charter .
3) Investors in People.
4) Mind: It's time to talk, it's Time to Change. Specialists in improving mental wellbeing
5) Five Ways to Wellbeing. Created by the New Economics Foundation.
6) Try your local council’s wellbeing team - most have an amazing hub of different professionals and free resources to support your workplace health. These include the over 40’s MOTs, health trainers, stop smoking, alcohol support, dietary advice and food partnerships.
We are working with numerous companies across the South East and London to support their wellbeing agenda. We will be presenting our success stories at a forthcoming IOSH conference and would love to meet you. If you would like any further information about this or to find out how we can support you with the above, please do contact us.