More frequently at Global OHS, we are receiving requests from companies for ‘employee health and 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.
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 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 UK organisations currently have a standalone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisational strategy.
Almost two-fifths of employees (38%) are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.
Just over two thirds say that long hours working is the norm for their organisation (to a greater or moderate extent).
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.
There is a correlation between employee engagement and positive employee health and 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.
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.
Strategic vision and alignment with your corporate strategy. Wellbeing is the golden thread that unifies all your policies.
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.’
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.