Getting to the heart of wellbeing

By Sarah Prasad

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Mental health is now the biggest single cause of illness in the UK and costing the economy £120bn, yet only 8 per cent of workplaces have a standalone health and well-being strategy (CIPD 2015 Absence Management survey).

Workplace wellbeing clearly has some way to go and it is this topic that we discussed at our most recent HR Leadership Forum in Edinburgh. In particular we debated how best to integrate wellbeing into our places of work and ensure a compelling business case for the right interventions.

Surrounded by talented individuals from a variety of businesses, we quickly got to the heart of the matter: corporate culture.

Whilst an organisation can have a raft of wellbeing initiatives, if these are not underpinned with the right corporate culture, how can wellbeing be truly embedded and therefore result in a positive impact to the bottom line? Free gym membership, employee assistance helplines and mindful workshops all have their place, but if you are consistently ‘clock-watched’ and expected to answer emails during your family holiday, what message does that send? As Derek Cummings from Burness Paull stated, ‘culture drives the outcomes’.

We also discussed how wellbeing differs from person to person. Flexible working and the expectation to ‘switch off’ on holiday may be fundamental to one individual’s wellbeing, whilst their colleague may place more emphasis on the free gym membership and mental resilience training. Empowering employees to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, gaining their input in crafting wellbeing interventions and providing them with a choice, are vital components for culture change. Kim Walker has further insight on this ‘The greatest wealth – wellbeing’.

The role of leadership and behaviours

Perhaps therefore, a key focus should be on increasing self-awareness and changing behaviours. Whilst this takes more effort than fruit orders or well-designed break-out areas, on the flip-side, it doesn’t need to cost anything. Leadership at all levels, from executives through to team leaders can ‘be the change they want to see…’ (Gandhi) and lead by example.

A recent report by Business in the Community (Transforming the role of line managers: A blueprint for unlocking employee mental wellbeing and productivity, Feb 2016) emphasises this point: ‘developing a management style that is open, approachable and self-aware goes a long way’

Change takes place because of our social environment so if managers and leaders set the ‘norms’, and allow their teams to carry them forward, therein starts a culture shift. On a practical note, actions taken could be:

  • ensuring managers know that a key part of their role is to support employee health and wellbeing
  • displaying the positive behaviours they require from their teams, e.g. taking time away from work for a break/to eat lunch, leaving work at a sensible time, not sending non-urgent communications whilst on holiday
  • openly challenge behaviours that are incongruent to health and wellbeing

Whilst building a healthy culture is not a quick and easy process, more and more research points towards the positive link between high levels of engagement and wellbeing and the performance of an organisation.

To reiterate the words of Professor Sir Cary Cooper: “Companies that report wellbeing and job satisfaction levels in their annual company reports, out- perform those companies that don’t, and that gap is getting wider. The business case for wellness programmes is now overwhelming. This is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is a ‘have to have’.”

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