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Workplace wellbeing – is it working?

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Employee wellbeing is being compromised by a lack of understanding of how to implement effective programmes, reveals the latest research from the British Safety Council.

Only one in six (17 per cent) organisations evaluate the impact of their health and wellbeing initiatives (source: CIPD).

In nearly two thirds of companies (63 per cent), other priorities take precedence over employees’ wellbeing (source: Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey).

28 per cent of SME leaders think their companies are too small to take employee health and wellbeing seriously. A third (32 per cent) of them thought health and wellbeing was the domain of large businesses (source: Bupa 2015 survey).

The main reasons for this situation are the difficulties of defining wellbeing, selecting the best tools for assessing wellbeing programmes and measuring the cost-effectiveness of these interventions. Inadequate people skills of many line managers and low priority given by them to employee wellbeing are also important factors. 

Responding to these challenges, the British Safety Council has published a report Not just free fruit: wellbeing at work. The report defines wellbeing in the workplace and suggests a set of metrics for effectively measuring wellbeing programmes and policies. The report, which is a comprehensive review of the existing literature and market intelligence, is a call to action for employers in Britain to place the wellbeing needs of their workers at the top of the executive agenda.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “Discussions about health and wellbeing permeate our daily lives, whether it’s the accessibility of good clinical care, the stresses of modern living or the importance of physical activity and good nutrition. They are supported by common beliefs: work sometimes contributes to ill health; the workplace can provide an environment where good health can be promoted; and everyone should play a role in encouraging and protecting good health and wellbeing.

“Too often, unlike the highly professional approach applied to risk assessment and risk control, wellbeing efforts have been marked by a combination of real enthusiasm and commitment married to a woeful ignorance of what will make a difference. This positivity could dissipate into incoherent programmes of free bananas and occasional ‘health weeks’, featuring Indian head massage and aromatherapy.

“The Wellbeing at work report represents the British Safety Council’s contribution to establishing rigorous, evidence-based workplace interventions which enhance the wellbeing of everyone involved. It calls for commitment, clear thinking and effective action, not only to make our workplaces healthy and safe, but also to make a tangible impact on improving the lives of all workers.”

The report makes several recommendations to employers for creating and evaluating workplace wellbeing programmes, including the following proposals: 

  • Employees must be given the opportunity to participate in the creation and development of initiatives designed to improve their own health and wellbeing.

  • Line managers must be appropriately trained in mental health awareness and the relevant support mechanisms, so that they have the confidence to communicate with employees in a caring and sensitive manner.  

  • Organisations should evaluate the impact and efficacy of their health and wellbeing interventions on a regular basis, to ensure that they adapt and respond to the changing needs of their workers.

  • Workers’ wellbeing is linked to job quality, which is expressed through a healthy working environment, fair wages, strong relationships with managers and colleagues, job design, a degree of responsibility and authority, workload, working hours, and career development prospects.

  • The leadership of health and wellbeing must come from the highest level. Senior leaders of all organisations should ensure that a health and wellbeing strategy linked to corporate objectives is established, and actively drive its effective implementation.