Do we really know how to be well at work?

A motivated, healthy employee.
Health @ Work

The Symposium [email protected] Summit is on June 11, 2015.

Wellbeing – the latest buzzword to hit the boardroom. It’s a term that is moving from the periphery of organisational conversations to the heart of people focused agendas. Yet it’s not a new idea, so why are we taking note now?

We’re living in a fascinating and contradictory wellbeing era. On a personal level we’ve seen a decade long obsession with the concept. We’ve immersed ourselves in ideas of happiness and self help to such an extent that we’re now fuelling an industry worth $10 billion per annum. It’s at this point I feel I should confess that I was probably one of the first to rush out and buy both Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive’ and Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean!’ Yet at the same time when we turn on the radio or read the paper, we’re hit by disturbing reports about growing mental health issues, the obesity crisis and more pertinent for us, the bleak view of job related stress. Gallup’s well cited, global study alone, claims that seventy percent of us are dissatisfied in the workplace and, however much we attempt to detach ourselves from these trends, the reality is the majority of us contribute to them. If I asked you to honestly reflect if stress, anxiety or depression form a part of your daily life, what would your answer be?

Hosted by the London School of Economics, leading researchers recently debated the powers behind wellbeing and, more importantly, which players should take responsibility. The inevitable conclusion was drawn that the trilogy of society; government and corporations should act together. In my opinion, this collaboration is critical but also nothing new. We only have to look to community-led movements to acknowledge the success of ‘togetherness’ attitudes towards health. However, if we focus on the workplace, through personal experience and research in employee behaviour, it’s clear that in the majority, individual’s alone cannot find a sustainable sense of wellbeing. Despite our best efforts to empower ourselves towards better health, we remain restricted by the often conflicting drivers of our work and non-work lives.

In acknowledgement of this the UK Government launched the national ‘Happiness Survey’ (2010) and ‘What Works Centre for Wellbeing’ (2015) as a way of integrating wellbeing metrics into measures of economic success. With this backdrop the attention is now turning to businesses, with the Health Minister Norman Lamb writing personally to every FTSE 100 company to ask for support and action on it’s ‘Time to Change’ wellbeing campaign for better mental health at work. The reality is organisations hold a privileged position to influence employee wellbeing, something supported by our research in the Financial Services industry. Employee led surveys found that the way we feel about our jobs influences our overall life satisfaction by up to seventy percent. And this isn’t simply
connected to the amount of hours we spend in the office, it also reflects our inability to keep work, emotionally, mentally or physically, at work.

I was recently asked to chair the European HR Transformation Summit and was fortunate enough to witness fascinating debates from industry directors on engagement and wellbeing. What appeared unanimous was that forward thinking companies are taking ownership of their organisation’s health and by investing in long term strategies they’re already beginning to reap the rewards. The benefits including; the business case advantages of improved absenteeism &
presenteeism; the leadership advantages of building skill sets that harbour sustainable productivity & innovation, and the talent advantages of attracting high calibre millennials that demand wellbeing, mindful management & flexibility.

It’s a sensitive and fascinating arena and something that needs careful reflection, both personally and organisationally. If you checked in with your view of the world today, would you feel your personal or business’ approach to health, falls into the bucket of pioneering wellness? Or would you place your attempts into the tokenism pot, alongside ad hoc, 10 minute ‘Mc-mindfulness’ classes?! The response could provoke you to reevaluate, and as a result consider the three rules to
creating a powerful wellbeing strategy…

Rule #1: Know where you’re at! 

As with any credible project a clear picture of the current position is critical. Part of the difficulty about wellbeing is that it is complex and personal. Setting one definition that everyone can understand, that is suitable for the diverse realities of working life, and that is measurable, is fundamental to the success of your intervention. Working within the Wellbeing MSc Programme at Bath University, Yoke Consultancy has applied a seven sector framework of organisational wellbeing to the financial services sector. The method enables the independent measurement of employee wellbeing across: ‘Mental & Emotional Health’; ‘Physical Health’; ‘Relationships’; ‘Networks & Community’; ‘Meaning & Purpose’; ‘Competency and Action’ and ‘Financial Health’. Once the results from senior leadership interviews and employee led surveys are analysed, a ‘baselined’ wellbeing position is set, from which all existing or new interventions can be measured.

Rule #2: Talk about it!

With a line in the sand drawn, it’s time to start openly asking people about wellbeing. By sharing the overall trends from rule #1, instigating honest conversations on wellbeing with senior management allows you to see what people find difficult to talk about and what support they may need. Our research showed 56% of workers expecting firms to play a ‘highly’ active role in wellbeing, so tackling communication problems is a great first step.

In addition, during the process its important to dedicate time to ask yourself about your wellbeing. Do you feel you’ve invested energy in understanding what it means to you; do you feel able to articulate this in appropriate way that might inspire others at work? Without these skills setting an example of wellbeing is difficult.

Rule #3: Take targeted action!

With the information gathered it’s time to design or redesign your wellbeing programmes. Firstly, ensure what you’re doing will add the maximum value by targeting the low scoring areas identified in your wellbeing assessment. Focus on proven techniques that make a wide impact on your organisation, such as structured ‘Wellbeing Training Programmes,’ that deepen managerial skills to promote a culture of wellness. And above all remember to measure the effect each intervention has against your chosen framework and celebrate the successes with your colleagues.

If you would like to learn more about the seven sector framework of organisational wellbeing please follow Rachel’s HR Symposium blog spot where, over coming weeks, she’ll be sharing specific case studies and ideas on how to improve each area of wellbeing.

About Rachel Arkle

Rachel Arkle is Director of Yoke Consultancy, a leading wellbeing analytics company based in London and Bristol. As an expert in the wellbeing field, Rachel works with UK companies to help them understand and improve organisational wellbeing, in order to drive workforce and cultural effectiveness.

Rachel has worked with a range of companies from global consultancies to social enterprises in the UK and the US, and with over ten years' management experience, she ensures that her insight always adds value to a business's bottom line. She is completing a pioneering Wellbeing Masters Programme at Bath University, to deepen her expertise in organisational wellbeing.

Contact email: [email protected]

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