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Stephen Hayes

‘Workplace health and wellbeing is slowly moving away from being a checklist of initiatives, benefits and services to something much more’ Stephen Hayes

Last week’s Symposium event (Workplace Stress and Wellbeing 2013) was by far the best I have been to. The increase in number of attendees is also testament to the tremendous increase in importance that organisations are placing on health at work – largely in recognition of the increased awareness and understanding of the impact wellbeing has on bottom line.

Workplace health and wellbeing is slowly moving away from being a checklist of initiatives, benefits and services to something much more. It is becoming ingrained in the corporate culture.

But why is it important for health & wellbeing to be a corporate culture and not simply an initiative?

For starters, we are spending an ever increasing percentage of our waking hours connected to the workplace. The lines between work and home are blurred – technology is making it harder for us to separate work from our personal lives – especially with field based workers – and we are spending less time switched-off from our careers.

We are living longer and retiring later and over the next 20 years we are going to see a dramatic rise in the number of people working well into their 70s. Life expectancy has increased dramatically in recent decades and it is estimated that half of people born today will live beyond 100. However, we are seeing a slight decline in the number of actual healthy life years.

Advancements in technology have changed the way we work – but arguably, the way people and organisations have adapted to this has not kept pace.

Improving the quality of our lives is vital for both today’s generation of worker and tomorrow’s and must be a fundamental part of every organisation.

We used to say wellbeing should be driven from the top down – but it is more than this. It must permeate throughout the organisation – from the wellbeing of a person’s career to their social and community wellbeing to their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Wellbeing is a contract between all our stakeholders. Leading by example, engaging line management, engaging staff in taking responsibility. When it is done right, wellbeing is infectious. It brings together teams and organisations in a way nothing else can match.

It is important that businesses can recognise where wellbeing can be adopted into their business strategy and it is important that initiatives are aligned to a broader strategy.

If wellbeing is an initiative, it will always be at risk of being the first to go in tough times. If wellbeing is an initiative, then I agree with what our FDs say – It is just a nice to have.

Wellbeing must be embedded within corporate culture – This is not a nice to have. There is nothing soft, pink or fluffy about wellbeing. If we continue to hear people ask “where is the return”, then the message is wrong. Equally our buyers are asking the wrong question.

What I am observing today, more so than ever, is that organisations recognise there is a link between health, wellbeing and business performance. What they want is to understand is how this translates into their business. I believe we need a more consistent definition of Wellbeing and we need to make it easier for organisations to see how it can be built into their business strategy and what it can do for them.

Money is not the issue. The issue is demonstrating how wellbeing will contribute to organisational goals when it’s as part of a coordinated programme and embedded within the business strategy.

To quote Theresa Dent-Gater who leads workplace health for Croydon Borough Council’s Health Workplace Charter accredited programme, “You can create a great wellbeing programme without any budget – all you need commitment from business leaders, passion and the right people behind to run it”.