Wellbeing: Whats it got to do with you?

Written by
Liza Walter-Nelson,

24 Feb 2016

24 Feb 2016 • by Liza Walter-Nelson,

Wellbeing is a the "state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy" (Oxford dictionaries), and is an issue for individuals, groups and society as a whole.  Employers have a responsibility to look after their staffs wellbeing, not least because the health & safety executive thinks it’s a good idea (HSE Management Standards), but because improving and looking after staff wellbeing can have positive effects on the productivity and the bottom line (P. Warr, 2007; S. Wood, 2008; Bryson, Forth & Stokes, 2014). 

It doesnt pay to ignore wellbeing

Making the (evidenced) assumption that poor well-being leads to absence due to either mental or physical symptoms, we can see that the costs of this are high indeed - It is estimated that absence costs the UK economy between £11-14bn each year (CIPD; XpertHR, 2014). That's not to say you want everyone in work if they are sick, as Presenteeism brings its own costs; "Employers that had noticed an increase in presenteeism were nearly twice as likely as those that had not to report an increase in stress-related absence, and more than twice as likely to report an increase in mental health problems among staff" (Professor Cary Cooper, 2015 see also 

Take a three fold approach

So, we know we need to do something to combat this and put in place supportive measures for employees, but where do you start? There are a number of great guides out there and some solid evidence based practice to learn from. The important thing from my own perspective is that employers need to work across a range of levels to achieve a well balanced programme aimed at improving or maintaining well being – don’t wait until there is a problem, take a proactive approach and am any well-being initiative or programme across three levels; 


Reduction of causes (tackle primary drivers)


Management of causes (reduce impact)


Treatment of causes/symptoms (provide support)

Again, from experience, a number of organisations I have seen tend to work at the tertiary end (an EAP), with some work at secondary level, putting in place things like 'managing stress' workshops.

Let's get primary

At the primary level, organisations should be aiming at getting the basics right, putting things in place that ensure the job roles and environment are not adversely impacting the employees.
For example, employers can look at expanding beyond the legal requirements of flexible working and broaden their scope to create Employee Friendly Working Practices, taking a view that flexible (or agile, if you prefer) staffing models bring benefits for everyone. Helping to create an environment that values every employee, understanding that they all have a life outside of work, some thing that they want to have time to do, it’s not always about caring responsibilities. This can be a big step, and as such it’s good to put a framework around it to help managers manage it, to help ensure that all staff know what the boundaries are. For example, defining core hours, contact points and communications, how and when team meetings will be held to accommodate different working patterns etc. This also of course, offers you flexibility with your customers, who in many cases, also want to access either services or products at times more convenient to them.  
Flexible working has been around for years now, but I am always surprised how few people offer this outside of the legislative requirements. Creating a framework is simple, embedding it won't be but with a little commitment and training and some trial and error, it can offer a real benefit for individuals and employees alike. 

Implementing flexible working

To make implementing flexible or agile working effective and to help it embed, other changes will need to happen alongside this at the policy/practice level. For example, it is much easier to make flexible working and agile methodologies effective if performance management (appraisal) systems are aligned to outcomes based working. Creating a process that puts the emphasis on what needs to be achieved, how it will be achieved and what support is needed, or will be put in place, to make it happen. Regular catch ups, one to ones, are also necessary - they don't have to be for an hour at a time, they can be one in much shorter timeframes, the key is that they are meaningful and focussed, and overall, consistent. In my experience, one of the barriers to flexible working is managers who feel that they won’t know what their staff are doing if they can't see them - this is nonsense, with an outcomes based approach and clear lines of communication (and a degree of trust!)  flexible/agile working, works. 

Good job design will almost definitely support a 'well' workplace - clarifying roles, increasing autonomy and targeting skills will help staff to have more control over their work and thus decrease stress. Too often I have seen recruiting managers simply put an existing job description back out for advert when they get a vacancy, even if the outgoing post holder has been there for a number of years; surely its time to review what is needed now in the role?! Redesigning roles can be time consuming (need to think about the wider team), however, it would be far better to take the time to do that than simply recruit like for like and find that the old 'essential's’ have been eradicated by industry progression. Good job design, particularly vertical scope and autonomy, has been shown to be positively related to entrepreneurial behaviours - something many employers want to see.
These are just a few ways in which organisations can put in place some of the building blocks - before defining secondary and tertiary elements as well!