What does it take for workplace wellbeing to ‘work’?

There are multiple factors that point towards workplace wellbeing being critical to organisations’s success today but, as an employer, how can you ensure that workplace wellbeing delivers on its promise? Every organisation is different and you’ll have your own set of challenges, employee expectations, work environment, goals and values… There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, no textbook providing exact steps to follow to ensure that workplace wellbeing will ‘work’.

So if you’re an employer, or a wellbeing lead driving your organisation’s wellbeing strategy, where do you start?

Two essential steps to make workplace wellbeing effective

There are two essential steps towards effective wellbeing – firstly conducting an audit process to understand where the main gaps are and the priorities to address, and secondly designing a balanced programme of interventions to ensure that you’re both addressing and preventing problems.

Your wellbeing audit can involve organisational data, e.g. sickness absence, employee surveys such as a workplace wellbeing assessment to gauge key health metrics, HSE’s risk assessment to determine root causes of stress, focus groups to understand practical barriers to wellbeing, perhaps elements of the culture, or specific work practices, that cause unforeseen problems.

It’s all about balance: different types of wellbeing intervention

When it comes to addressing the priorities you’ve identified, no workplace wellbeing intervention works in isolation: you need a balance of three categories of intervention: primary, secondary and tertiary. Many organisations start with tertiary interventions such as an EAP or Mental Health First Aid Training to support employees in a crisis. Of course this is much needed, however these are often criticised in isolation for not going far enough towards preventing problems in the first place.

This is where primary and secondary interventions come in. Secondary interventions equip employees to better handle stress or prevent illness, for example mindfulness training or education around healthy lifestyle. Of course if the work conditions are awful, people are chronically overworked and don’t feel listened to by management, mindfulness training won’t help, it might even make people more upset and unhappy. This is why primary interventions are needed. These are looking at the root causes of stress, the impact of work itself on wellbeing. They will look to address key stressors such as workload or lack of support from managers and the implementation can be a simple adjustment to a work process (which comes at very little cost). It might require training the managers as manager skills tend to be the greatest source of stress (CIPD). If managers are not communicating clearly and transparently, employees are not getting the support they need to do their job, no amount of health promotion will address the root cause and really make a difference.

Wellbeing interventions classification

The way forward? A multi-layed approach

When approaching workplace wellbeing with the methodology described above, you quickly realise that there is no ‘one-size-fits all’. Each organisation has a unique set of challenges and priorities to address, determining the best combination of interventions needed to shift the needle. For example, employers will often evolve from having just an Employee Assistance Programme in place to introducing wellbeing-centred line manager training to help address some of the key issues reported on. Health promotion initiatives such as a series of talks for Mental Health Awareness Week could help foster engagement with both by raising awareness and starting conversations around topics such as bullying and positive communication.

Much like the layers of coloured minerals of Alum Bay, one of my favourite views on the Isle of Wight, multiple levels and strata are what will make your wellbeing strategy unique and impactful.

Would you like to hear more and keep in touch?

As part of the work we’re doing at SuperWellness we are looking to create a training course and community of peers that will be truly practical and relevant for wellbeing leads. If this is something you would be interested in, please add your details to our waitlist and we’ll keep you updated.

Read previous posts:

In search of wellbeing authenticity

3 common barriers facing wellbeing leads



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