Thoughts on employee wellbeing

Tonight, I’m speaking about employee wellbeing with Andy Romero-Birkbeck at the North Yorkshire CIPD bitesize conference. Three hours of jam packed people stuff.  It’s a sell out, so if you are too late to the party serious learning and networking event, here is a little of what I am going to say.

According to the latest CIPD survey on absence from work, 1 in 5 employers now have a wellbeing plan as part of their people strategy. That sounds to me like there are still plenty of organisations who are yet to put a focus on this important area. So if you are thinking about doing some wellbeing at your place, here are some thoughts from me, in no particular order.

  • When it comes to wellbeing strategies, we get them wrong when we treat them as a standalone programme or an initiative, do them because everyone else is (best practice klaxon), or use them to treat surface symptoms and not organisational underlying causes.
  • If you are going to do wellbeing, make sure it aligns to your specific organisational needs and challenges. That isn’t to say that you can’t take ideas from anywhere else. I stole some of mine from Inji Duducu.
  • You can’t just ‘do’ wellbeing if you want to make it impactful. Taking wellbeing seriously needs to be part of your culture.
  • True wellbeing is about more than free fruit. It is about the whole, holistic person. About creating an environment in which people can be themselves and thrive.
  • That said, there is nothing wrong with a bit of free fruit. After all, we know that people appreciate the little things.
  • Don’t forget the hygiene stuff. Offering informative seminars or health benefits is great, but it is also about light, heat, fresh air, quality food in the canteen, having a decent chair to sit in.
  • Reasons you might want to bother.  Start with the practical – reduce your risk, reduce your absence levels, increase engagement (whatever that is). Then there’s employer brand and reputation – talent has choices about where it works and it wants to feel valued. Wellbeing can be part of this message.
  • Start with where are you now. What is your absence data telling you? What support do you have, and what resources? What do you already offer and what was the take up? Where are your gaps? What are your specific challenges?
  • Seminars, roadshows, themed events…. they all help get you started, get the language of wellbeing into your organisation, begin to make it part of your culture.
  • If you are going to do some wellbeing activity, as Simon Sineck says, start with why. That should guide the rest of your journey.
  • Businesses cases and return on investment is important, as is evaluating your outcomes. But it is also okay for wellbeing to be just about sending a message that people matter too.
  • You will have cynics who don’t think that is anything to do with the workplace.  You will need to work on them.  Your data is the starting point to do so.
  • Sometimes the work that we ask people to do makes them sick or contributes to it.  So this is just one reason more why we need to consider the wellbeing of our people.
  • Start with your line managers. They will be where a wellbeing programme lives or dies. Make sure they understand it, will support it, even role model it.
  • Give away free stuff. Everyone loves a bit of free stuff.
  • Make sure your wellbeing stuff aligns with everything else. Your vision, mission and values to begin with, but everything else too. If HR launches a wellbeing programme but managers are managing like it’s 1899, then you will just look like you are out of touch with the every day reality of your people.
  • Not everyone will want to be involved in whatever you do. About 5% according to recent evidence I’ve seen from Westfield Health. That is just fine.
  • Don’t do it if you don’t mean it. Employees can smell bullshit at 1000 paces.

And finally…. When it comes to wellbeing in general and evaluation in particular, as they saying goes, not everything that counts can be counted. It is about how you make people feel. The starting point for most great HR stuff.

You can find the link here to my Haiku Deck.

You can also check out the hashtag #cipdNY15 for more from the event this evening. If you are a local HR type, the North Yorkshire branch of the CIPD does some awesome events (and I’m not just saying that because I am Vice Chair) so keep your eye on their Twitter account @CIPD_NYorks for more about what is going on.


4 thoughts on “Thoughts on employee wellbeing

  1. Great summary Gem, tonight will be great. I’m interested that you’ve not talked about talking to / surveying people to find out what concerns they have, what would help them, etc. What are your thoughts on that? Unless I missed it, in which case sorry!

    • Thanks Helen and good spot. It didn’t make it into the post but it’s in the full presentation version! I’ll be saying a couple of things about planning. First is to ask people want they want and be guided by it – but also recognise that people might not really know if it’s the first time you’re doing something like this. So go beyond that too. Also, a survey or feedback of some description should be done as part of your evaluation process.

  2. Interesting and inciteful article. As a workplace wellbeing professional of many years a lot of what you wrote really resonates with me. I think Dame Carol sums it up best “you can provide all the free fruit and gym memberships you want but if people are unhappy at work they’ll still eat mars bars”

  3. Hi Gemma – like the recommendation about starting with the line managers. Sometimes our line managers they are not the best role models – some hold management positions because of their lack of work life balance, presenteeism, ability to focus of work and capacity to make things happen but at the expense of their own wellbeing or others around them. The senior team needs to make commitment to wellbeing one of the performance measures to really get behaviours to change – and that’s not an easy cultural shift to make in some organisations, so you are absolutely right to warn early on that this is not a superficial issue.
    Best wishes for your talk tonight!

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