I am a big believer in employee wellbeing.

But there’s wellbeing, and there’s wellbeing.

A spectrum. At once end there’s a statement on the corporate website saying that the health and wellbeing of employees is very important to us. Etc.  At the other end, a wellbeing strategy, integrated into the whole of the people agenda.

It’s the occasional bit of free fruit versus employee benefits that enable health.

Managing absence versus supporting attendance.

Too often, what passes as employee wellbeing is just carewash.

Statements without substance.

Token gestures.

Individual, one off wellbeing events can make a difference.  They can send a signal, or start a journey.

A half day of health checks at a place I once worked led to an employee being diagnosed with a previously unknown and potentially life threatening medical condition. (Thank you Andy Romero-Birkbeck).

Of course, not everyone has the budget or resource to do wellbeing well. In which case, a little something is always better than nothing at all.

So do what you can – but only if you mean it.

Employees can spot empty gestures from a great distance.

For wellbeing to really make a difference the case for it needs to be widely understood and accepted. It needs a strategy.  It needs to be integrated in everything that you do.

Consider how, in the public sector, we assess the impact of policies, procedures, changes and initiatives on equality and diversity. If we want to make wellbeing make a difference, for it to be taken seriously and made a priority, then a similar approach is required.

Considering formally and with structure, what would add to wellbeing and what would detract from it. How any negative impacts can be mitigated.  That work stuff that you do – how does it impact upon the physical and mental health of the people that work for you? And then what can you do about it?

If you are serious about it, of course.

Because you are spending more time telling people you do wellbeing than you spend actually doing wellbeing, then you don’t really mean it.  If you have a wellbeing programme because everyone else has one, or if you are doing wellbeing because it is good for your employer brand, then maybe this isn’t genuine wellbeing at all.

Maybe what you have got instead, is carewash.

Wellbeing and the importance of choice

I’m drafting this blog post on a Sunday evening. I’ve just spent an hour or so responding to emails that came in on Friday when I was on leave. I’ve also spent a little time getting myself organised for the day ahead tomorrow.

There is much being talked and written about on the subject of wellbeing right now. About mental health.  About stress in the workplaces.  About the scourge of emails and the impact that always on technology is having upon us. It is the subject of many a conference, many a blog post.  There is plenty too about what we should do about it.  There’s even been a suggestion in France that out of hours emailing be entirely banned.  Then there are other countries experimenting with shorter working days to assess the impact on productivity.

Here’s my take on it. When it comes to my own wellbeing, a big part of it is about having choice.

It is about doing what is right for me, working when it is right for me. That is what true flexibility means.  Working how it works for me to be best effective.  I don’t do well when I am told what to do and when to do it.  That is what causes me to be stressed and unhappy at work.

There is nothing wrong with email; it is how we use it that can cause a problem. There is nothing wrong too with having a notification pinging constantly on your watch – if you like that and find it helpful for you. (I do.  I want to see ALL of the tweets).  There is something wrong with making people undertake commute to an office when they don’t need to and work in an office environment that doesn’t cause them to be well, or to be effective.  There is something wrong with requiring everyone to work a standard set of hours because that is the default in the contract of employment. There is something wrong with people using technology in ways that could cause stress without evening being aware of it.

There is no one size fits all advice. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a recommendation to turn off your email notifications.  Have a few hours per day when you are not checking them.  There are even Apps that will manage your notifications, silencing them for a period.  If this helps you, then fill your boots.  But for every person that finds this an effective way of working there is someone else that doesn’t want to, can’t comprehend working that way. It wouldn’t work for me. I want to see what is in my in-box.  I want to respond as quickly as possible to the easy things, delete the unnecessary things.  That is the right thing for my wellbeing.

I might be one of the few people that quite like the 9-5. I like it because it fits really well around my exercise regime. I also like being in the office rather than being at home, as I need the stimulation of the team environment.  I think best, create best, out loud.  As my team would no doubt attest.

Here’s the thing. I’m not here, sitting on my sofa, working on a Sunday evening because I am an awesome employee.  I’m not doing it because I am over worked.  I am not doing it because I am trying to prove to someone else how hard I’m working. I’m doing it because I want to and it will help me have an effective day tomorrow.  And TBH, there’s nothing on the TV and I’ve already been to the gym.

What can organisations and HR professionals do around wellbeing at work? Plenty.  But for me, it starts with recognising each employee as an individual with their own needs, their own ways of working personal to them.

Help people find what that is.  Help leaders understand this very simple concept.


Mental Capital and Wellbeing at Work #CIPD15

I’m chuffed to be part of the official #CIPD15 blogsquad again this year. This year’s opening keynote is by Professor Gary Cooper.  Today, Professor Cooper is going to address CIPD conference delegates on the issue of mental capital and wellbeing at work; what are the causes and consequences of poor mental health and stress in the workplace and what re the bold HR solutions that will enhance mental capital.

Here is what we already know: mental health absence is a big problem in the workplace. 1 in 4 of us at some point in our lives will suffer from a mental health condition.   Absence surveys, including the CIPD’s own annual version, consistently shows mental health to be one of the top two drivers of absence from work, once you strip out the usual suspects like coughs, colds and stomach upsets.

At the same time, we are increasingly seeing wellbeing making its way onto the corporate agenda. According to the aforementioned CIPD absence survey, 1 in 5 organisations now have a wellbeing programme within their people strategy.  We have increasing interest too in topics like mindfulness and resilience and their application in the workplace.  So what does this all mean for HR?

Here is what Professor Cooper has to say:

Why is this issue so important?

We need an environment in which people want to go to work.  That they aren’t hoping for leaves on the line when they wake up in the morning

Mental health absence is a bottom line issue.  Presenteeism is a bigger issue to the UK economy than absenteeism.  Research shows that only one third of employees are healthy AND happy.

Mental health costs the UK £70bn per annum.  Only 2 in 5 employees working at peak performance. 15.2m sick days per annum due to stress, anxiety and depression.  A cost to employers of mental health absence of £1035 per employee per annum.

Fact.  If you consistently work long hours it will make you ill.  In the uk we work astronomical hours. Flexible working can help – for all, not just parents.  But women still apply much more than men, and men get turned down more than women.  We need to fix this. People are consistently working significantly longer than their contracted hours.  Plenty also don’t take their full holiday entitlement.  People who work more tha 45 hours a week see their children less than one hour a day.  Long hours also don’t make us productive.

Thousands of studies identify what makes you stressed.  Structure, climate, too much work, too little work, job insecurity, poor physical working conditions, time pressures and deadlines, too many decisions…… Relationships  – with boss, colleagues, subordinates.  Conflict

Emails are a huge problem.  People check them on the evenings and the weekends.  We have overload.  We talk about work life integration – but that often means work encroaching on personal time.

At the heart is management.  Do our managers and leaders have the right skills and training to mange people effectively? We select too often on technical skills still.  We need more socially skilled managers.  Relationships at work are fundmental, especially in a knowledge economy.

This is the key.  What can we do about this stuff?

Primary – deal with the stressors. EAPs.  They work.  But they don’t solve the problem or change the culture.

Secondary. Helping people to cope. Resilience training.  Evidence also shows this works.

Tertiary. Picking people back up – wellbeing interventions do work and can save you money.

My take? Of course managers are the key.  Of course we need more socially skilled leaders who understand this stuff.  We need interventions like EAPs and resilience training.  But if we know this and it is common sense why do we still have such an issue?   There is still a stigma around mental health.  There is still reluctance to talk about this stuff, go on resilience training, ring an EAP and ask for help.

Yes, managers are the key… But HR turns it in the lock.  We have to educate them, help them have the conversation, ensure that the dialogue of wellbeing is heard in our organisations.  Create the culture in everything that we do.


As this is a live blog, please excuse any typos!

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.