Recent research by the British Safety Council identified significant levels of uncertainty in the UK about wellbeing at work. Its report Not just free fruit: wellbeing at work, found that employee wellbeing is often ignored or misunderstood, with employers unsure how to define it or how to improve staff wellbeing, what priority to give it and how to measure the effectiveness of wellbeing interventions and programmes.
Professor Dame Carol Black, expert government advisor on health and work and a passionate campaigner for better mental health and wellbeing, has agreed to share her expertise in a series of film interviews recorded by the British Safety Council. She not only suggests the simple steps that can be taken to create a wellbeing culture in every organisation, but she also explains the reasons why it should be done as soon as possible: improved wellbeing in the workplace can improve productivity by up to 25%.
At a time of high job insecurity and the uncertainties of Brexit, she says that “there is no better time than now to say that we must support the staff we’ve got because we don’t know how many of them we are going to have in the future.”
Professor Carol Black defines wellbeing as: “A sense of contentment which is made up of mental health, physical health and a feeling that where you are at any time is a good place to be. That good place can and should be the workplace.”
Asked about key factors that facilitate creation and embedding of wellbeing culture, Professor Black says: “In my opinion, there are three key drivers. Firstly, having leaders of the organisation who clearly care about employee wellbeing. Then having a non-executive director on the board taking an interest in employee health and wellbeing. That person might sit on the health and wellbeing committee, sample the organisation’s activities, and most importantly must report back regularly to the board, most likely with the support of the HR manager, about the health and wellbeing of staff.
“The third driver of employee wellbeing is having good line managers, trained to support their people. We usually get promoted for technical competence, but that doesn't necessarily mean being good with people. So, the organisation needs to support your line managers’ capability in this area. I would also add to this some broad mental health training. I want every line manager to understand when an employee is not well and to know where to find advice and help.”
Line managers have a key role to play in promoting wellbeing. “You have to help them understand that supporting their staff is going to give them a more engaged and productive workforce. You must enable them to do this. It's not just about putting managers on training courses, but also ensuring that they can maintain these skills and are supported by the top of the house.”
“You could incentivise them through their appraisal, which in many companies is linked to promotion and remuneration. Some organisations’ appraisals expect managers to meet certain requirements relating to the health and wellbeing of their staff. You can also incentivise managers financially.”
Measuring wellbeing has always been a challenge. Professor Black suggests a number of practical steps: “You can measure wellbeing through sickness absence levels. You can also do this by reviewing staff turnover figures, because if staff are not content with a workplace, they leave. Additionally, you can measure engagement scores. You can also measure productivity loss, by adding presenteeism and absence levels.”
Small and medium companies have very particular requirements in relation to wellbeing: “Many SMEs are very small and have limited resources, no occupational health and no HR function. Anything you're going to offer them with regard to wellbeing has to be easily and quickly accessible. You can't give them a large, however impressive, toolkit and expect them to read it. It has to be available online.”