What is Wellbeing?

This might seem an easy question to answer but not many organisations get it right.

Wellbeing of employees can be defined as:

“That part of an employee’s overall well-being that they perceive to be determined primarily by work and can be influenced by workplace interventions.”

The term “Wellbeing” covers several aspects of the way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them. Of course, a person’s Wellbeing is to do with their own character and home or social life along with the workplace, but research shows that employers can have an influence on an individual’s sense of Wellbeing in the way they run a workplace.

Health and Wellbeing

We recognise the increasing importance of Wellbeing in the workplace and the impact and pressures that modern life has, both inside and outside of work. Employee Wellbeing at work is important for many reasons including creating a positive, healthy environment in which to work is key to productivity, as well as employee retention and happiness.

More and more, we are seeing an increased focus on employers’ duty of care to offer a more proactive Wellbeing support. The driver for employers is to promote employee Wellbeing and improve engagement, retention and performance. There is growing recognition of the importance of individual Wellbeing inside and outside the workplace. In working to get the very best out of their organisation, many managers are choosing to adopt practices to increase the Wellbeing of their staff

Employers have the potential to influence the Wellbeing of their staff. There is no ‘one size fits all’ but where employers are able to raise Wellbeing in their workforce, they are also likely to see improvements in the performance of their workplace.

There will be different factors that influence Wellbeing at an individual level, but detailed analysis of a wide range of research studies has suggested that there a number of factors for increasing Wellbeing to boost performance in general. The research suggests that employers who are able to focus effort on a number of these areas should be able to increase Wellbeing.

  • Where employees have a degree of autonomy over how they do their job – this does not mean that people should ignore set processes, but could mean that staff have a level of discretion about how they undertake their work. Involvement in organisational decision-making can also be beneficial. Good communication and consultation is an element of this, as is having a ‘voice’ at work, whether through unions or more direct forms of involvement.
  • Variety in the work employees undertake, which could be addressed through job design.
  • Staff respond positively to a sense that their job has significance within the workplace, as well as the perceived value of the job to society.
  • Being clear about what is expected of staff, including feedback on performance, which could be addressed through a combination of effective induction, clear terms and conditions and a regular appraisal process.
  • Supportive supervision, which may be addressed through ensuring that line-managers are adequately trained; and an environment in which co-workers offer support can also be positive.
  • Staff also benefit from positive interpersonal contact with other people. This includes contact with managers and co-workers, as well as with customers or the general public (where the job requires it).
  • Opportunities for employees to use and develop their skills, which could be through training on and off the job, and/or by increasing the variety of work they undertake.
  • A sense of physical security is important for employees, including the safety of work practices, the adequacy of equipment and the pleasantness of the work environment.
  • A sense of job security and clear career prospects both help increase Wellbeing.
  • Staff respond well to the perception of fairness in the workplace, both in terms of how the employee is treated but also how they see their co-workers being treated. Negative behaviour such as bullying can be damaging to well being – be it from co-workers, customers or managers. Effective use of procedures for responding to bullying coupled with disciplinary and grievance procedures where needed would be one way for employers to address this.
  • Higher pay was also registered as a strong positive motivator. However, this relationship depends not only on the absolute level of pay but how this compares with pay of other workers.

Alongside these factors which can boost wellbeing, the research also showed that when the demands of a job are particularly high this can reduce wellbeing. It was noted that job demands resulted not only from the amount of work a member of staff was undertaking, but also from the level of compatibility with pressures outside of work. One means of addressing this would be by consideration of opportunities to undertake flexible working.

A key thread that runs through many of these factors is ensuring good, open communication with employees. Unions and employee representatives can be helpful in involving employees in decision making, especially in combination with good leadership and line management.

Research shows that employee well-being is more than just people’s medical health. Employers who confine their approach to conventional health factors such as weight, nutrition and exercise miss critical clues on how to optimise a healthy and productive workforce. Taking a more holistic approach can reveal the true costs of impaired health which have previously been under-estimated.

Wellbeing – the cost of NOT supporting Employees:

  • Average cost of sickness absence each year = £1,500 per employee
  • UK annual cost of sickness from mental ill-health = £8.1 billion
  • Average number of days lost to stress, anxiety or depression = 24 days per case

Research shows consistently that employee well-being includes advancement, managerial and physical workplace considerations, as well as people’s physical and psychological health.

Conservative estimates show that the burden of impaired health equates to 15% of payroll. Despite this, less than 10% of organisations know their cost to benefit ratio on health.

Companies are more than happy to invest in new machinery/technology, but many forget to invest in the most important asset they have – their employees. Don’t be one of them.