Opinion

Wellbeing: start by talking to your staff

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The Covid pandemic has shone a light on the declining mental wellbeing of UK workers.


Many are struggling to cope with stress, debt and loneliness. Supporting the health and wellbeing of employees, done well, protects both the long-term health of a business and its workforce, producing a virtuous circle of better performance and higher productivity and profitability.

But few employers do wellbeing properly – the delta between good and poor performers is large, even within sectors. This matters now more than ever. Simply put, workplace wellbeing is around contentment.

Mike Robinson: "Workers are all at different stages in terms of wellbeing and all have different requirements."

It combines your mental, physical and financial health and the feeling of whether you are in a good place. Those thought leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries espousing utilitarianism seem prescient for the modern workforce with their focus on happiness.

A lot happens in the workplace that has an integral impact on wellbeing, be it the culture, the quality of work and the leadership within the business. To be fair, workers are all at different stages in terms of wellbeing and all have different requirements. Therein lies one of the contemporary challenges for employers: how do you cater to varying needs across your employee base?

Initially, employers should ask workers what their wellbeing programme should include, as every organisation must prioritise. This makes it more likely employees will use interventions. Often employers do wellbeing to their workforce, rather than with it and there is minimal take up of vanilla options.

Executive engagement and support are powerful and are one of the most important tools for driving a wellbeing culture. Having competent line managers is also fundamental to this. German researcher, Nicholas Bowen, who worked with 1,500 line managers in medium-size and small companies, found that managers who have poor psychological and physical health resulted in the workers who they managed having even poorer psychological and physical health.

Wellbeing starts by talking to staff to see what motivates them and what issues they might be facing. Photograph: iStock

This shows that good line management is important for ensuring good workplace wellbeing. A clear understanding of the benefits of wellbeing in the workplace by executive leaders should in turn incentivise investment to support the bottom line, such as lower sickness absence and presenteeism. As the axiom goes, ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’.

If leaders and managers understand what makes their teams tick, what issues they might be dealing with, they will be better able to support those individuals to be a more productive team.

There is a role for the British Safety Council to develop guidelines on what good looks like to help company boards and senior managers identify where they want to focus their resources.

Having already launched Being Well Together, we will continue to provide organisations with an evidence-based authoritative approach to wellbeing to guide employers on what they can do and why they should be doing it. This includes sharing best practice from exemplar organisations.

We can be an enabler bringing together larger and smaller organisations to support peer-to-peer learning. Sometimes this is about simple things that don’t cost much but have a bigger impact on worker wellbeing. It is also an opportunity to facilitate mentoring/buddy schemes, pairing SMEs with larger organisations to help raise the wellbeing bar.

As Winston Churchill said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. Let’s be positive about wellbeing.

Mike Robinson FCA is Chief executive of the British Safety Council

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