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How to embed a culture of wellbeing in your organisation

How to embed a culture of wellbeing in your organisation

Despite the pressures of the pandemic on home and work-life, especially impacting on mental health, new research finds that actual take up of wellbeing programmes is running at 23%. (HBR/Gartner 2021). This is despite much higher numbers of employees admitting to mental health issues.

It’s clearly in everyone’s interest to improve the take up of wellbeing - employees need greater support to cope with issues such as rising burnout and organisations would see a fitter and more productive workforce. There is also a powerful business case that suggests greater take up of wellbeing programmes would have a significant return on investment. Research from Deloitte in 2020 found that every £1 spent on staff wellbeing results in a £5 return for employers.

So, why don’t more employees engage with the wellbeing support that’s available to them - and what can organisations do about it?

There’s more to it than stigma

For many employees there is still a stigma around being open about mental health issues (a prime reason to seek wellbeing support). A recent article in People Management showed that nearly half of UK employees fear being honest about their mental health in the workplace because they worry it could harm their career. The Times Higher Education reported that as many as 70% of University staff would be reluctant to seek support for mental health problems for the same reasons.

Fear of being open is only part of the story. In our experience, organisations often miscommunicate their wellbeing programmes so the people who actually need them don’t realise what the benefits are. They also often treat wellbeing as a ‘campaign’ rather than looking for ways to integrate wellbeing as part of the way things are done.

The solution, therefore, isn’t so much about promoting wellbeing schemes or programmes, it’s about embedding wellbeing into the organisational culture.

Here are some of the challenges - and what organisations can do to overcome them:

Communicate wellbeing in a way people can connect with

Making wellbeing real and tangible is about connecting the solution to real problems people are experiencing at work. For example, a ‘mindfulness programme’ will appeal to people who understand what that is but most people that actually need it don’t. So a better way to describe it might be ‘Ways to stay calm in stressful situations’. Many people will deny having a problem with stress, but would welcome ways to better handle stress situations - there’s a subtle difference.

Don’t make wellbeing the next ‘big HR campaign’

All too often, employees are skeptical and get turned off from anything that sounds too much like it’s being sold to them. It’s not just wellbeing. We’ve seen indifference to other organisational campaigns supposed to engage and motivate but actually do the opposite. In the case of wellbeing, given the stigma some feel about coming forward, the higher profile the ‘campaign’, the higher the risk they’ll decide to opt out.

Integrate wellbeing into your core programmes

The objective is to embed wellbeing, rather than it being perceived as a separate programme or something you ‘go to’. That’s why we believe a better way is to integrate health and wellbeing into your core programmes. Almost all skills programmes could have a wellbeing aspect, especially manager and leadership training. We argue they should not be separate but an integral part of your overall development strategy - after all a stressed out or burnt out manager or leader is not going to be very effective.

Wellbeing needs to tackle underlying causes

Any well structured employee wellbeing programme should address physical, mental, financial and social health as well as awareness of work related issues. Many of these issues contribute to employee illness which impact on the workplace. Organisations won’t see productive and focused employees if, for example, they are secretly grappling with financial issues. Wellbeing is more likely to become embedded, and therefore more sustainable, if the organisation recognises that the underlying issues need addressing too.

If you say it, mean it

Wellbeing and mental health have become major talking points the longer the pandemic has gone on. While organisations are working on wellbeing programmes and awareness drives, employees are working longer hours, many anxious about job security. If you are still practising a culture that far from helping, actually contributes to burnout, there’s no point talking up wellbeing. Just as you wouldn’t build a house on sand, the foundations for a culture that genuinely supports wellbeing need to be in place.

Leaders need to lead on wellbeing

There’s still a reluctance amongst some leaders to lead by example on mental health awareness. Research from BUPA found 42% of board-level executives felt their reputation would be harmed if it became known they were struggling. What’s more, 39% said they would not seek help for fear of it impacting their social or professional standing. If leaders aren’t able to acknowledge their own need for mental and physical wellbeing, it will never embed itself in the organisation. What’s more, employees tend to behave as their leaders do. So, be mindful of the signals that sending emails late into the night can give, and the unconscious pressure that goes with it.

Clarity supports wellbeing

Rather than fixing wellbeing with a wellbeing programme, improve levels of wellbeing with greater clarity. Employees are less stressed when they are clear on things - such as what they are expected to achieve and, especially now, how and where they’ll be working. If you want to embed wellbeing without a wellbeing programme, clarity is your friend. The direction that leadership can demonstrate is a given, but many people look to their immediate line manager for guidance. Line managers need to support wellbeing by not only looking out for any signs of stress, but not adding to it themselves.

In conclusion

Employee wellbeing is not only a moral responsibility by employers, it also makes sound business sense and offers leaders an opportunity to create a healthier, more productive and sustainable organisation. It might seem like a distraction from productive activity but there is a powerful case to invest in employee wellbeing and work to embed it into your culture. When employees are happy, healthy, and productive, organisations and their leaders thrive.

Further resources

Employee Wellbeing - An HR Professional’s guide to building and maintaining a healthy and successful workplace. This is free to download from our website.

Burnout - Take the Test: Monkey Puzzle’s Burnout Self-Test, with guidance on results.


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