Many employers realise wellbeing in the workplace promotes good mental health AND productivity, but don’t know where to begin. Kevin Daniels and Helen Fitzhugh talk about a new, free, online toolkit to get them started
We know that employment is a significant source of meaning for people; that good work promotes wellbeing and helps accelerate and sustain recovery from mental health conditions. Many employers also understand that a workplace characterised by good mental health and wellbeing is a productive workplace. Progressive workplaces and good employment can be a source of economic and social value.
But many employers struggle with moving from understanding the importance of employee wellbeing to practical action. ‘What works?’ ‘How do I make it work?’ and ‘How do I make the business case?’ are questions we hear over and over again from managers. There are no straightforward answers. What works for one organisation is not suitable in another. Yet there are evidence-based principles that businesses can follow to develop their own tailored answers, and these are embedded in a new, free, online toolkit.
In a sustained programme of research, our team of researchers at the University of East Anglia and RAND Europe have been working on developing tools and resources to help guide good practice in the area of wellbeing, and answer some of the questions employers often ask us.
In our research, we found organisations do not have to make a trade-off between productivity and wellbeing. Rather, sustainable productivity and sustainable workplace wellbeing can go hand in hand. Organisations that have achieved sustainable approaches to workplace wellbeing do so through evolving their practice, by listening to the wellbeing concerns of their employees and responding appropriately with genuine concern for employees. This means an evolving and reflexive approach of continual improvement that embeds wellbeing as part of the organisation’s culture.
There are two key ideas. First, workplaces need to continuously evolve their practice – evolve to keep on top of trends in employment and markets as well as evolve to be innovative.
Second, good practice needs embedding in the organisation’s culture. That makes it easier to evolve practice, but also to address the issues employers can find tricky. Embedding in organisational culture helps employers tackle issues around good work and management practice rather than relying on add-ons in the way of ‘gifts’ or ‘spangles’ for employees. Culture is what employees experience first-hand, everyday at work – hence its importance for embedding good practice. This is why the toolkit is named ‘Evolve Workplace Wellbeing’ which stands for Evidence Inspired Organisations Listening, and Valuing Everyone.
The key ideas underpinning the Evolve Workplace Wellbeing toolkit can be summarised in a handy phrase about changing employer attitudes towards people management: ‘From what now!? to what if?’. This is the name of the comprehensive guide available on the website. It focuses on how to make things work as much as what actually works.
The sustainable approach to wellbeing not only supports people’s return to work after sickness absence, or even staying in work when suffering from chronic conditions that are limiting but do not require sick-leave. The sustainable approach also protects wellbeing through the following: providing work that is meaningful, safe and secure; fostering strong and supportive workplace relationships; developing managers that value wellbeing in its own right as well as a means to more motivated and engaged staff; encouraging healthy norms.
The Evolve Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit is based on five key principles of implementing and embedding workplace wellbeing practice, identified through our research:
1) Communication: Regular dialogue with staff to identify what’s working, what needs to be improved, what else needs to be done, and to let staff know what is being done.
2) Coherence: Wellbeing practices that are self-reinforcing in a co-ordinated approach.
3) Consistency: Building on what is already being done and piggy-backing on other business systems, structures and processes.
4) Creativity: Creating new norms and processes that reinforce wellbeing, and replacing other norms and processes that are detrimental to wellbeing.
5) Commitment: Persevering with wellbeing, learning how to adapt and overcoming challenges and obstacles.
The toolkit is written for practitioners, avoiding jargon and providing clear, action-focused rationales. It avoids proselytising and proposing ‘one best way’ to do things; the toolkit recognises each employer is different and the order in which issues need to be addressed can be different for each employer. It helps businesses gets to grips with where they are on their wellbeing journey through a self-reflective diagnostic; it outlines the principles of developing and embedding a programme of activities; and it links to other free resources and guidance, including non-technical summaries of key reviews on the science of what works to improve workplace wellbeing.
A key aspect of developing the business case is demonstrating that actions are cost-effective and can provide a return on investment. The toolkit includes an online calculator based on economic analyses of the wellbeing and performance outcomes of a range of practices – such as stress management initiatives and mindfulness training. It incorporates the benefits from using different activities – such as accessing mindfulness – and benefits from simply being aware that such activities have been made available by employers.
Another part of the toolkit is the online workplace wellbeing course. It provides background knowledge in workplace health and wellbeing practices for understanding what works in practice (rather than what works in theory) and how to make it work. Modules can be accessed via desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile. Each module is broken down into a series of short lessons that can be completed in minutes.
Modules cover the following: the key areas from which to build workplace wellbeing; implementing a wellbeing programme; the five principles for implementing a programme; and making the business case, economic and moral, for workplace wellbeing.
The toolkit also includes case studies, videos and podcasts and will feature plain English summaries of new workplace wellbeing findings as soon as the team finishes new research in this area.
Kevin Daniels is a Fellow of the RSA and a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Norwich Business School at UEA, where he leads the Workplace Wellbeing research team. He has over 30 years of experience in the fields of workplace wellbeing, health and safety. Helen Fitzhugh is a Senior Research Associate and Knowledge Exchange Fellow for Norwich Business School. She has carried out applied and academic research for the private, public and third sectors on varied ways organisations create social value. For more on the team, visit evolveworkplacewellbeing.org, visit Twitter @evolveworkwell, Instagram @evolveworkplacewellbeing, or email [email protected]
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