Well-being in the workplace has been creeping up the business agenda in recent years as organisations grapple with how to create the right environment to maximise the productivity of the workforce.
According to Hamish Moore – senior partner of DrummondHR and chief executive of Wellbeing Works – the main turning point occurred after the 2008 financial crash.
He explains: “The seismic change in both the financial and employment markets led to me to ask a simple question: who was going to come to work and perform and engage optimally now the world of work was altering?”
This question led Hamish and DrummondHR – the human resources consultancy he established almost 30 years ago – to partner with Newcastle University to research how well-being and staff engagement can be measured and predicted.
But what exactly is well-being and why is it important?
Hamish defines well-being as “the holistic view of both physical and mental health that enables you to do the things in life that you want to”.
“It is different to health,” he adds, “as that is about the absence of disease.”
A former university lecturer in management and leadership, Hamish has seen increased recognition by companies and organisations that they have a duty to provide a psychologically safe environment for their employees.
“Organisations have long recognised the need to provide a physical environment that is conducive and safe to work, so why wouldn’t they want to create a psychological environment that’s conducive to work, too?” Hamish reflects.
“Psychological safety includes things like individuals having clarity about what is needed from them and how they contribute to an orgnisation’s purpose or success. It also cover how they believe their manager values their contribution and are treated fairly and consistently in an environment where performance matters and are allowed to exercise appropriate discretion and their work colleagues are supportive of them.
“Without all of these being in place, there is a limited likelihood of individuals offering ideas or challenge how things are done and, hence, their motivation is diminished.”
Employers that take the well-being of their workforces seriously can expect to be rewarded with better attendance levels, higher productivity and lower labour turnover.
Hamish cites research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research which reports that for every £1 spent on improving staff well-being, an organisation can expect a £4 yield.
Such an impressive statistic is sure to pique the interest of even the most dubious business leaders or managers. But while highlighting trip hazards in a workplace may be easy, identifying psychological dangers is not.
It is this conundrum that has led DrummondHR and Wellbeing Works to develop Wbi – the predictive well-being and engagement tool that is the culmination of its work with Newcastle University.
Participants spend approximately ten minutes answering 87 questions online about themselves and their work. They are then provided with an instant, confidential report which identifies the individual’s likelihood of absenteeism and/or presenteeism (attending work but not being productive).
The aggregation of the questions and the unique correlates built into the programme, Hamish says, ensures the reliability of the data and minimises the ability to ‘fudge’ results.
“Also, people get their own confidential report so why would they want to distort a report about themselves?” says Hamish. “Most people are genuinely very interested in themselves.”
Once the individual data is collected, the team at Wellbeing Works then produces an anonymised report for the client that shows what proportion of an organisation or department’s employees is thriving and what proportion is “hiving or surviving”.
Thriving is about performing optimally, hiving is being busy but not effective and Surviving is struggling as the precursor to absence or illness.
In addition, the report indicates whether the nature of the work is at the right level, whether an individual’s autonomy in the job is appropriate, whether there is too much work or too little, how well people are managed and what the behaviour or conduct of their colleagues is.
The next part of the process Hamish describes as crucial; it focuses on what an organisation can do to improve its staff well-being.
The Wellbeing Works team provides individually tailored expert advice and support on how to yield practical improvements.
Hamish reveals that the biggest problem identified within the Wellbeing Works process is in the way managers manage.
“One of the questions we ask is about the extent to which you feel valued by your managers,” he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how little some employees feel that they are.”
Hamish continues: “We can therefore suggest tools and techniques which managers can use to create a more positive environment, so, for example, providing clarity of role purpose, enabling quality feedback and allowing them to take more interest in their employees.”
Another issue which is often highlighted is bullying in the workplace and Hamish and his team can advise on how to identify and deal with examples of this.
Wellbeing Works experts can also provide support about employees’ self-care, such as nutrition, exercise, physical movement at work and how to get more and better sleep, as well as helping managers identify and deal with issues regarding staff members’ mental health – something that Hamish says “joins up all the thinking around well-being”.
Hamish and Wellbeing Works have already assisted a variety of organisations, with samples ranging from 18,000 employees down to just ten.
As Hamish explains, well-being in the workplace has an impact on all sectors.
“In every job, people have to use judgement and discretion,” he says. “A person can choose to do an average job or an exemplary one and that choice will depend on whether they feel valued and recognised and feel well enough to engage with their work, whether that’s making a product or dealing with a customer or each other.”
But despite the growing awareness around well-being and strong evidence of its benefits, Hamish still sees doubt from some of the business community.
As he explains, he tends to use two examples to show the importance of well-being: “I’ll ask someone to think about the relationship in a hospital between the quality of patient of care and the well-being of the workforce. Do you think patient care in a hospital deteriorates if the employees feel tired, demotivated, unhappy, and not valued? Most people say yes, and they’re right, as research by Professor Michael West from Lancaster University shows that when staff well-being declines, mortality rates in hospitals rise.
“The other example I use,” Hamish continues, “is this: you are going on holiday and you’re on the plane. Before you take off the pilot makes their usual welcome announcement but as part of that, provides the airline’s well-being data, which shows some of its workforce are tired, don’t feel valued by managers, and have low levels of concentration and focus. How would you feel about flying with that crew that day?”
For the dedicated and passionate Hamish, he is hoping to increase Wellbeing Work’s client base and the team is currently involved in a number of large-scale projects with the NHS, manufacturing, professional services as well as a number of SMEs.
He is also confident that well-being in the workplace will continue to build a head of steam, driven by workers themselves.
“We will get to a point where people will be asking, ‘why should I work for that organisation rather than that other one?’, particularly in areas where there is a lot of choice,” he says.
“The hunt to attract and retain talent is driving organisations to respond to this question and they will do this by demonstrating that they can deliver a safe psychological and physical environment for their employees.”