This Friday I get to find out if our wellbeing strategy is award winning. I hope it is, but I believe that we already have reaped the rewards of shifting from a reactive, to a blended wellbeing strategy, and recognition would be a cherry on top.
Nearly three years ago I stood in front of the Health & Safety Committee to pitch for Wellbeing to be adopted into its fold. The committee already had all the discipline to be a vehicle for moving the wellbeing agenda forward, but it required a fundamental shift of mind-set amongst much of the group who were used to fixing issues and putting corrective measures in place to prevent them occurring in the future. I’ll say up-front there is nothing wrong with that as an approach, and the outcomes of everything in place had got us already in a good place according to most benchmarks (I’ll discuss the challenges of finding reliable benchmarks another day) so seeking to make fundamental changes to strategy was an ‘interesting’ journey.
As an organisation we are adept at finding issues, and seeking to resolve them, and there is something in many of our individual natures that works in this manner, but there was always untapped potential in adding another string to that bow, and having positive conversations at an organisational level, and playing them back in a meaningful way that would prevent issues occurring in the first place. This, to me, is where ‘wellbeing’ differs from ‘health’.
As it happens I had an ally in the chair of the Committee (the FD) as I had started to measure the salary equivalent cost of absence and framed it as a risk to be managed that was hitting the bottom line, so the Health & Safety Committee was reconstituted as Health, Safety and Wellbeing Committee – good news and sending a strong underlying message that Wellbeing was equally as important as the statutory Health & Safety commitments.
Getting the strategy right for the organisation
I dislike the word holistic as it’s over-used and flimsy, Louise Aston at BitC loves to put it ‘bio, psycho, social’.. but have you ever tried to use that combination of words as a piece of internal communication? (don’t worry, I didn’t..). But it was “kind-of” what I wanted to achieve – a programme where everyone in the organisation could be supported in the wellbeing related ‘stuff’ that is most important to them as individuals. External frameworks like the Workwell model, or Five ways to wellbeing absolutely had to be the starting place, not the off the shelf solution because organisations do have individual cultures and demands that require individual attention.
I got my wish of doing a bespoke wellbeing survey where ostensibly I got to ask the question “what does wellbeing mean to you?”, but there was more constraint around it by the time it had gone through the management chain than I would have liked. However there are always more sources of employee demand and desire that it is the job of the ‘wellbeing practitioner’ to play back to the organisation in a meaningful way so the (largely) ineffective and transactional feedback approach of ‘you said, we did’ didn’t have to be applied to this particular mechanism.
Eventually we created six headlines: Look after your mind; Look after your fitness; Look after your senses; Look after your joints; Look after your finances; and Look after your community. As a piece of communication this gave a reasonable platform to talk about pretty much everything that we were already doing or had planned.
Immediately dragging a positive approach into something drier in nature I live in a world (and I know I’m not alone) where ‘what gets measured gets done’.
Most of the metrics immediately available were all in a negative place because absence is the first place to look being the largest available bank of data – the issue with absence is of course that it’s a measure of illness, not of wellbeing.
This left me wondering:
“Where on earth do I go for a set of positive metrics that will help me keep tabs on how WELL the organisation is?”
Some organisations have made a direct link between wellbeing and customer satisfaction and use their net promoter scores to measure employee wellbeing. This feels a bit like lazy measurement as although there may be some correlations they remain tenuous on the basis that customers are not employees and there are always going to be more factors that play into NPS than if an employee is content with their work life balance, financial wellbeing, and opportunities to learn and grow etc. Price for example. Improvements in NPS of course may be one of the outputs but so would things like engagement index scores, voluntary turnover, reduction in stress related absence, and below inflationary changes to medical insurance bills.
So nowadays I’m a world where I’m monitoring inputs (like take up of particular wellbeing benefits), as well as the outputs (like absence), and of course keeping a keen eye on the organisational indicators and bottom line costs incurred in managing health… and guess what..? It turns out teams with higher levels of engagement have lower short term absence and staff turnover. Who knew?
If you want a good wellbeing strategy in your workplace my top tips are:
- Put some wellbeing metrics on your website and make it visible on the recruitment pages. Update it every year. This sets a message that tells those coming into the company that you care about this stuff. Even if it’s not always great news putting it in the public domain tells a story in itself. I recently heard ‘if what gets measured gets done, what you put in the public domain gets done better’.
- Make the strategy meaningful to your key stakeholder groups. If there are lots of field based staff, make sure comms are put in the right channels that will meet their specific needs.
- Find a friend at senior level. There is loads of evidence that suggests shifting strategy from ‘fix it once its broken’ is worthwhile and provides return on investment. Of course not all of it is up to date but it gives you a foot in the door.
- Classify your campaign in a way that talks to your audience. Read through all the comments in employee surveys, look at the absence classification patterns, look at feedback from 3rd party benefits suppliers, and bounce your thoughts around as many people you can get to listen.
- Create strategic and tactical (and visual) links between wellbeing, benefits and other programmes running in the business. E.g. ‘Look after your mind’ as a strapline, can be used to highlight learning and community initiatives, and promote the employee assistance programme, in addition to being a platform for the wider subject of mental health.
- Make the programme relevant to your organisation – don’t be beholden to a benefits provider offer of ‘marketing material’. Let’s face it, it often isn’t all that great because it’s designed to be vanilla for many different workplaces and therefore can be wide of the mark in your environment. Make friends with your design team and let them be the experts they are.
- Be prepared to innovate. Just because there isn’t a benefits provider out there that does something to mitigate a risk or meet a material need in your organisational wellbeing requirements find a way of making things happen. Interest free loans are an interesting place to start thinking about facilitating things like digital hearing aids (important as this also plays into the inclusive workplace agenda).
- Choose your language VERY carefully – consider things like the deficiencies in the English language when talking about ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ that is unhelpful in the long term. Also think about words like ‘appropriate return to work’, rather than ‘get them back as quick as possible’. Get the language right, right now.