Why HR needs to help fill the ‘wellbeing vacuum’ at work

The way we manage people and create cultures that enhance wellbeing are now bottom-line issues

Despite increased business awareness of the importance of actively supporting health and wellbeing in the workplace, there remains a stubborn ‘implementation gap’ in workplaces, which is threatening individuals’ health and long-term business sustainability, according to the CIPD.

To date, many organisations’ wellbeing efforts have tended to consist of one-off initiatives that aren’t joined up, and therefore often fail to have a long-term impact in the workplace.

To address this, the CIPD said a proactive employee wellbeing programme – based on the foundations of good people management, leadership and culture – should be at the core of how an organisation fulfils its mission and carries out its operations.

“A workforce that is well works well, but we’re still seeing far too many people doing more work than they can cope with, working long or unsociable hours, suffering from technology overload and unable to switch off,” said Cary Cooper, CIPD president and wellbeing expert.

“Organisations need to take better care of their people and recognise how the demands of work can affect their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to perform well at work.

“In the fast changing world of work, wellbeing has never been more important … The way we manage people and create cultures that enhance wellbeing are now bottom-line issues.”

Prevention is better than a cure; according to Cooper, who said it’s high time that business leaders recognise this and create cultures in organisations in which wellbeing is centre stage and people are happy, healthy and committed to achieving organisational success.

“The way we manage people and create cultures that enhance wellbeing are now bottom-line issues”

A recent CIPD report found the majority of employers are more reactive than proactive in their approach to wellbeing (61 per cent), while almost two-fifths of employees (38 per cent) are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week.

Further, 43 per cent said that long hours working is the norm for their organisation (to a great or moderate extent), while wellbeing is taken into account in business decisions only to a little extent, or not at all, in the majority (57 per cent) of cases.

To stem the rising cost and prevalence of employee ill-health, the CIPD said employers should recognise not just the potential cost of inaction on wellbeing, but also the growing body of evidence that positively links the introduction of wellbeing programmes at work with improved employee engagement and business performance.

“The cost of inaction is staggering, yet the gains that can be made from a proactive and holistic approach to wellbeing are equally impressive,” said Rachel Suff, policy adviser at the CIPD.

“To put wellbeing firmly on the business agenda, we need to change conversations around the business case for wellbeing programmes from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘shared value creation’, and highlight what organisations stand to gain, rather than lose.

“By taking a proactive and holistic approach to wellbeing, organisations can help both their people and the business to reach their full potential.”

“We need to change conversations around the business case for wellbeing programmes from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘shared value creation’”

The CIPD said there were a number of important steps for HR professionals in the process, and are in a unique position to steer the health and wellbeing agenda and drive a systemic approach to change to ensure that it’s integrated into an organisation’s day-to-day operations.

HR also needs to convince senior management to integrate wellbeing throughout the business may need to start with a pilot area, or by highlighting pockets of good wellbeing practice that already exist, and demonstrating in tangible terms what the impact has been on employee engagement, customer service, absence levels and performance.

It’s also vital that HR professionals monitor and regularly report on a range of health, employee satisfaction and organisational measures to build a strong body of evidence to demonstrate the need for ongoing financial commitment to health and wellbeing.

More broadly, employers need to implement a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that is preventative and proactive, and respond quickly to offer support when issues emerge. Their approach should promote good physical health, good mental health and ‘good work’.

Line managers are pivotal in shaping employees’ experience of work, bringing people management policies to life and managing the potential causes of stress.

Training is vital to ensure they have a clear understanding of health and wellbeing responsibilities and have the confidence and skills to implement policies and handle difficult conversations with staff in a sensitive and effective way.

Creating a healthy culture is perhaps the greatest challenge for organisations, and the CIPD said this requires commitment and role-modelling from senior leaders and managers.