How to start your workplace wellbeing programme in five steps

Workplace wellbeing has been growing in prominence in recent years. More and more organisations are recognising that, alongside the physical safety of workers, people’s mental health and wellbeing at work is also of paramount importance. With the world gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of our employees has never been more important. It can be difficult to know where to begin when designing a wellbeing programme, but these five steps should give you a good head start.

Employee wellbeing has an impact on business. A report by the New Economics Foundation1 found that employees with higher levels of wellbeing are likely to be more productive, loyal to the company, exhibit greater creativity and provide higher levels of customer service. In addition, workers who have higher levels of psychological resilience (a significant factor in wellbeing) are found to have increased job satisfaction, higher levels of happiness at work and a greater commitment to the organisation2.

Some Facts & Figures:

  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue this year and one in six adults of working age have symptoms associate with mental ill health3
  •  17.9 million working days were lost in the UK due to stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/204; 51% of all reported work-related ill health.
  • Wellbeing is profitable – organisations with higher levels of employee happiness outperform the stock market by 2%-3% per year5
  • Investment in wellbeing initiatives results in decreased sickness absencereduced staff turnover, greater employee satisfaction and fewer legal claims6

Why do a wellbeing audit?

When starting a wellbeing programme, it can feel a bit daunting. What do you need to include? How do you decide what to do first? What are the priorities for the business? What are the key issues for the people? What’s already in place? What, actually, is wellbeing?

These are all good questions to ask. But before you start putting programmes in place, or engaging with a benefits provider, you should first conduct a wellbeing audit. Think of a wellbeing audit as a kind of organisational health check. You review all of your existing information to help you understand the current picture of wellbeing in your organisation. It can help you to understand the key issues that impact your people. For example, are there high rates of absenteeism, presenteeism or leavism? Are people experiencing high levels of stress or have financial worries? Perhaps there are higher rates of stress in certain parts of the business or in particular teams? Is there high turnover or low engagement in some parts of the organisation? A wellbeing audit should try to gather as much information about the current state of your workforce as possible.

Your wellbeing audit should also look at the costs to the business of employee wellbeing – both intangible (i.e. costs of absence, reduced productivity or turnover) and tangible spending (such as the cost of your EAP, health benefits, wellbeing promotions etc).

5 steps to conducting a wellbeing audit

1. Collect your data
HR teams usually collect a lot of information about their employees. Reasons for absence, turnover/ retention, time to hire, voluntary attrition – the list goes on. You may already report some of this to your Leadership Team, perhaps as part of a monthly reporting cycle. More than likely, you can run reports in your HR system to extract this information.

What types of information can inform your wellbeing strategy?

Sickness/ Absence Data: If you have a leave category related to mental health or stress it makes it easier to collate this information. If not, you will have make an educated guess. The HSE suggest that over half (57%) of working days lost due to illness are related to stress, anxiety or depression. If you know the entire number of working days lost due to illness in your organisation, you could guess that around half of those are mental health-related. Mental health absence is vastly under-reported – even if you do collect this information, it is probably that employees won’t attribute absence to this.

Turnover/ Retention: You probably already know the areas of your organisations with higher turnover. Lower skilled workforce, stressful working environment, areas with high volume recruitment (i.e. customer service centres), a casual or seasonal workforce. Often, this is just part of your workforce makeup. But other signs to look for are areas where engagement scores are low, managers are new or inexperienced, or the team is experiencing a lot of change. These are likely to be hotspots for poor wellbeing and are worth monitoring.

Data from employee surveys

You can get a lot of insight from your employee survey data. While you may not ask specific questions about employees’ wellbeing, you are likely to have questions in your current survey that can give you clues to the wellbeing of employees. Your levels of employee satisfaction and engagement are a good place to start and the questions that contribute to your engagement scores often link to employee wellbeing. These questions may include ‘I feel supported by my line manager’, ‘the organisation is a good place to work’, ‘I understand how my work contributes to the organisation’s strategy’ or ‘I believe in the value/mission of the organisation’.

Employee survey data gives you tell-tale signs of employees’ wellbeing and the broader health of the organisation, if you know what to look for. If there are parts of the organisation or particular teams where these scores are low, it is likely to indicate that worker wellbeing is also low. Monitoring the engagement scores of teams or business areas provides you with valuable insight – having an engaged workforce is one sign of a healthy workplace.

Design your own wellbeing questionnaire

If you have the opportunity to add questions to your current survey, consider including some questions that relate to wellbeing. There are many measures that you can use, but many questions relating to employee engagement can also provide insight into wellbeing. You may want to create a specific survey that will give you a wellbeing benchmark for your organisation. The What Works Wellbeing Centre in the UK has guidance on creating a wellbeing survey (link) and offers suggestions on how to conduct a survey.

Review data from your Employee Assistance Programme

As well as your internal data, if you have an EAP and/or OH provider they will keep information about referrals to the programme. The data will be anonymous, for obvious reasons, however you can still get information on the number of employees who have contacted them, perhaps some basic demographic data (i.e. gender, age, perhaps even work location – although this will depend on the size of your organisation) and the reason for contacting the service. This information provides a valuable snapshot into the issues that employees are concerned with. If you’re not already getting this data regularly, contact your provider and ask for it.

2. Evaluate the programmes you already have in place

The next step in your audit is to look at what benefits programmes you already have in place and how they are used. This might be your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or any health benefits provided to employees such as medical plans, gym memberships or cycle to work schemes. How much do these schemes cost and how well are they utilised? Review any existing programmes such as mental health first aid, resilience training, stress prevention programmes, wellbeing education for leaders or health promotions. To determine a simple return on investment (ROI), compare the costs of these initiatives against the number of people using them. Also, don’t forget to review your policies and processes, such as flexible working, family leave, diversity and inclusion etc to ensure they are sending the right message.

Look at what you already have in place that supports employee wellbeing, but also consider any barriers to accessing these resources. Does your organisational culture support wellbeing? Are leaders demonstrating positive behaviours (i.e. not working long hours, answering emails after hours, taking holidays and actively promoting behaviours that support mental health)? Many organisations have existing initiatives, but they are not well utilised – and culture can play a big part in that.

3. Analyse your data

Once you have collected all of your data, it’s time to piece it together. What themes are emerging? Are there parts of the organisation that stand out as particularly problematic, i.e. higher rates of absence or turnover? How does this compare with employee engagement scores for the same part of the organisation? Can you assign a cost to the business of lost working days, productivity or turnover/ recruitment costs? Do some research on the average costs of mental health issues. The HSE in the UK has some useful information that you can use as a benchmark and other countries have similar government departments that report this data, as does the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Once you’ve analysed your information, you will start to get a better picture of the wellbeing of your workforce. This helps you to define your ‘why’ – the reason that investment in wellbeing programmes makes good business sense for your organisation. It also helps you to articulate a business case for wellbeing which is important for decision makers and finance people alike. It also gives you a starting point – by knowing what the key wellbeing issues are facing your people, you can work out the priorities to focus on and find the most impactful interventions – those most likely to get results. And last, but by no means least, it gives you a benchmark – a baseline of wellbeing that you can use to measure whether your organisation’s wellbeing is increasing or decreasing or whether particular interventions are having an impact.

4. Review the gaps

With your data and your current state, plus the initiatives already in place, you can now examine the gaps. What issues in your organisation are not being addressed? Where are the gaps in your existing programmes? What do you need to put in place to address the unique issues impacting your people?

Consider running focus groups of employees to gather information about what they value in terms of health and wellbeing offerings. Wellbeing means different things to different people and there is not a one-size-fits all solution. You could also conduct a survey to ask people what wellbeing means to them. Remember, wellbeing is multi-dimensional and goes beyond simply offering health benefits. A holistic wellbeing strategy considers the social, physical, psychological, financial, and emotional aspects of wellbeing.

5. Tell the story

The final part of your audit is to summarise the information you have gathered. If you are trying to build a business case to invest in wellbeing, this document will help you articulate the cost-benefits of doing so. If your audit is to provide a benchmark of wellbeing in your organisation, you can refer back to the document over time to check your direction of travel. You can also use the document to inform your workforce about the findings. Whether your organisational health is good or poor, it can show your people that the organisation values their wellbeing.

In summary, your wellbeing audit consists of:

  1. Collecting your data
  2. Evaluating existing programmes
  3. Analysing the information
  4. Reviewing the gaps
  5. Telling the story

It can take some time and effort on your part to conduct your wellbeing audit, but the results will be well worth it. Having a clear view of your people’s wellbeing, based on the evidence you gather can help you focus your wellbeing programmes on the specific issues facing your organisation, rather than just taking a stab in the dark.

References

 

[1] New Economics Foundation (nef) Well-being at Work: a review of the literature. New Economics Foundation, http://www.nef-consulting.co.uk/well-being-at-work

[2] Youssef & Luthans (2007) Positive Organizational Behavior in the Workplace: The Impact of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience. Journal of Management, 33:5

[3] Mental Health England (2019) https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/#impact.

[4] HSE (2020) Health and Safety at work – summary statistics for Great Britain 2020. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk

[5] Edmans, A (2015) Why happier workers matter more than you think. World Economic Forum. www.weforum.org

[6] Krekel, C., Ward, G. & De Neve, J-E. (2019) Employee Wellbeing, Productivity and Firm Performance. Center for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1605, March 2019

How to start your workplace wellbeing programme in five steps

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