Author Bio ▼

Dr Nick Bell is a Chartered Fellow of IOSH and a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management. Nick supports Principal Designers and construction Clients to comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM). He delivers accredited CDM training and has been advising on construction projects up to £3.2bn in value.. In October 2018 Nick successfully defended his PhD thesis in which he examined the association between worker engagement and behaviour.  His work has attracted interest from across the globe.  He is now Managing Director of Workfulness Ltd and continues his CDM-related work.
May 26, 2021

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Culture And Behaviours

The wild west of wellbeing

Dr Nick Bell explains that wellbeing may exist in an ‘unregulated’ space between various disciplines. Here he explores what wellbeing means, discusses some of the long-standing theories that can inform our understanding and sets out practical steps that a health and safety practitioner can take to make a success of wellbeing.

Supermarket shelf with pop for Lucozade Ribena Santory surveyAs a nipper, I stacked shelves in a local supermarket. The job was within my capabilities, I decided how to approach my tasks (e.g. which sections to concentrate on refilling), I could get advice when needed, I was clear about my role and customers and colleagues were generally friendly.

There were days when, literally bored to tears, I walked home weeping. If the stress management standards had existed back then, my employer may have been baffled: every factor that could account for my upset was being managed effectively.

Protecting vs promoting

The IOSH competency framework acknowledges this quandary. It states that our profession should work to “promote and protect worker wellbeing”. Protecting workers, from stress for example, is different from promoting wellbeing. Using physical health as an analogy, we protect workers by reducing and managing exposure to harmful substances and could promote good health through subsidised gym membership.

Health, according to the World Health Organization, “is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. I wasn’t a stressed shelf-stacker, according to the HSE’s definition, but was distressed by the lack of fulfilment in work.

Managing stress or mental ill-health, training mental health first aiders, and employee assistance programmes may prevent harm or support us if we begin to struggle. They will not promote wellbeing. Even in 1959, Herzberg’s ‘two factor theory’ differentiated between factors that dissatisfy or upset workers (e.g. poor working conditions, such as long working hours and factors that motivate people (e.g. challenging work, recognition and responsibility).

More recent theories such as positive psychology and self-determination theory agree that we strive to meet psychological needs such as feeling valued, connected to others and having a sense of purpose and competence. The forthcoming ISO 45003 Standard, has defined wellbeing in terms of meeting these needs (a view put forward by Carol Ryff over 15 years ago).

From this perspective, promoting wellbeing could involve; valuing the capabilities of workers; understanding and playing to people’s strengths, interests and personal values when assigning tasks; helping people to reflect on their successes and the impact of their work; helping staff to ‘craft’ their role (e.g. altering the scope of their responsibilities) so that it feels more personally satisfying and meaningful (while still serving team and organisational objectives), and; rallying the team to find creative solutions to problems (so that they become stimulating opportunities to grow in competence and confidence, and a chance to feel ‘connected’). These approaches would be typical of a ‘transformational leader’ (a term first in 1973).

“It ain’t my job”

Health and safety practitioners help employers to “comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions” (Regulation 7 of the Management Regulations). Legislation focuses on assessing risk and preventing harm, rather than promoting wellbeing. We may believe that we have no legal mandate to promote wellbeing, or perceive that it should sit with functions such as Human Resources (HR).

There are numerous reasons why our profession might want to rise to the challenge.

  • If people feel well and motivated, they are more able to tackle inevitable setbacks more effectively (i.e. they will be more resilient and less likely to experience stress)
  • There are associations between workers being engaged (e.g. feeling motivated and psychologically well) and proactive safety behaviours and lower accident rates. If people are more alert they are more likely to spot and deal with potential problems before they get out of control.
  • The role of HR may be perceived to encompass recruitment, staff development, dealing with grievances or disciplinary matters and so on, rather than leading on wellbeing.

An unregulated space

US roadWellbeing occupies an unregulated space (the ‘wild west’ in the title of this article) between health and safety, occupational psychology, occupational health and human resources.

These are all recognised professions. They have various professional bodies with stringent entry requirements, accredited courses, codes of conducts and so on. Wellbeing, however, can be attached to the title of a course, company name or job title with none of these checks and balances.

Until professional bodies take ‘ownership’ of wellbeing, there are practical things that health and safety practitioners can do to make a success of wellbeing:

  • Dig into what wellbeing really means to you, the organisation, managers, Unions, the workforce etc. Consider whether these notions revolve around preventing harm and/or promoting wellbeing.
  • Collaborate with different disciplines and workers to create a meaningful strategy.
  • Champion high-quality management and leadership skills training.
  • Act as a positive role model when discussing workers’ capabilities and challenge negative comments (“they are idiots” etc.).
  • Take a structured approach, such as ISO 75003 (although the substance of that standard is around profiling and managing risk, not promoting wellbeing).
  • Take your development to the next level to challenge and expand your understanding.

Work-related stress podcast

Hear from Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist for the Health and Safety Executive about work-related stress and ISO 45003, plus Inspector Phil Spencer, Blue Light Programme Co-ordinator at Cleveland Police, discusses the stress of working on the frontline during the pandemic.

Subscribe and tune in the Safety & Health Podcast to discover the latest issues facing the health and safety profession, and stay on-top of the developments affecting your role, from working at height, lone working and common workplace hazards, to safety culture, behaviours, occupational health and mental health and wellbeing.


Workplace Wellbeing Conference

Speakers include former No. 10 director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell; astronaut Major Tim Peake; Mind CEO Paul Farmer; Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams; award-winning campaigner Tom Dunning; HSE Principal Human Factors Specialist Phoebe Smith; and many more.

Tickets to the conference are £120 + VAT, with 20% of the ticket price donated to conference charity partner, Mind.

Click here to see the full Workplace Wellbeing Conference agenda.

Click here for more information and to purchase your ticket.

The Workplace Wellbeing Virtual Conference is part of a month-long virtual event called Connect, which includes the virtual Safety & Health Expo and Workplace Wellbeing Show exhibitions. The conference, which kicks off Connect, takes place from 1 – 3 June and will be available on-demand until the end of July. Connect is free to attend and tickets for the conference are priced at £120. 20% of the ticket price is donated to our charity partner Mind.

Connect 2021 – Workplace Wellbeing Conference

As part of our online event Connect 2021, running from 1-30 June, the Workplace Wellbeing Conference will feature three, full days of in-depth presentations, panels & interviews with leading experts in workplace wellbeing. The conference is designed for anyone involved in wellbeing initiatives within their organisation as well as anyone looking to support their own wellbeing or the wellbeing of others.

Speakers include former No. 10 director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell; astronaut Major Tim Peake; Mind CEO Paul Farmer; Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams; award-winning campaigner Tom Dunning; HSE Principal Human Factors Specialist Phoebe Smith; and many more.

Tickets to the conference are £120 + VAT, with 20% of the ticket price  donated to conference charity partner, Mind.

The conference takes place from 1-3 June 2021.

Alastair Campbell

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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 months ago

It’s only the “wild west of wellbeing” because it’s new territory and, regardless of the law, there are too few, if any Sheriffs to enforce the law. There again if, the law becomes a problem for Ranch owners they can “change it” as, recently happened in the USA during 2020 when 2,500 DSE operators a week WFH were making ADA Disability Claims for repetitive stress injuries based on employers expediently NOT complying with the 2018 WCAG Accessibility Reg’s let alone ISO 30071.1 DSE Colour Contrast Calibration to mitigate the predictable 58% of operators suffering debilitating levels of eye-strain, vision stress,… Read more »