Why we need to find the killer metric, to help wellbeing in the future
This article explores the current landscape and future direction of the burgeoning wellbeing industry, and where it intersects health and safety in different organisations. It also examines the types of talent businesses are recruiting, and the different skill sets needed, to successfully deliver wellbeing in the workplace into the future.
The session was delivered by a panel of three senior leaders with long-standing track records in the health and safety industry: Matthew Rae, Director of Safety and Wellbeing at household name Vodafone; Jonathan Gawthrop, Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at EMCOR UK, one of the UK’s leading integrated facilities management providers; and Kendelle Tekstar, Senior Product Manager at Acre Frameworks, where her role focuses on supporting the non-technical skills development of health and safety professionals through the delivery of bespoke learning solutions.
Wellbeing: Inclining and thriving
The opening discussion highlighted that there is currently a significant incline in companies actively aiming to recruit for wellbeing positions – including newly created positions, and raised the question of how to support these businesses to holistically thrive.
Wellbeing in the workplace is receiving more attention today than ever before, in an HR context, and is also – some would say, too slowly – moving up senior leaders’ agendas. Once potential reason for this could be the significant increase in statistics concerning the incidence of stress and mental ill-health in the workplace, and the levels of sickness absence attributable to this:
- 4 million working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety;
- 239,000 workers suffered from a new case of stress, depression or anxiety;
- 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding);
- Working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Stats taken from, ‘Health and safety at work Summary statistics for Great Britain 2018‘.
With statistics such as these, there is no doubt of the place for, and importance of, wellbeing professionals in the workplace.
Overcoming cultural challenges
Naturally, there are challenges to overcome in order that businesses can successfully cascade a wellbeing strategy throughout their organisations.
Matt shared information from Vodafone’s wellbeing strategy, which is based around six pillars. These include areas such as: mental and emotional; financial; digital balance. The strategy involves an annual planning process across 36 countries, which, naturally, presents some challenges, as each country has different cultures and consequently, different needs and areas of focus e.g. in India there has recently been a health issue with diabetes: hence there has been a focus on educating employees about healthy eating, and dietary considerations.
Matt also talked about the challenges the health and safety team experienced during the last two years in Africa, and in parts of Europe – concerning the practicalities of having conversations about mental ill-health. In order to communicate the message and get people on board, it was necessary to change the language used around the subject e.g. it works better in some countries to use the term ‘wellness’ instead of ‘mental health’. It can be difficult for many to actually have that conversation – in some countries’ culture the response can be ‘go and see the witch doctor’: so to combat this, the language used has to be adapted and changed to suit the culture and circumstances.
Another challenge to successfully getting everyone on board with wellbeing and embedding it within the strategy, is that often people don’t understand or recognise whose responsibility wellbeing is. This kind of ‘responsibility gap’ can create a perfect storm: this is yet more evidence that the role of wellbeing within an organisation needs to be clearly defined and communicated .
What does a good wellbeing function look like?
The audience couldn’t help but smile and laugh at Matt’s response to this question – “It’s lean!”. To be fair, this is not an uncommon phrase nowadays in the context of business operations and resource levels! So, at Vodafone, there is Matt – and one other person who supports wellbeing globally, plus a couple of additional people who ‘help out’. However, each country has one person who is dedicated to the wellbeing agenda.
Jonathan also subscribed to this situation, saying that in some organisations wellbeing is more of a ‘bolt-on’ to other functions/positions, as lots of businesses don’t have the budget to support a standalone wellbeing function.
Who is the wellbeing professional of the future?
The panel shared several insightful and thought-provoking views regarding who the wellbeing professional of the future will be, and what skills they will need:
- A specific set of skills, moving away from the more ‘dictatorial’ approach prevalent in the past, to become more humanity-led
- Wellbeing will be increasingly led from the bottom-up, rather than top-down
- Bravery around leadership skills – because the area is less defined than traditional health and safety, and consequently not metric-led. Therefore, the wellbeing professional will need to: have real strength of character; be highly driven and motivated; be able to push boundaries and empower groups; and overall, be brave enough to step out of what has traditionally been a safer place (i.e. health and safety) in the past
- Influencing skills will be vital – having the psychological skills to empower people to feel comfortable about talking, about what are often very difficult and personal issues
- Someone who can connect people with their own wellbeing, connect with what makes them well and happy in their work
- Non-technical skillse. ‘soft’ skills are often more important than technical ones in a wellbeing role, research has shown
- Be open-minded: it could be difficult for certain employees to engage with the more unusual or non-traditional activities some companies offer within their wellbeing programme e.g. art classes. This means it will be vital for both employers and employees to remain open-minded about all aspects of the programme and its delivery
A concluding comment was that a business’s wellbeing professional of the future may be on their phone already! i.e. the use of augmented and virtual reality is being increasingly utilised as a business tool, including for recruitment.
What do businesses need to do to deliver wellbeing?
Matt underlined the need for businesses to be creative in delivering a successful wellbeing strategy. He illustrated this by talking about one of the wellbeing activities that Vodafone now offers: art sessions. Although this might sound like an unusual wellbeing activity, Matt shared that whilst observing the sessions it’s been abundantly apparent that the activity has an amazingly positive effect on the participants’ mental health – Matt said ‘you can physically see a change in the people after a 2 hour session.’ Clearly the learning from this is that it’s vital to consider both a wide variety of, and non-traditional, activities in order to engage the whole range of employees.
It was concluded that because wellbeing is currently riding a wave – in the media, and as a focus within the health and safety arena – it’s imperative to be opportunistic and exploit this to the maximum, in order to keep pushing wellbeing up the corporate agenda so it finds a permanent position – globally – for the future.
And a final, crucial point was made – that we need to find that ‘killer metric’ i.e. the metric that clearly demonstrates the correlation between engagement and productivity. This will be the secret weapon that will enable the health, safety and wellbeing professionals to shout ‘This is wellbeing and what it can deliver’ – to ensure wellbeing is a critical and continuing component of every organisation’s strategy.
Where is the workplace mental health agenda headed and how can a nutritional diet at work improve productivity?
Kendelle will be discussing this very subject on SHP’s next webinar, in association with Barbour EHS, takes place on Monday 29 July, from 11:00am to 12:00noon.