A Culture of Wellbeing - Part 1 of Wellbeing at work.
Updated: Aug 5
I am very fortunate in my role to have the opportunity to lead the Wellbeing Programme at PRS for Music. Before I took on the programme, the business had previously had a few ‘Wellbeing Weeks’, which were packed full of various activities and a great success, however, there were two major problems. Firstly there are only so many hours in the working week for people to get their work done, so most only had time to attend one or two events and, secondly, it’s not enough to imply, as an employer, that you only care about your employees’ wellbeing for one or two weeks a year.
A successful wellbeing programme needs to be imbedded into the culture of the organisation and reinforced through messaging and activities throughout the year. In the three years since I took over the programme, the employee engagement score related to wellbeing has shot up 70% - an achievement which I am immensely proud of.
I’ve had a few conversations recently about how our programme is run, so here are some recommendations that have worked at my business; I don’t claim to be the expert on all things wellbeing and, of course, every context is different, but hopefully my tips might work for you too.
Start with asking “Why?”
Wellbeing programmes need a bit of cash behind them, so at some point you will need to formulate a business case as to why your company should invest in a programme. Start by explaining why businesses in general need to focus on their employee's wellbeing. For example, educate the powers that be that each year in the UK, about half a million people suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, millennials are more likely to be sleep deprived due to work stress, mental health costs the UK economy £34.9 billion a year, which equates to £1,300 for every employee and organisations that have wellbeing programmes report at 40% increase in employee morale and engagement, which in turn will contribute to productivity.
Secondly, do some digging and find out if there has been any anecdotal feedback about how employees are feeling; is there a general feeling of burnout? Are employees often saying that they are stressed? Have employee sickness levels increased? How much does the business spend on sick leave?
Having a good understanding of what in going on the general market and within your business will help you create your business case to fund the programme. Gaining this insight will also help you formulate your goals for the programme; for example if you know that the engagement score is low or employees have high sickness levels - then use these to set targets for the programme.
Find Some Allies
You cannot go it alone so win the support of a senior executive so that your fellow employees view the programme as a company initiative. You will need a senior sponsor, who is naturally enthusiastic about wellbeing, so that they can talk freely in support of the programme. I would recommend not having the HR Exec to avoid the programme being viewed as “something fluffy that HR does” rather than a business wide initiative which will ultimately increase engagement and optimise productivity. Use your Senior Sponsor to open events, sign off company wide communications, share Yammer posts and help position the programme as important.
It will also be useful to have some allies from across the business who will support the programme and encourage others to join in. This will be especially important if you have employees who work in different locations or if there is a pre-existing “them & us” culture, i.e. office staff vs ground keepers / field team / retail staff etc. You will need your allies across the business to champion the programme and help ensure it is not seen as something that only a select few can get involved in.
Data, Data, Data
When starting out your programme, collect data from your co-workers about their attitudes to wellbeing and to establish what elements of wellbeing are most important to them. Having this information from the beginning will contribute towards your goals and repeating this data collection annually will allow you to measure the success of programme. There are a few methods you can use to collect this data and they each have their pros & cons.
Creating an anonymous in-house survey:
Pro: You can personalise this to suit your company and ask questions which are very specific to your working environment and situation. It is also very cost effective.
Con: You will have the leg work to do in creating the survey and analysing all the data. If the wellbeing programme is complete new to you, there could be lots of things that you miss because you don’t yet have enough experience or expertise in this area.
Setting up a focus group with employees from across the business
Pro: This will open up lots of conversations about what is required, you will get a good understanding of how the business feels about a wellbeing programme and how you can overcome any potential blockers. You may also emerge with a group of volunteers who share your passion and can help with setting up the programme by becoming Ambassadors. They will feel part of the programme from early on and feel motivated to make it a success.
Con: Aspects of wellbeing can be very personal and triggering. Some employees may not feel comfortable to share what elements would truly make a difference because they fear being judged. This could be especially true when the wellbeing programme is in its infancy and a culture of “it’s ok not to be ok” has not yet been established. If you run a focus group, you will need to ensure that everything that is discussed remains anonymous and that you create a safe space for employees to share their views.
An external survey - there are lots of health and wellbeing companies out there that can run a survey and analyse the data.
Pros: They are the experts so will already have all the right questions, tested to ensure they are understood, and built into user friendly interfaces. They will also analyse the results and offer recommendations on what you should focus on, which will save you oodles of time. I would recommend asking, if relevant, to add in a couple of specific questions related to your company so that you get good value for money.
Cons: These companies may have a slight bias in their recommendations to promote activities that they themselves can offer, so keep an open mind.
Make data you best friend.
Once your programme is up and running, track how many people employees signed up to an event and how many attended. Investigate what the barriers were for those who were unable to attend. Ask those who did attend for feedback; what did they enjoy? What could be improved? Do they have any suggestions for the programme?
If there isn’t a question about wellbeing in your annual company engagement survey ask if this can be included; it will give you a sense of how employees feel about the programme and will also make the Execs pay more attention to wellbeing to.
Once you have all the data, use it to make continuous small improvements to create an adaptable wellbeing programme; one that is neither static and unresponsive to the changing needs of your co-workers nor one that follows every fad or trend regardless of your co-workers priorities or context.
As with anything, the communication of your programme is key. I create an internal brand for this so that employees recognise it instantly. Depending on your Internal Comms you could consider creating your own logo, a hashtag or a micro-site for the programme. There may be lots of things that your company is already doing but these elements have not been pulled together under the wellbeing umbrella. For example, health care insurance, gym discounts, eye care and flu vaccine vouchers.
Include updates of the programme in the regular internal communications and encourage your senior executives to promote it in their communications too.
Be aware of national wellbeing days such as World Sleep Day (13th March), Mental Health Awareness Week (18th-24th May), National Pension Day (15th September) and World Menopause Day (18th October). They will often have press coverage and it is a good idea to recognise them in your programme by sharing articles, videos or helpline numbers or even arranging dedicated events related to them.
Don’t be shy to share all your good work on LinkedIn too. Letting people outside your organisation know that you have a wellbeing programme helps build on your employer brand and will position your company as a place that others will want to work. Be proud of the work that you put into your programme and tell others all about it.
Make it part of your culture
If a wellbeing programme is completely new to your organisation it will take some time to build it into the culture. Some may initially resist it saying that they have deadlines to meet so don’t have time for wellbeing. Employees may feel that they are neglecting their regular work to attend a wellbeing activity, so line managers will need to fully support the programme and encourage their team to engage with it. This will enable employees to see it as acceptable to spend some time on their own wellbeing. You may need to educate line managers on why this is important - again, your early research will prove invaluable here. If your L&D team are running any line manager training sessions, ask them if they can include a wellbeing element to the course.
You can make wellbeing part of the norm by introducing it in one to one conversations or check-in at the beginning of a meeting by asking “How is everyone?”.
Your wellbeing programme should also compliment company policies and processes so that they all sync, and employees get the same message and support through the programme
Make your programme inclusive
A successful programme must be inclusive and accessible; consider any business activity pinch points during the year which might limit employees access to activities.
When I first started the programme, I arranged lots of workshops in the office at the end of the day. I thought that it was the best time because my co-workers would be fully present rather than thinking about the next meeting they had to attend. I was wrong.
I work in an organisation with flexible start and finish times with employees who usually work across two offices and from home. For the programme to be inclusive and accessible this needed to be considered. Is better to offer workshops as online webinars so that everyone can join, regardless of location? Is lunchtime, during the core office hours, a better time slot for an activity which might be positioned as “lunch & learn”? Are workshops and seminars available as a recording so that anyone who missed out can watch it back?
Speak to leaders within the organisation and study your corporate calendar to understand when there are peaks in business activity. Critical business tasks will always trump wellbeing activities so avoid obvious clashes and likewise don’t book events during school holidays as large numbers of your employees may be on annual leave so will miss out.
Most of the wellbeing activities which make up your programme will be paid for, so by making them as accessible as possible means you get the best value for money.
Thank you to Kelsea Lindsey, Juliane Schreiber and Rosy Painter, after having conversations with all of you about the ambitions you have for your own wellbeing programmes and the positive encouragement that you have all given me about the wellbeing programme I have created, you inspired me to get my thoughts and ideas down on paper and share them with the wider world.
Thank you all for the inspiration and encouragement.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my tips for setting up a wellbeing programme. If you want to learn more, Creating a Wellbeing Progamme - part 2 of Wellbeing at work, details the various activities and events that go into building a great wellbeing programme.