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17 March 2022

Employee Wellbeing Strategy Development

How do you build the case for wellbeing, and develop an employee wellbeing strategy aligned to the strategic objectives of your organisation?

Two leading experts in workplace wellbeing recently joined Stephen Wood to discuss how to create future-proof employee wellbeing strategies. Sam Fuller is CEO of The Wellbeing Project, and Susan Turnbull is People Director at DMSL. In this series, we share excerpts of their conversation. To watch the full conversation, follow the link.


How to build the case for employee wellbeing

Stephen Wood: Let’s talk about how we build the case for wellbeing. Sam, you’ve been doing this work for nearly 15 years. What have you seen change?

Sam Fuller: The number one HR trend in 2022 is wellbeing. Wonderful news. I feel I’ve waited a long time to hear that.  At the beginning, there was little interest in wellbeing apart from a few trailblazers or changemakers. Wellbeing was often associated with health and safety in a high risk environment or was put forward when a senior leader had a strong belief that wellbeing impacted performance.

But 15 years on and the workplace wellbeing industry is in a much better place. More buy-in, and we have seen a number of important research papers published including Deloitte’s ‘Refreshing the Case for Investment’, CIPD’s annual report, and our own Wraw Resilience Research Report. They all give robust and accurate insight into the state of workplace wellbeing, and what we can do to support employees.

And why is wellbeing on the agenda for so many organisations? I think we all know that the challenges are increasing. and are becoming more complex. At the same time, people are more prepared to talk about their own personal wellbeing. More employers are investing in wellbeing resources but there is still work to be done.

Stephen Wood: It sounds like COVID has accelerated a trend that was already happening in the workplace.

Sam Fuller: Yes, absolutely. Many working people are worn down, and there are high rates of exhaustion and burnout.

A client said to me recently, ‘we’ve got a great business model, we love our product, we’ve got a lot of purpose and meaning. We know we can meet the goals and targets we’ve identified. However, we’re a lot less certain that our people can get us there. They’ve been getting us through the last two years, they’ve gone the extra mile, they’re stressed, they’re tired, they’re feeling isolated.’

There is a greater willingness to support wellbeing, but the risk is organisations fall back on blanket initiatives for the whole organisation. We have seen a greater focus on strategy and planning but there is a long way to go. According to Willis Towers Watson, only 26% of organisations have adopted a worker wellbeing strategy. Without objectives, it’s hard to know whether you’re hitting the spot. We need to treat wellbeing like any other business objective, spending time upfront to benchmark and set KPIs, and drawing on data along the way to ensure programmes keep on track.

How to build an employee wellbeing strategy aligned to the strategic needs of your business

Stephen Wood: It sounds like there is a blooming enthusiasm for wellbeing and the challenge is to make it more strategically focused. Susan, I’m curious to hear about what you have learnt about the drivers for wellbeing.

Susan Turnbull: I think that wellbeing was very firmly in the health and safety pot for quite a while. And I’m sure many HR practitioners have gone on a journey as to where mental health may or may not sit when talking to line managers around how you manage somebody who has been absent.

Times have certainly changed, partly thanks to HR legislation which encourages us to manage long term ill health and mental health. And I think equally employees are beginning to speak up.

My experience at Help for Heroes was an eye opener for me. When you’re dealing with wounded and sick veterans who are having mental health challenges, and you have a team of people that need to support them, then the business case to make sure that they are looked after is firmly in place.

Every penny counted, every day of absence mattered. We really did have to make sure that we had a team of people that could support those beneficiaries to the best of their ability.

But life moves on and I’ve moved away from worrying about productivity, attendance and labour turnover. I have started to look much further forward.

So for me, it’s also about attraction. According to Willis Towers Watson, 93% of employers are putting the employee experience at the heart of their strategy going forward. And one of the planks will be wellbeing. It is a competitive market out there now, and if you want to hire the best having strong wellbeing strategies in place to support new recruits, and indeed longer serving members of your team, is vital.

We’re a small team at DMSL – there are only 35 of us – and you may say that’s relatively straightforward to develop a wellbeing strategy. But what it means is that when we’re one person down, we are really short. So, we need to make sure that resilience is in place. We’ve got to have an eye on burnout and make sure that the organisation sets people up to succeed.

Alongside that, we’ve got a set of values that underpin our culture. One of those values is empathy, and another one is respect. Both for me are key ingredients to developing a wellbeing strategy that has some authenticity.


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