Wellbeing in the Workplace: How well are we doing in the UK?

Many UK businesses are now talking the talk, but just how many are actually making progress with wellbeing in the workplace? Well, this year we’ve decided to focus on the subject of wellbeing and will be publishing a series of blog posts that help link it to wider HR objectives. We’ve also launched a short wellbeing survey to help us do a quick temperature check on the current state of wellbeing, with plans to share the results later in the year.

For now, to kick things off we want to take a moment to review what’s been happening around wellbeing in the UK. Reflecting a little on recent research reports and sharing thoughts on the matter from our experts, key partners and clients.

What does wellbeing in the workplace mean exactly?

Before we begin on our wellbeing mission it’s probably worth defining exactly what we mean by ‘wellbeing in the workplace’. For us it is looking after employees physical and mental health at work. Beyond that though, while a lot of their wellbeing will be impacted by factors outside of work, it’s about employers accepting responsibility for the role and stresses they play in that overall picture.

Increased momentum on the wellbeing conversation

There’s definitely been a rise in awareness over the importance of addressing wellbeing in the workplace in the UK, with a particular emphasis on mental health. In the last couple of years for example there have been various reports making the rounds including:

  • ONS survey: measuring national wellbeing
  • The Prime Minister’s independent report on mental health
  • Mind’s first Workplace Wellbeing Index
  • Business in the Community’s National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey
  • The Global Wellness Institute – The Future of Wellness at Work

What has this wellbeing research revealed so far?

Diving into each and every report is a pretty big task, one we plan to undertake with a final report on the state of wellbeing later in the year. For now, here are a few common trends and insights uncovered by the research collectively:

  • The UKs mental health struggle at work is very much real
  • Decreased productivity and increased sickness is costing employers billions
  • Thousands of employees are losing their jobs due to mental health each year
  • Employees generally don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health at work
  • There has been an increased awareness and shift in attitudes towards mental health
  • But, organisations are still not prioritising wellbeing in their budget allocation
  • Managers don’t have the training to support employees with their emotional wellbeing

So, what do we think? Has there been an improvement?

Overall, we can all agree that wellbeing at work is gaining momentum as an idea now, but it has some way to go to catch up with the last big thing, which of course was Employee Engagement. Co-founder of WeThrive and business psychologist Piers Bishop explains:

“Employee engagement is a term that took off in the UK media in 2007 and Google Trends showed rising interest that peaked in late 2017. Conversely, mentions of ‘wellbeing in the workplace’ didn’t start to rise significantly until 2015. I predict that we have several years of increasing interest to come as companies realise they have not found a complete solution in Engagement.”

Karen Storey, CEO of The Storey Group does believe there has been some promising progress. She said:

“There are definitely a lot more conversations happening around wellbeing in the workplace and this has got to be seen as a positive step.  Like all transformational approaches to people strategy, corporate wellbeing is a journey not a destination. Getting wellbeing on the strategic and corporate agenda and see long term impacts takes time.”

Employee expectations on wellbeing at work

This increased awareness of course, isn’t just reaching employers; employees are becoming more switched on and raising their expectations. Forcing businesses to step up their game if they want to attract and retain top talent. Karen believes that it is this push and pull effect that is affecting the momentum. She said:

“Employees are becoming more aware of wellbeing in their personal lives. This carries forward to them seeing wellbeing at work as being a big factor in that awareness and it plays a greater role when they select where and who they want to work for. Quite rightly people are demanding that their personal wellbeing is seen to be as important as the contribution they bring. As companies start to dip their toe in the wellbeing space and begin to see the impact of taking wellbeing seriously I can see this momentum continuing.”

Are ‘quick-fix’ company perks helping?

Perhaps as a symptom of this increased awareness there has also been a growing trend towards offering competitive office perks. Something that big brands like Google and Facebook are championing. Free food, indoor basketball courts, meditation pods – you name it many employers are pulling out all the stops to attract the right talent and prove they care about their employees wellbeing. Unfortunately, as fun as these company perks can be they are a little bit of a red herring in the wellbeing at work conundrum. Sapping budget that could be spent creating an effective wellbeing strategy. Group MD of Expand Executive Search Samantha Maxwell-Reed sees this all to often in her line of work placing and headhunting top talent, she said:

Although the table tennis approach is starting to feel shallow and lacking in real value. The expectation of perks is now seen as standard. I feel there is a desire to deal with the real issues but a lack of knowledge in how to do so.”

This superficial approach to wellness is a positive step, but distracting employers from implementing a longer term solution. Karen added:

“I wish I had a rosier picture to paint here – in most cases there is definitely a very superficial approach to wellness.  Having an annual blood pressure check, giving staff shiny green apples, and giving access to healthier food options in the cafeteria while nice, isn’t a wellbeing strategy. The fact is, employees want to work for companies that really care about them – all of them.  In my opinion, the best approach to workplace wellbeing is for companies to really demonstrate that they care in ways that can have far reaching and positive effects on work, those we employ and society.”

There’s nothing wrong with offering company perks, but it is important employers understand that these do not replace a wellbeing strategy. They may be temporarily attractive and useful in many ways, but they may not necessarily connect with any direct unmet needs in the staff. However, if your understanding of wellbeing is more informed, you might choose to create wellbeing offerings that meet the needs of the actual employees. For example, offering creche facilities or flexible hours for parents and exercise for sedentary workers to help reduce anxiety and improve their health. Piers explains:

“You might go further and ask the question that I think many employers don’t like to think about: what is work doing to the way people feel inside and where are the stresses coming from for employees at work? Most importantly, what should we do to relieve those? Questions that should be asked before even thinking about whether they have enough fruit. I am not ridiculing fruit. In areas where diet is noticeably poor it would be an excellent idea, but in places where the working day follows a breakfast of mashed avocado on spelt toast, it is less likely to be worth spending money on.”

What our employee survey results reveal

Of course, many of our clients are now making progress with wellbeing so the results are likely to be a little more positive, but it’s worth reviewing our survey findings to get an idea of the employee perspective on wellbeing at work. A sample of 10,000 people responding to recent WeThrive surveys show that:

  • People are generally well-connected to their work
  • Almost 1/3 of all working time is compromised by something that could potentially be resolved
  • Communication is key: there are deficits in every company’s knowledge sharing, management attention & acknowledgement of individuals
  • Anxiety is a major issue: people feel a lack of control, are over-stretched and have very limited headspace
  • However, people generally find work meaningful and want to be there

So, what can you do to help?

Why treat the workplace differently from anywhere else? The human being is the same wherever they are found, with the same biological, psychological and social needs. That’s why the journey to progress with wellbeing at work begins with listening on all fronts.

Listening to the increasing number of experts and research telling you that wellbeing in the workplace should be taken more seriously.

Listening to your employees and finding out what they truly need to thrive at work.

And now us… listening to your views on wellbeing in the workplace so that we can help deliver the resources you need to make progress.

Please take a moment to complete our short wellbeing survey, so that we can get a more accurate temperature check on the state of employee wellbeing in the UK. If you’d like to start listening to your employees right away, you can also get a free trial of our employee survey WeListen.