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The rise of Wellbeing and the challenge for HR


Alongside culture and engagement, wellbeing is another intangible benefit proven to have a very real business impact that has consequently seen its stock rise in recent years.

So given its elevated status, how significant is wellbeing for those seeking their next career move? And what are the implications for HR colleagues as expectations change?

The extent to which wellbeing is now established was emphasised in a feature earlier this month in HRD, confirming that UK employers are ‘rolling out workplace wellbeing strategies at an unprecedented rate’. Almost half now have a strategy in place with the remainder stating a clear intention to establish one.

The report from the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (Reba) and Punter Southall Health & Protection (the Health & Benefits consultancy) also suggests how wellbeing is currently defined and interpreted. Over 80% of strategies are focused on promoting physical or mental health (the top initiatives being employee assistance programmes, discounted/free gym membership and health screenings). Sleep management is less an office joke these days and increasingly a serious consideration.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Government research back in 2014 made the connection between wellbeing and general workplace performance. In the same year, the Harvard Business Review cited academic research that found on the days when employees visited their workplace gym, they were generally more productive, efficient and satisfied. And Nestle and the NHS are typical of major organisations who are now paying greater attention to the health of their workforce both for societal and internal performance reasons.  

Where the value on wellbeing has grown, specialist agencies have followed. One such business is Lifeworks who combine a number of corporate offerings traditionally managed in isolation of each other – employee assistance, wellbeing, communication, and reward for example – to create a ‘demonstrable return on investment’ that benefits both employees and the organisation. Their global reach of 49,000 client companies and 15 million users back up a trend for integrating wellbeing into everyday business – an approach recently summed up at HR Grapevine Live by Ed Lea, Lifework’s Chief Technology Officer; “To get the best out of employees, don’t just catch them when they fall… engage and support their wellbeing every day”.

So does this investment in wellbeing strategies by business have a bearing on attracting – and retaining – talent?

In a recent assessment of the business year to date, Vana is seeing ‘employee experience’ featuring in the majority of client conversations. People are being drawn towards progressive organisations that are flexible around how the work is delivered. And where work is designed around individuals and flexibility is built in – such as configuring a daily routine to include physical activity – organisations in turn are getting the best out of people. Admittedly, wellbeing will have different meanings for different organisations, and come more naturally to some such as the start-up/tech cultures who dominate the Independent’s recent list of 9 UK companies offering unlimited time off. We’re still seeing organisations making a cultural shift to more flexible work practices, for whom wellbeing might constitute a simpler approach that becomes more ambitious in time.

If wellbeing is now clearly on a candidate’s wish-list when choosing their next career move, where does HR come in to ensure an organisation meets this expectation?

Wellbeing is becoming a central focus for many HRDs according to one of our partners. ‘Developing internal coaching expertise in senior managers so that they carefully understand the inter-relationships of PRS – the Person, their Role and the System – is key to work life integration’, says Julie Stokes, an Executive Coach and Consultant Clinical Psychologist with The Preston Associates. ‘How to achieve a culture where wellbeing is encouraged and lived is no longer a case of work life balance and not emailing out of hours – it’s far more sophisticated and central to the success of the HRD.’

The growing significance of wellbeing, and the related investment in time and resource, is another indication that the boundaries and expectations of work are shifting rapidly. The good news is that, at the heart of this, there’s an exciting leadership opportunity for HR professionals. Ultimately however, organisations stand to gain or be left behind depending on how integral they see wellbeing to talent attraction and retention.

It’s a trend that we’ll continue to follow closely.