Malcolm Cairns: Make wellbeing in your organisation part of your culture

Although employment law has brought significant benefits for employees in the workplace, a changing environment means HR professionals need to think about their entire strategy as a whole. Don’t just treat the symptoms, make sure that your wellbeing policy is relevant and enforces a culture of wellbeing across your entire organisation.

Employment law underpins wellbeing in relation to safety at work much less than you might expect. Not to knock legislation which has had a significant effect on health and safety at work. The challenge, though, for wellbeing at work, is that where it is being applied in broad strokes to big issues like harassment or bullying for instance. The logic that follows is sensible in that where there is no harassment or bullying the wellbeing of the individual will be better.

However, those issues are also about safety. Wellbeing concerns itself with more detailed and acute issues. Businesses should ask themselves; what about the clinical, practical and emotional needs of the individual? These are the things that are more important, or acute for the individual. These are the things on this highly personal level that the law can’t legislate for.

What is affecting a person’s wellbeing in a time of crisis may have no regulatory requirement whatsoever. So, employment law is great and essential but in relation to wellbeing we need to think about how we can maximise the specific needs of the individual.

In practical terms it is about moving from long lists of staff provisions to a strategy which better understands the real needs of the individual. To maximise the asset, and by that I mean the human capital, in a growing services sector where the value of a business is charging for their people by the hour, then policy should be about keeping your people happy.

Certain sectors promote wellbeing above other sectors

For instance, technology companies or where the employee base is younger or more ‘start-up’ in culture.

Different sectors are doing different things. But it’s the personal aspect of wellbeing that determines a different way of looking at things.

There are different risks in different types of work. In some traditional sectors we often have a different type of workforce, perhaps lower paid work, and the concerns about wellbeing often include financials so that is difficult to promote as wellbeing.

In more traditionally structured companies the leadership will have come up in a more traditional career path, and will have certain view of what work will and will not provide in terms of wellbeing. Ensuring that the company has the holistic, and not just work challenges at the forefront of care is important.

The big challenge for HR professionals to prove the value of wellbeing initiatives, is to make human capital as crucial to the business as financial capital currently is. This is what tech businesses do; they value people first, and then technology before they are interested in revenue. They believe that when you get the people right the business model follows.

If you have a traditional leadership then they might not consider that anything outside of the workplace is anything to do with work. But to understand what wellbeing means you need to look at the holistic picture of the individual.

In the current economic environment two things are happening; a move towards more service-based businesses where people are the capital; and a society and health system which is going to be less and less available. It is making the role that a business can take in wellbeing all the more essential. This really is a call to HR professionals to stand up and make sure that your role is seen.

Stress and mental health are the obvious consequences of a lack of wellbeing. The focus is on these symptoms, but the challenge is to go behind the stress and find out what is affecting the whole picture. We look after people with cancer and if we look at their carers, or the person with cancer themselves we will see depression, stress, and anxiety which are all mental health issues. However, we are working on a mental health issue around cancer so we manage it at a low level giving access to services around stress and mental health. But that’s just one part of understanding the broader issues that occur when dealing with critical illness.

As HR professionals the single most important thing that you should do is look at your entire strategy – not just how to treat symptoms. Don’t just offer employees a long list of services from which they can self-select. What you should decide is how you manage and apply wellbeing across the organisation. Don’t just look at the symptoms, look at the underlying cause.