Workplace Wellbeing – Who is Responsible?

As Spiderman was told by his wise old uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Sadly, when it comes to employee wellbeing, many business leaders feel more like a supply teacher than a superhero: plenty of responsibility, but no power.

Here’s what we mean. Everywhere that employers look, they’re told how much working policies and practices affect their employees’ wellbeing. In the media and the court of public opinion, they’re facing more scrutiny, and judged to have increasing accountability. Quite apart from all that, as decent human beings, employers want their people to be happy and healthy. Yet at the same time, employers aren’t parents. They can’t, for example, force their employees to make healthy choices. The reality is that many aspects of their team’s wellbeing are outside of their influence.

So, employers do what they can, which often goes something like this: they put in place all the appropriate health and safety guidelines, provide support, and follow best practice regarding mental and physical health. In addition, they initiate a wellbeing programme, often with the help of a consultant. This offers blanket health and wellbeing advice to employees and, possibly, opportunities to take part in health-promoting activities.

Once all this is in place, the employer has discharged their responsibilities, and the employees have the information and opportunities they need. The boxes are ticked, and everyone’s rights are respected. Job done.

And then, all too often, nothing very much changes.

That’s not just our opinion: a growing body of research has shown that this typical approach isn’t particularly effective. The problem is that it’s all a bit top-down. When wellbeing measures are handed down from on high, employees have little sense of ownership. What’s more, if the recommendations made aren’t personalised — and they usually aren’t — many employees simply won’t engage with them.

Sharing the responsibility

So, wellbeing programmes work best when responsibility is shared between employer and employee. To do this, they must allow employees to understand and respond to their own individual health and wellbeing needs.

Think of it this way: which would be the more powerful motivator for dusting off your exercise bike — reading the official government recommendations, or finding that you’re breathless at the top of the stairs? The former is about top-down, blanket recommendations; the latter is about responding to a personal need.

At ART Health, we think that engaging employees is far more likely to happen when:

  • They have a full picture of their own health and wellbeing needs.
  • They can receive individual recommendations.

For that reason, our process centres on gathering and interpreting employee data. By accurately measuring key health and wellbeing indicators, they can get an objective (and holistic) picture of where they currently stand. When it comes to making impactful recommendations, that’s a much better start point.

Responsibility and remote working

A quick example helps make the point. Our own research has shown that remote working has a real impact on employee wellbeing and health-related variables. Based on over six months of data, and 13,000 survey data points, we found some real positives associated with home working. On average, employees reported feeling happier, more relaxed, and more energetic. Using Omics, our proprietary app, we found that 87% of employees had better cognitive performance, compared to office working. But alongside the good news, there were some worrying trends. Activity trackers showed that workers moved around much less at home as at the office. Over the long-term, there’s good reason to think this could damage health and wellbeing.

In itself, this top-level picture is useful enough. But drilling down into the specifics is even more valuable. Once individual employees can access information about their own behaviour, sleep status, cognitive performance and so on, they are already halfway to making constructive changes.

A blindingly obvious answer?

Ultimately, the answer to the question ‘who is responsible for employee wellbeing?’ isn’t exactly unexpected. To make any sort of improvement, the employer cannot shoulder all the burden: responsibility must be shared between the two parties.

What’s less blindingly obvious is the way this is best achieved. In our view, holistic and rigorous data gathering is the best method to empower and engage employees in their own wellbeing.

ART Health Solutions is a wellbeing consultancy, providing effective, science-based wellbeing recommendations. Our bespoke solutions are generated by gathering data directly from the organisation and its employees. Having proven our methods working with large, multinational corporations, we’re excited to bring our expertise to small and medium-size UK businesses.

To learn how we can benefit your company, please contact our friendly team.

Dr Paul Smith

Chief Strategy Officer, ART Health Solutions

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