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How do you measure workplace wellbeing?

Let’s start with the good news. Workplace wellbeing has never been higher on the agenda. Where once a company’s wellbeing programme consisted of a summer picnic and a bonding visit to the Red Lion, nowadays most companies are falling over themselves to show how much they care about their employees.

In a post-pandemic world, currently stricken by a cost-of-living crisis, employers realise the importance of looking after their staff. In workplaces up and down the land, strategies are being investigated, and wellbeing programmes instigated. This is, undoubtedly, A Good Thing. But is it enough?

It’s bad news time: No, on its own, these wellbeing programmes are not enough. Or, at least, may not be enough. The problem is an awful lot of organisations are new to this wellbeing malarkey. As a result, they might throw money and resources at the issue, but a scattergun approach, however well-intentioned, isn’t necessarily going to yield results. In order to work out whether their wellbeing programme is bearing fruit or not, a company needs to study relevant data.

But not all data is created equal.

Speaking on our podcast That Wellbeing@Work Show, Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research at the Institute for Employment Studies, suggests that too many organisations simply look at how many employees are taking part in a wellbeing initiative. If a company introduces subsidised gym membership, or free fruit, for example, how will they actually gauge the success of the programme?

“Do they measure whether people are healthier or they take less sickness, absence, or their recovery time from illness or injury is quicker? No, they don’t. Almost exclusively, they don’t; they measure how many people eat the lettuce or eat the fruit or go to the gym. So they measure take-up rather than the impact or the long-term benefits.”

So, employers need to follow the useful data, not just eye-catching data. Yep, fine. Except what is that data, and how do you find it? Wellbeing can be a subjective and amorphous concept. Measuring it is like trying to build a scale model of the Eiffel Tower out of soup, or getting a teenager to do their homework: It’s a seemingly impossible task.

Well, we can help with that. Not the Eiffel Tower thing. Or the teenager. The other one.

Here’s what to look at to measure workplace wellbeing.

1. Performance indicators

Part of the whole raison d'être of the focus on wellbeing is that it effects the bottom line – an organisation’s productivity. A happy workforce is a productive workforce. By the same token, if your workers are unhappy, you can probably figure that out by diving down into their results. If employee performance is talking a nosedive, it’s probably worth asking why.

On an individual level, are your employees hitting their Key Performance Indicators? If they’re consistently falling short it could be a sign something is not right in the workplace. From a too-high workload to poor processes and procedures, there are numerous reasons that your workplace culture is the root of the problem. Look out, too, for groups of people falling short in a single department.

2. Absenteeism and sick leave

A 2021 study found that 79% of workers in the UK reported some type of stress-related absence during the previous year. The amount of sick days employees take are closely linked to how happy and healthy they feel at work. The most common method to measure absenteeism is to track the number of days employees are absent from work. This provides a more detailed picture of absenteeism, although it doesn’t necessarily help with the specific reasons – but it’s a good starting point.

3. Use the exit interview

Of course, sometimes you’ll lose employees. It happens. They might be made an offer they couldn’t refuse (hopefully not in The Godfather sense) or external life factors may necessitate a change. But if you happen to notice a lot of people leaving, it might be worth examining why. Don’t overlook the importance of the exit interview as an opportunity to learn more about why someone is leaving. An employee will never feel more at ease talking about workplace issues than when they’re about to exit the building forever, and the chances are, they’ll have some important stuff to say.

4. Overtime

Are your employees staying late at work, and burning the midnight oil? Great, you may think. They’re hard-working, dedicated and loyal. Hmmm. Until they burn out. Nobody, but nobody, is happy working long hours for an extended period of time. If teams are spending too much time working, it can mean too much workload, misalignment in priorities, too-tight deadlines, or poor time management. It’s not rocket science to understand that none of these are good for employee wellbeing, and if they don’t burn out, chances are they’ll high tail it somewhere else. Which brings us to…

5. Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)

eNPS is a powerful metric for gauging employee experience and workplace culture in just one question: On a scale of 0 to 10 would you recommend [your company] as a place to work to a friend or colleague? Employees who rank your business 0 to 6 are detractors. Those who rate 7 to 8 are passives, while 9 and 10s are promoters. To calculate your final score, minus the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. This should give you a score between -100 and 100. The score won’t help you determine the causes of levels of contentment (or otherwise) but it is a quick and easy way to determine the level of happiness of your workforce.

6. Employee surveys

We saved the best till last. This is pretty much the most useful metric of the lot. The benefit of an employee survey is that you’re hearing straight from the horse’s mouth. Employee surveys provide workers with an opportunity to anonymously share their experiences and feelings about their job. This feedback can be invaluable in identifying potential problems or areas requiring improvement. Define questions you want to ask your employees on a regular basis – monthly or quarterly. Then compare the results, so you can identify any trends as they develop, and take action accordingly. Possible questions include:

  • Hours worked per week.

  • Hours of sleep: how many and how often.

  • Rating physical health, activity level and hours exercised.

  • Last holiday taken, how long for and when.

  • Rating mental well-being.

  • Describe your social/recreational life (0 outings to 5+ outings with friends/family/hobbies per week).

  • How do you relax, e.g. through sports, meditation, walks?

  • How do you rate your job satisfaction?

  • How do you currently rate your workload?

  • How do you rate your satisfaction with your career progression?

  • Have you experienced high levels of worry in the last day/week?

  • Have you experienced high levels of stress in the last day/week?

  • What worries you most at work right now?

Workplace wellbeing has never been more important, and without analysing the data and measuring wellbeing, employers are simply shouting (or doing something else) into the wind. That’s why we use a data-led initiative that asks participants to rate their mood each time they take part in the programme. (Spoiler alert: their mood improves). To find out more, give us a call.

Image by montypeter on Freepik.


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