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How to build a culture of wellbeing

In this episode of That Wellbeing @ Work Show, host Chris Taylor talks to Stephen Bevan who is head of HR Research Development at the Institute for Employment Studies. Stephen has almost 40 years of experience in the field of HR research with highly sought after expertise in workforce wellbeing, performance, and productivity. Stephen has numerous publications on health at work to his name. And he was an expert witness to a review of NICE guidance on workplace mental health, which was published in March of this year. He has recently published a book with Professor Sir Cary Cooper, entitled The Healthy Workforce, Enhancing Wellbeing and Productivity In The Workers Of The Future.

We’re measuring the wrong wellbeing outputs [03.20]

Although lots of organisations have created a suite of wellbeing benefits such as healthy meals and subsidised gym memberships, most employers measure the wrong output. Instead of measuring how many workers take-up the benefits, organisations instead to measure the impact these wellbeing interventions have on issues such as sickness and recovery time from illness.

Interventions in isolation don’t work [07:08]

Stephen argues that interventions such as mental health first aid whilst useful are often used in isolation and therefore have limited overall impact. Instead, employers need to look at more complex issues such as job design, the quality of line management and employee workload. Without looking at these issues, you’ll end up back at square one!

Isn’t a bit of stress good for performance? [09:11]

Well up to a point. Stephen argues that those employees who have a certain amount of control and autonomy over their work will tend to cope better with stressful situations than those who have little or no control and essentially at the mercy of their line manager.

How to create high-performance work practices [10:36]

Research has shown that managers who trust employees and assist them by securing more people or other resources and provide clarity for the employee together with plenty of autonomy are more likely to create a happy and fulfilled workforce who will perform better. Stephen argues that stress is a very poor motivator of performance despite what some managers believe.

So where should you start if you want to create a wellbeing culture? [15:23]

Stephen starts by saying don’t rely on eye-catching interventions and instead look at systemic changes such overall culture, the quality of line management, job design and the demands placed upon people. Stephen argues there is a golden triangle of wellbeing, performance and employee retention.

Should HR be in charge of employee wellbeing? [20:42]

To a point. The biggest influence is the line manager and therefore HR need to be supporting the line manager which in a hybrid working world is a challenge. Additionally Stephen cites Occupational Health professionals. However, Occupational Health is more than simply patching people up and sending them back to work, but instead looking at the ‘preventative’ measures such as alleviating workload pressures so that employees aren’t overwhelmed in the first instance.


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