Wellbeing in the Workplace – An overview before getting specific

10 October 2017

It’s World Mental Health Day today, with the theme being Wellbeing in the Workplace. In my blogs this week, I will be suggesting steps all employers, large and small, can take to support staff to improve and maintain their wellbeing. I will also be reflecting on my own experiences, both good and bad, of attempts to improve wellbeing in the workplace. Some of this experience has been on the receiving end, some from trying (with varying degrees of success) to address issues of wellbeing as an employer. All the examples used in the blogs are real. (Even the ones that you might think I must have just made up)


What is wellbeing and why are we talking about it?

Wellbeing is defined as a state of ‘feeling good and functioning well’. Wellbeing at work is the same thing, just at work. This may sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s worth thinking about. Only by understanding what the things are which help us to feel good and function well can we hope to make these things happen and keep them happening.

Why should we think about this? Because it makes good business sense, as well as being the right thing to do. Overwhelming evidence shows that workers who experience better wellbeing work harder, take less time off, produce more and have more success recruiting quality staff who then stay longer in their posts. Ultimately, this means that improving wellbeing increases profits, or in non-profits improves financial stability.


Wellbeing at work is not an activity, or a work-stream. It is about culture and habit.  

In my experience, the most significant mistake that employers make is to adopt a sticking plaster approach to wellbeing. Mostly, this is due to genuinely concerned employers wanting to do the right thing by their staff, but not really knowing how. Sometimes it’s a more cynical move designed to ‘cover ourselves’ or to mitigate against complaints/grievances. A quick note to employers – employees can always tell whether an approach to wellbeing is genuine or not.

Wellbeing at work cannot be improved or maintained simply by adding a one-hour session of mindfulness into an already busy week. Or by insisting that overworked staff MUST take a lunch-break, when this just makes the afternoon even more frantically busy. Or by establishing  series of meetings to look at wellbeing, which then loses momentum once senior managers start cancelling their attendance due to something more important coming up.

The factors influencing workplace wellbeing are well evidenced. One study (Warr 2007) found the following as most strongly influencing our own view of our wellbeing.

  • Opportunity for personal control
  • Variety
  • Environmental clarity
  • Opportunity for skill use
  • Supportive supervision
  • Opportunity for interpersonal contact
  • Fairness
  • Availability of money
  • Physical security
  • Career outlook
  • Significance


This is where employers should focus their energy.

For my part I will focus on the factors highlighted in bold. In tomorrow’s blog, I will begin by looking at how employers can take simple steps to give greater opportunities for personal control, to afford greater variety and to make supervision genuinely supportive. We’ll look at the others throughout the week.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy World Mental Health Day. It’s been a pleasure to see the amount of discussion on social media about this day – it really brings home how much of the stigma around mental health has been reduced over recent years, particularly through campaigns like Time to Change, which celebrates it’s 10th anniversary today.

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