Seven blocks representing a successful wellbeing strategy
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Developing a wellbeing strategy that delivers

As someone who’s worked in the employee wellbeing field for many years, I’m pleased to see how much UK businesses have invested in wellbeing. Most organisations today have a variety of initiatives in place to improve and support their people. Larger employers, especially, often have a menu of wellbeing interventions in place. Impressive though these can be, I have to strike a note of caution. Too often they don’t represent an integrated whole; instead forming a patchwork of disconnected programmes. My problem with this is that it risks creating a mismatch between the needs of the workforce and what the programmes offer.

Developing an effective wellbeing strategy is the best way to embed wellbeing in the culture of your organisation. It’s also the best way to realise the benefits for your employees and the business. But a wellbeing strategy should have an end point in mind, some clear goal that will benefit the business and justify the investment in time and resource required to get it off the ground.

So how do you ensure your strategy is successful?

1. Establish the purpose of your strategy

Firstly, you need to be clear on the value and goals of your wellbeing strategy. Decide whether it’s to improve performance and productivity, to reduce sickness absence, to enhance brand reputation or to attract and retain talent. This is a vital starting point, as it’s likely to shape the structure, content and communication of your strategy and it’ll determine the kinds of measures you’ll require to gauge its success. Taking time out to identify exactly what you’re trying to achieve with the strategy will also make it easier to sell organisationally and to demonstrate its success.

2. Align your wellbeing strategy with your business strategy and values

If your wellbeing strategy sits within an unsupportive organisational culture it’s much more likely to fail. Your strategy shouldn’t be grafted onto business as usual. It needs to be congruent with the values and culture of your organisation and in an ideal world would grow organically from them. You can read about how to achieve this in my blog post The culture fix.

3. Consult and collect data

Before you develop your strategy, identify your workforce’s real health and wellbeing needs by carrying out a significant consultation and data collection exercise. Importantly this data collection can also identify what’s already being offered across your organisation. As programmes often originate in different parts of a business, establishing what you already have in place makes it easier to identify gaps. Then, you can judge what enhancements you can introduce given your financial constraints.If you have occupational health (OH) and an employee assistance programme (EAP), use their data to identify which health issues you need to prioritise.

You may also find other sources of information useful, like the distribution of sedentary and active jobs, and your company’s demographics around age, gender and ethnicity.Data from employee engagement surveys should provide valuable insights on what they see as being important. Use this to frame discussions among focus groups to obtain deeper levels of information about people’s needs. Consulting with employees in this way also makes it more likely they’ll feel a sense of ownership and involvement with the strategy.

4. Set up good governance

A successful wellbeing strategy is built on a strong sense of ownership; with all contributing parties clear on what’s expected of them. Your wellbeing strategy needs strong governance which delineates clear lines of responsibility for all aspects of the strategy’s development and implementation. This is vital, as responsibility for wellbeing can become so dispersed that the strategy is rendered ineffective. Set up a steering group to keep things on track. To be effective, this should include representatives from key stakeholders, including OH, your EAP, HR, and trade unions. Buy-in from the top is important too, so give someone at board level overarching responsibility for driving the strategy.

5. Select your wellbeing programmes

The range and type of initiatives you choose will largely reflect your strategy’s goals. Typically, these will be a mix of preventative and reactive components. EAPs and OH are predominantly reactive, whereas fitness schemes, nutritional programmes, financial education and resilience building sit at the preventative end of the spectrum. It’s also important you factor in aspects of organisational life that support wellbeing. Flexible working, volunteering and employee engagement all exert a positive influence on employees’ wellbeing. Key too is using your organisation’s internal communication channels to provide educative materials touching on different wellbeing themes. You’ll also need to make decisions about which initiatives you’ll run and manage internally and which you’ll commission.

Wellbeing strategies also need to allow for a degree of personalisation. For example, employees to participate at times of their choosing and receive feedback about their progress. The programmes need to be diverse enough to be relevant to different constituencies within your workforce, hence the need for organisational demographic data. And you need to decide whether to make programmes available to family members, as EAPs often do.

To address employees’ desire to undertake their wellbeing activities at their own convenience, employers are increasingly offering wearables and meditative apps. Some apps allow for anonymised data to be collected about participants, offering you an organisation-wide diagnostic tool which can produce valuable insights into the health of your workforce. There’s still an ongoing debate about whether or not this represents an undue intrusion into employees’ privacy. If you’re considering introducing apps it may be worth checking out via focus groups or questionnaires how they’re likely to be received.

6. Communicate your strategy

Even the perfect wellbeing strategy will struggle to have impact if it’s poorly communicated. Getting off to a good start is vital, so use a high-profile launch event to get early traction. Having senior level involvement from the beginning, perhaps by having an executive sponsor lead the launch, will send a signal to your workforce that your organisation is serious about the strategy making a difference. If your business is multi-sited, you could support this launch with wellbeing road-shows to raise awareness.If you have an intranet, use regular campaigns to promote the strategy to the whole workforce. Wellbeing microsites are also a good way of bringing together and promoting initiatives and can act as a repository for wellbeing tools, videos and guides. Some businesses publish health and wellbeing magazines to promote their strategy and the programmes within it. Finally, don’t forget the humble team meeting. These can be an excellent mechanism for spreading the word across your business and getting feedback about the offering.

If you have an intranet, use regular campaigns to promote the strategy to the whole workforce. Wellbeing microsites are also a good way of bringing together and promoting initiatives and can act as a repository for wellbeing tools, videos and guides. Some businesses publish health and wellbeing magazines to promote their strategy and the programmes within it. Finally, don’t forget the humble team meeting. These can be an excellent mechanism for spreading the word across your business and getting feedback about the offering.

7. Measure success

Too often, initiatives are implemented as an act of faith. When this is the case, their success is frequently judged purely on uptake: if people are using them they must be making a difference. Yet if you can demonstrate their value and effectiveness unequivocally, this could prove invaluable in winning the internal argument for maintaining and building on your existing wellbeing provision. There are a variety ways of gauging the impact of programmes. Measuring behaviour change for physical programmes like quit-smoking campaigns, fitness regimes and diet is relatively straightforward. The type and frequency of referrals to occupational health and EAPs can also shed light on whether programmes are having

The type and frequency of referrals to occupational health and EAPs can also shed light on whether programmes are having impact. You should also be able to cross check sickness absence data over time for evidence of reductions in absence due to specific health conditions your wellbeing strategy is addressing, for example stress. You could also track impact by looking at data relating to performance, productivity and staff retention. If you think it through and take advantage of the wealth of organisational data available, it’s more than possible to create a meaningful effectiveness measure for your strategy.

A wellbeing strategy is a significant investment in time and resources. If you’re developing one, it’s worth getting the preparation right. The fact is that the biggest cost lies in the programmes themselves. Investing just a little more in planning will go a long way to ensuring your wellbeing strategy is coherent, well managed and communicated effectively across your business. In short, that it’s successful.

More employers are taking a strategic approach to wellbeing. As they begin to see the benefits for their employees and for the business, I’m confident this will encourage others to follow their lead. I’d like to think that over time this will become the norm and we’ll see wellbeing accepted as fundamental to a healthy workplace culture.