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People leaders can join up wellbeing and workplace into something powerful

Investing in wellbeing at work can’t just be about wellness weeks, poster campaigns and fresh fruit. It’s about having a sustained approach

Wellbeing at work

Fruit in the office, discounted gym memberships, ‘wellbeing weeks’…I’m sure most of you have come across some of these well intentioned but rather vague attempts by HR to improve the health of their workforce. The problem is they are just initiatives, often implemented in a scatter-gun way without much strategic thought. This is missing a trick: we as people leaders have the opportunity to join up wellbeing and the workplace into something much more holistic – and much more powerful.

Wellbeing is not just an employment issue; it’s a social issue. It has a huge impact on individuals, their families and their communities. The wellbeing agenda has the potential to be unifying, bringing together the human capital dimension that exists inside the organisation with the social capital dimension outside in the communities in which we live and do business. The wellbeing function of the future should strive to connect internal and external, creating a virtuous circle.

At NHS England, we’ve not only integrated occupational health and health and safety, as many other organisations have, but also added an overlay for wellbeing and CSR. Engaging people around social value and giving back to their communities, via a number of paid volunteering days a year for example, improves the wellbeing of not only individuals but those they are helping. It fulfils a different part of people, giving them something beyond paid work, something we know is important to millennial workers.

Lots of HR people tend to think of wellbeing purely through the lens of reducing sickness absence or raising productivity. This is reductive as it brings so many other benefits, from retention to improving your EVP and brand

We’ve also trained about 600 members of staff to act as mental health first aiders, equipping them to help people experiencing mental health difficulties. This doesn't just mean they can help their colleagues in the workplace – although this is a welcome outcome – but that they can also take the skills they’ve learnt back into their lives and communities. It has a wider societal impact and given the fact mental health is underfunded in the UK, it brings broader benefits to the NHS as a whole.

Lots of HR people tend to think of wellbeing purely through the lens of reducing sickness absence or raising productivity. This is reductive as it brings so many other benefits, from retention to improving your EVP and brand. Within the NHS, it also has a direct impact on our service. Anything we can do to improve the health of the nation and up-skill people to keep themselves well inside and outside of the workplace will reduce demand, save money and improve clinical outcomes.

Investing in wellbeing at work is not just a ‘nice to have’; it’s a ‘must have’. It can’t just be about wellness weeks, poster campaigns and fresh fruit. It’s about having a sustained approach that says this is a long-term, holistic focus for the organisation and leadership. And in the future it will need to be about joining up the internal and the external, a big picture that encompasses not just the physical, mental and social health of the individual, but those around them. Get that right, and we have the potential to make a positive difference to society at large, and who wouldn't want that?

Stephen Moir was chief people officer at NHS England when this article first appeared on The People Space on 8 May 2017. He is now executive director of resources at City of Edinburgh Council

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