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Kate Field

Global Head, Health, Safety and Wellbeing, BSI

Businesses that want to safeguard the wellbeing of their employees can’t afford to take a ‘tick box’ approach. They have to implement a proper strategy — and continually maintain it.

It’s a statement of the obvious, but if businesses are to properly safeguard the wellbeing of their employees, they must first understand what ‘wellbeing in the workplace’ actually means.

The most recent definition — from the new international standard, ISO 45003 psychological health and safety at work is that wellbeing at work is the ‘fulfilment of the physical, mental, social and cognitive needs and expectations of a worker related to their work’.

This begs two questions, notes Kate Field, Global Head Health, Safety and Wellbeing at BSI. “What exactly are those needs and expectations?” she asks. “And how do employers meet them?”

BSI’s Prioritising People best practice model, authored by Field, has the answers. For example, it notes that employees need and expect a workplace that is free from adverse social behaviour and physical, mental and cognitive injury and ill-health. Their needs and expectations also include financial security, work life balance, autonomy, effort reward balance, collaboration and positive relationships at work (without which psychological and physical ill-health can arise).

Developing an effective wellbeing strategy

Social engagement is critical, too. “We are social animals who want to feel connection with other human beings,” says Field. “In the context of the workplace that means, firstly, what is your organisation doing to create social engagement opportunities? Does it have, say, sports clubs, reading groups or wider social connections (virtually or in person)?

Secondly, what is your organisation doing to link with — and give back to — the local community? Does it run volunteering opportunities, or connect with schools and colleges to mentor young people, for example? We know that social engagement creates social value which has a positive ripple effect on everyone.”

If there is real commitment from the leadership to drive authentic cultural change then the impact on an organisation and its people can be huge.

Developing an effective strategy to incorporate wellbeing into the workplace can seem overwhelming at first, admits Field. But the starting point is to list everything that you are already doing to keep your employees physically and mentally safe, help their learning and development and create fair and respectful workplaces that are inclusive and equitable. “You will already be doing the things that are driven by legislation,” says Field. “By creating a list you’ll be able to see where any gaps might be and what to action first.”

Benefiting from a holistic approach

As the Prioritising People Model© notes, consultation and participation with employees is key. “The most effective way to find out how to improve wellbeing in the workplace is by speaking to your employees,” says Field. “Ask them! They are the ones who are impacted, after all. They can tell you what’s working, what isn’t, and what they would like to see more of. It doesn’t have to be difficult.”

It does, however, have to be taken seriously. Any business that regards employee wellbeing as a ‘tick box’ exercise won’t be able to make the necessary cultural changes to their workplaces. So, Field’s message is to take an integrated, holistic approach and prepare for effective implementation to take some time. “You don’t have to do everything at once,” she says. “But you should think about where you want to start, where you want to get to, and recognise that this process is a journey that will need continuous maintenance.

“It may take a lot of hard work and effort to get cross-functional teams working well together: health and safety teams, HR teams, diversity and inclusion teams, and learning and development teams, for example. If there is real commitment from leadership to drive authentic cultural change then the impact on an organisation and its people can be huge.”

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