How to put wellbeing at the heart of the workplace

Monday, January 21th, 2019

This post was originally published by Karen Jeffrey on the New Economics Foundation blog.

What does it mean for an organisation to be doing well? Can its success be judged purely in terms of profit or is there more to it than that? Perhaps organisations should be judged according to the impact they have on society as well as on their bottom line.

Social impact takes many forms: from the products and services offered, to the resources used to create those offerings. At NEF, we think that one of the most important impacts that organisations have, and an important factor to take into account when judging the success of an organisation, is its impact on the lives of employees. Given the dominant role that work plays in the majority of our lives, putting wellbeing at the heart of business models represents a tremendous opportunity to influence national wellbeing.

With surveys suggesting that UK workers are finding their jobs more stressful, precarious and demanding than ever before, it is little wonder that wellbeing at work has received a surge in interest in recent years, including from the government. On Friday, we released our proposals on how organisations can put wellbeing at the heart of their business models. The NEF recommendations feature in a report published by the Aldersgate Group, which brings together leading businesses and civil society organisations, including Marks and Spencer, BT and Asda, to drive action for a sustainable economy.

The good news is that improving wellbeing at work helps not only employees but the organisations themselves. Evidence shows that increasing wellbeing is associated with better job performance (including productivity, loyalty and creativity), which in turn, has been found to improve wellbeing – and so the virtuous cycle continues. At the same time, the much wider benefits of increasing employee wellbeing (including minimising illness and absence) can contribute to a stronger macroeconomic landscape, from which businesses can hope to thrive.

The government should provide incentives to help organisations already recognising the value of putting employee wellbeing at the heart of their business models, so that they can take steps to increase the wellbeing of their workforce without being undercut by short-sighted and less scrupulous competitors. Our proposals, which echo much of what the All Party Parliamentary Group for Wellbeing Economics recently called for, include a focus on:

  • Reducing insecurity, including supporting the emerging political consensus in favour of banning exploitative zero-hours contracts, which reflects the fact that job security is one of the most important job-related determinants of wellbeing.
  • Paying staff fairly and strengthening the minimum wage, because the evidence suggests that feeling you are paid fairly matters more to job satisfaction than absolute salary, and because higher incomes are associated with the greatest improvements in wellbeing for those earning the least.
  • Supporting and encouraging best practise to help foster good relationships between colleagues and managers; a greater sense of autonomy and control for staff; and putting an emphasis on creating social, as well as financial value as an organisation, all of which have been found to be key factors influencing wellbeing at work.

Wellbeing at work contributes to the ultimate goal of improving people’s lives and it makes good business sense. With the right support, we can move away from narrow policy and outdated practice that has dominated for far too long. It’s time to establish stronger foundations for economic success and develop a new art of progress, starting at work.

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