Employee wellbeing was high on the HR agenda before the Covid-19 period turned it into a major priority, says Arran Heal.

Workplace wellbeing has become an industry in itself, with organisations investing in wellbeing strategies, wellbeing-focused managers, and everything from subsidised gym memberships and yoga sessions to free massages, meditation apps and fruit baskets.

But it is not what people want, or the way to genuinely improve health and wellbeing, says new research from the London School of Economics.

As common sense would suggest, all employees really want is a decent working environment: one without bullying and burnout. They’ll look after their health in their own ways and in their own time. So spending on wellbeing in itself has been a giant waste of money.

‘ill-being’

Rather than a focus on wellbeing, the researchers concluded that the attention should be on dealing with ‘ill-being’ — in other words, by delivering ‘psychological safety’. Around a third of the employees interviewed by the LSE’s psychological and behavioural scientists said that job demands, lack of flexibility and how they were being treated, were having a significant effect on their mental and physical health. The report authors have recommended that employers make an assessment of the ways in which particular organisational practices might be contributing to ill-being.

The problem is that employers have preferred to avoid dealing with issues around unreasonable job stresses, poor management and inappropriate behaviours. It’s much easier to talk about wellbeing and introduce eye-catching perks than look at underlying causes.

Feelings of trust and psychological safety are the real source of wellbeing for anyone, whatever challenges and insecurities they have to deal with. So employees need to feel able to speak up and have difficult conversations when they need to, as a means of moving forward and dealing with what might be a simple misunderstanding, a minor cause for unease, that can either be easily cleared up — and not be allowed to fester over years into de-motivation, disconnection and ill-health.

Honesty and maturity

Honesty and maturity is needed among both line managers and their reports to have those conversations without there being a constant fear of implications on both sides: a practical language for dealing with truth rather than the clichés and buzzwords around drive and excitement and commitment that have become an insidious feature of 21st century organisations.

For HR that means having good skills and processes. Soft skills like listening, empathy, self-awareness and curiosity (and how to use them to deal with more difficult conversations) are increasingly critical in our hybrid, dislocated workplaces. As a backbone of support: access to mediation and neutral assessment as the norm rather than as a response to a potential crisis or collapse in relationships.

Only when a routine of good conversations and practices around disputes are the distinguishing feature of a workplace can there be a genuine sense of safety.

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Arran Heal is the Managing Director at CMP.

 

 

 

 

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Arran Heal is Managing Director at workplace relationships specialists CMP. CMP is a pioneer of approaches to conflict management and works to improve workplace relationships - a prime mover in the development and adoption of professional approaches to mediation services, investigations and Conversational Intelligence. For the past 25 years it has been working with some of the UK"s biggest employers, including the NHS, British Army, government departments and universities.