Jonathan Gawthrop: Helping HR teams make the case for wellbeing

Developments in employment law and health and safety regulations are changing the working environment, which in turn is improving the wellbeing of staff. However, there is also a wider understanding across industries that wellbeing is not only intrinsically linked to health and safety but also the overall engagement of the workforce.

For years we have seen health and safety more focused on the safety elements; health was seen as the smaller part of the safety culture and as a result it has garnered less coverage. However, with an increasing focus on the mental health of individuals we have seen a huge swing toward health-related matters and ensuring that employees are fit and well both physically and mentally.

This swing continues to push further into wellbeing, with companies examining how best to look after their employees in a more holistic way.

A boost to productivity

It is obvious that the line between professional and personal lives continues to blur for many people and therefore providing a robust suite of wellbeing initiatives is becoming a corporate responsibility as well as a strategy to drive employee engagement and to aid with retention. Many of the benefits and remuneration programmes on offer to employees now include elements of wellbeing, be that gym memberships, dental plans, health assessments or financial schemes. Usually these are designed with the idea that a happy and healthy employee will remain in work, be more productive and work more efficiently than those who perhaps do not work for companies with these types of benefits.

Of course, wellbeing is about much more than just a set of enhanced employee benefits; it has to be engrained in the culture of the business to make a real difference, and by linking wellbeing into health and safety, organisations such as our own help to set the agenda, which is far removed from being led by employment law.

A focused approach to wellbeing

Many sectors now benefit from a more focused approach to employee wellbeing. In fact, both public and private sectors have made great strides in this area. From our own experience of recruitment, it is clear that sectors such as the services industry, facility management and leisure have well established and continue to develop wellbeing strategies, despite often being low margin industries.

However, despite all this evidence there are still hurdles for HR professionals when it comes to establishing wellbeing initiatives. Fortunately, there is a growing body of data available that can be used to justify these sorts of programmes. For example, data analytics within HR can be used to prove the value of internal employee initiatives and how they have actually benefitted employees in both the short and long term.

There are so many subjective factors that can contribute to whether different business stakeholders perceive the improvement of employee wellbeing to be valuable. With c-suites continuing to strive towards more data-driven decision making in all aspects of their business, HR professionals need to regroup around making sure any wellbeing initiatives they run and report on can be substantiated with robust data.

Use data to justify wellbeing initiatives

For this to work, HR leaders need to ensure that their teams have the appropriate knowledge and data skills to understand what it is going on and to prove the value of undertaking wellbeing initiatives; which in turn can inspire future developments. With expert HR knowledge, data analysis skills and a continuous feedback loop in place, HR leaders can help inform the wider businesses of the value of investing in employees wellbeing initiatives.

If these skills are not available within the HR team, it’s important for employers to invest in people who can demonstrate the benefits of an improved workplace experience. This will help HR teams identify what’s causing health and wellbeing issues within the business. Measures can then be put in place to improve the situation, supporting the wellbeing of the employee and the organisation they work for.

A healthy atmosphere

The prevention of stress, and any related mental health issues, should inform how a working environment is designed and maintained. For example, poor office conditions, such as air quality, can have a big impact on employee wellbeing. Most overlooked are the levels of CO2 in the office, often mistaken for ‘stuffiness’. If left unmonitored, high CO2 levels can have an immense impact on people’s cognitive performance, productivity and health – including poor decision-making, slower reaction times and increased tiredness.

Results from a two and a half year study that EMCOR UK was involved in, has revealed that in one of the buildings tested, workers were able to work 38 per cent faster when CO2 levels were controlled properly. Despite widespread concern from both business and government regarding the UK’s productivity levels, in particular compared with its European neighbours, small changes and regular monitoring could improve workplace environments across the country.

In order to achieve the best outcomes from wellbeing initiatives companies should work with experienced partners with a proven track record of delivering bespoke schemes that deliver measurable outcomes. A well-planned investment in the health and welfare of employees can result in bottom line benefits and help retain valued staff.





As director of Health Safety & Wellbeing at EMCOR UK, Jonathan Gawthrop acts in a senior advisory capacity to the UK Executive on behaviour change, health, safety and wellbeing, and is the lead of the organisation’s national health & safety forum. He is NEBOSH qualified and a specialist member of IIRSM, holds a Master’s degree in Behaviour Change (health and wellbeing), and is preparing to undertake a Ph.D. Jonathan acts as a Governor for Sense College and is an independent verifier for the Mayor of London’s Healthy Workplace Charter, as well as an Advisory Board member for Mad World Forum.