The importance of wellbeing programmes in the workplace - Andi Smart
Workplace wellbeing is currently a hot topic - but what does wellbeing mean, and how can workplaces support their staff? In this article, I look at what wellbeing is, why it’s important and how we can support those working in health and social care.
What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing is a term that has been used by many different professionals in many different contexts, so its meaning can vary. Dodge et al (2012) define wellbeing with the following diagram:
Meanwhile, Martyn’s (2002: 22) definition of wellbeing is: “whatever we do to make the most of our lives by coping with our difficulties and making the most of what we have”.
For me, wellbeing is a multi-faceted, subjective process linked to physical, emotional and psychological health and happiness. Today, we often talk of improving our wellbeing through popular words and terms such as mindfulness and self care.
It is important to recognise that wellbeing is influenced by many different social, physical and psychological factors and thus it requires action in all areas to build and maintain a positive sense of wellbeing. For example, eating healthy foods has been shown to increase wellbeing as has keeping fit (MIND, 2019). Being free from discrimination and poverty also impacts on wellbeing (Tartakovsky, 2018).
In addition to external factors, it is widely accepted that individual factors also influence wellbeing and it therefore varies greatly between individuals. Plus, you can see from the Dodge et al (2012) image above that maintaining positive wellbeing is quite a balancing act, and one that is thought to be most stable when we have the resources needed to meet life’s challenges. However, when life’s challenges outweigh our available skills and resources (support, self care, medication) wellbeing can be compromised.
Why is wellbeing important?
Having positive physical and mental wellbeing allows us to:
feel a sense of life satisfaction
enjoy a positive quality of life
find meaning and purpose
have environmental mastery which is the degree to which you feel competent to meet the demands of your situation
ensure positive growth and relationships, autonomy and, finally, employment satisfaction.
Wellbeing in health and social care
In recent times, staff working across the health and social care sectors have come together and stepped up like never before, changing the way they work, making significant personal sacrifices and working harder and longer hours. Although research shows that our people feel supported, more help is needed to better understand personal capacity and, thus, negotiate personal health and wellbeing. As someone who works on the NHS frontline, there have been times over the past 12 months where my emotional capacity and, thus, wellbeing have been compromised. This is clearly due to the pandemic and all the additional challenges it brings. For many of us, clearly this has been an extremely challenging time and it would be fair to say that, although the research says NHS staff are supported, many of us are without doubt exhausted. However, in order to deliver high-quality patient care, NHS staff need to feel healthy and well and, importantly, be able to turn up to work. In fact, there is evidence to show that the health and wellbeing of staff directly impacts on the delivery of patient care. For example, the research shows that where NHS trusts prioritise staff health and wellbeing and actively engage staff in this area, levels of morale, loyalty, innovation and productivity increase, resulting in higher quality patient care (Six Steps to Improving Mental Wellbeing at Work, 2018).
So, what can we do to support health and social care staff?
Many wellbeing programmes have been implemented to support staff within the NHS for many years. For example The Health and Wellbeing Framework sets out standards for how the NHS should “support staff to feel well, healthy and happy at work”. It outlines actionable steps and thus “provides guidance for organisations to develop and deliver a staff health and wellbeing plan”. Within the framework there is also a lot of talk on how managers, and other colleagues, can provide a healthy working-environment and employment opportunities that encourage and enable staff to lead healthy lives.
Allowing people the opportunity to grow and develop by completing their work in a way that is beneficial not just for the company but for the individual too is key to wellbeing. For example, setting reasonable deadlines and carefully managing expectations. The physical environment matters too - having the correct lighting, comfortable seating and opportunities to take screen breaks all play a role in our wellbeing.
Additionally, line managers should take time to get to know and understand the needs of their team - as a group as well as individually. In doing so, managers can play a key motivational role and help to build strong morale. Recognising stress in employees, figuring out what the source of this stress is and managing this in a way that is supportive but also helps to avoid the same thing happening again in the future is paramount
Avenues of support
The NHS employers’ health and wellbeing network is a great way to connect to other staff, seek wellbeing support and access further educational information around how you can look after you and your team. The network provides online events, monthly zoom meetings and newsletters.
While researching this article, I came across another really useful website called supporting our people. The site offers information on wellbeing apps as well as text and phone line numbers for staff to contact should they feel the need.
Another useful information site - Covid-19 Workforce Wellbeing – has a fantastic article on managing workplace worry.
Mental health first aiders are another great source of internal support. MHFAs are trained to understand the different symptoms of mental health problems and to recognises a crisis, however, it is important to note that they are not qualified counsellors and that their role is more about providing a listening ear and signposting to additional support.
As a counsellor at a charity, I offer lots of support to staff in regards to their wellbeing ranging from help with stress, depression, eating habits, feeling overworked, a not sleeping. HR can also be a good avenue for internal support, and it’s worth asking to see the relevant HR policies that are in place to support employees taking time off due to mental ill health, decreasing job responsibilities or amending work contracts to be more accommodating.
Public Health England also has lots of information on their website regarding best practice support systems such as what to do when an employer discriminates due to a health problem or how to increase wellbeing in employees. HSE (Health and Safety Executive) is another good practical source of support in that it offers guidance on setting up the working environment to a standard that is inducive of better employee wellbeing and thus positive business outcomes. WHO (World Health Organisation) also offers lots of guidance on good practice for employers wanting to look after their employees mental wellbeing.
Finally, the Mental Health Foundation has lots of very useful guidance for employers on how to get the best from their team through ongoing wellbeing and mental health support, as well as options to join a union which can be useful to provide additional support when employees feel they are not being treated properly by their employers.
In conclusion, while the definition of wellbeing can be explained in many different ways I find it useful to start with a simple definition and, thus, The Martyn’s (2002) and Dodge et al (2012) definitions were a great place to start. Having a strong sense of positive wellbeing plays into many other factors in our life - not only our work but also our relationships and physical health. To enjoy wellbeing we need to balance the skills and resources available to manage negative and challenging experiences. However, the benefits of creating workplace wellbeing are clear - better working environments, less stress, less time off and better patient care. The Health and Wellbeing Framework within the NHS has been developed to further support staff and, provide additional wellbeing support should this be needed. There are, nonetheless, lots of alternative sources of support that employers can access such as mental health first aiders, smaller charities such as the wellbeing trust and unions.
An experienced (c15 years) Mental Health Practitioner, Andi’s specialisms are Autism and Dementia Care, as well as having a strong interest in disability advocacy, sociology and equality.
Andi currently works in Education as a subject specialist and, as well as assessing achievement and participating in Internal and External Quality Assurance, helps to develop qualifications for Awarding Organisations.
In September 2017, Andi commenced the Master of Arts in Social Work at Sussex University.
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