Organisation-wide wellbeing: Why staff support is bigger than just HR

Making employee wellbeing a subset of HR risks its effectiveness from the word go, says global D&I expert Stephen Frost in our second interview with leading wellbeing champions. Here, he calls on leaders to bake-in a better culture from the top down.

In many organisations, employee wellbeing is seen as a project for the HR department. In fact, according to our latest research in conjunction with Ipsos, 44% of HR professionals say responsibility lies with them. In the rest of the organisation, at best it’s viewed as a worthwhile piece of due diligence, and at worst a box to be ticked with the minimum amount of fuss.

Critical to the successful implementation of a wellbeing strategy is a clear definition of what employee wellbeing means and what success looks like. 82% of middle managers and HR professionals feel their organisation’s approach to wellbeing is engaged, yet good intentions are not enough. Without a precise definition and measured goals, it’s impossible to formulate plans or allocate responsibilities. In short, the boardroom needs to drive a robust and deliverable wellbeing culture downstream.

We spoke to Stephen Frost, CEO and founder at diversity and inclusion consultancy Included about that disconnect. Why isn’t employee wellbeing seen as a key concern for the whole organisation? Who owns wellbeing and are leadership teams assigning responsibility for it? What are the benefits of a truly holistic employee wellbeing programme – for the business as well as for individuals? And what would a successful programme look like?

Do you think there is a disconnect between the boardroom, HR and front-line staff regarding wellbeing?

"Often, HR is not given high status within organisations, which leaves HR professionals feeling pressured to be business-led – that is, focused only on what will add value to the organisation – rather than people-led. If wellbeing becomes a subset of HR, seen as an ‘HR issue’, it can be difficult to secure buy-in across the organisation and deliver successful initiatives.

"Instead, wellbeing needs to be seen as a strategic resource as well as the right thing to do, to ensure there’s engagement and support from the top of the business. Embedding wellbeing into culture from the top down will also mean front-line staff don’t feel like wellbeing initiatives are simply paying lip service to an issue. Without these elements in place, there will be a disconnect between the levels of the organisation."

What stops organisations implementing a successful employee wellbeing programme?

"Leaders need to be on board and demonstrate empathy, vulnerability, and a willingness to listen. Without those attributes, it’ll be difficult for wellbeing programmes to be genuine and sustainable. Wellbeing needs to be baked into the core of the business, rather than seen as a surface-level tack-on. If it’s just a superficial programme, it’s unlikely that positive and lasting changes to wellbeing will be made.

Additionally, it’s important to take into account the different needs across your organisation. Applying a one-size-fits-all wellbeing approach will not include and serve all individuals in your organisation."

Are you planning on changing any approaches to wellbeing when the pandemic eases?

"There are new considerations to consider as companies return to offices. For example, physical wellbeing in the office space. This includes providing good lighting, COVID security measures, and ergonomic setups, as well as encouraging healthy habits. Across all those things, it's important to offer solutions that also work for those with disabilities or those with different needs. You shouldn’t pursue a one-size-fits-all approach – because there’s no such thing.

"Our Inclusion Diagnostic research shows that since the onset of the pandemic, psychological safety has gone up – that is, how comfortable people feel to express dissent or disagreement, and to potentially make mistakes while innovating. This may be due to increased attention to work-life balance and mental health with the rise of home working.

"Pay transparency has decreased, however, and communication with leaders has worsened. This is likely driven by decreased contact. These are important elements to address to improve mental health in the workplace as we move out of crisis and build a sustainable new way of working."

What’s your approach to providing mental health support at work?

"A company culture where people can speak up about mental health is crucial. Leaders must foster this culture, where employees feel able to discuss this topic and are met with support. This will have a downstream effect on the rest of the organisation.

Other suggestions include:

  • Social events
  • Health challenges (e.g. step counting)
  • Mentoring and buddy schemes
  • Carving out recurring time in diaries for collaboration or senior leader access
  • Mental wellbeing resources
  • Mediums for reporting and learning from mistakes
  • Volunteer day allowances
  • Personal training budgets"

Do you think wellbeing impacts company productivity?

"Psychological safety is key. Without it, employee stress levels will likely be high and thus impact their ability to be productive. From a simple standpoint, having structure to working hours with protected breaks and core hours are easily executed steps that improve wellbeing and productivity. A safe working environment, both remotely and in the office, will also allow employees to perform at a consistent level."


Stephen shared his insights on wellbeing after reading our IPSOS report ‘Why Employee Wellbeing Isn’t Working. And What You Need to Do About It’. Read the report and learn how to transform employee wellbeing in your organisation.

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