UK’s leading workplace expert urges business leaders to measure employee wellbeing to help improve the health of the economy - report

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Business leaders have been urged to measure employee wellbeing to help improve the happiness of our workforces, the productivity of our organisations and the overall health of the national economy.

The advice from Professor Sir Cary Cooper - one of the UK’s leading organisational psychologists - is published in a new report by the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work and Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS). It comes amidst the increasing prominence of wellbeing within policy, business and academic agendas.

According to data from the Health and Safety Executive, more than 800,000 workers suffered from work related stress and anxiety in 2020/21 [1] and more than half reported that this was exacerbated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, this is not the only issue that has impacted the wellbeing of our workforce.

Experts from the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing highlight three additional trends that amplify the need for employers to demonstrate that they care about wellbeing. This includes the priority generation Z and millennials place on wellbeing compared to previous generations; the permanence of hybrid working models; and the increased focus from investors on environmental, social and governance indexes, which increasingly includes health and wellbeing considerations.

It is also argued that for employers to successfully implement a strategy that improves subjective wellbeing -how we feel, function and evaluate our lives - business leaders must focus as much on the measurement of wellbeing in the workplace as they do on implementation.

Placing health and wellbeing at the heart of a business strategy makes perfect sense - it will help to improve productivity, improve staff retention and reduce presenteeism

According to the report, Measuring Wellbeing For Healthy Workers and Organisations , it is important to differentiate subjective wellbeing from its underlying drivers, which includes external factors such as employment status, income and social networks, and internal factors such as health and self-esteem.

Sir Cary Cooper, co-chair of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work and Professor of Organisational Psychology at AMBS, said: "Placing health and wellbeing at the heart of a business strategy makes perfect sense - it will help to improve productivity, improve staff retention and reduce presenteeism. But implementing a strategy alone is not good enough. We must measure it too, and then use this data to drive further improvements in worker wellbeing."

Report co-author Dr Richard Heron, former Vice President for Health at BP and lead for the metrics sub group at the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work, added: "Successful CEOs and business leaders are intimately familiar with business metrics, profit and loss accounts and financial statements, and as workers we depend on this to keep a job in a going concern.

"But how familiar are they with the factors that increase or decrease the wellbeing accounts of their people? And why should they be just as interested in these as they are in financial measures from an organisational perspective?

"The evidence is increasingly clear that when leaders genuinely care about worker wellbeing, business outcomes of interest are better, whether they be long-term stock price, the ability to attract and retain talent or the robustness of safety and governance approaches."

The report advises business leaders to choose metrics that are simple and easy to understand, drawn from robust data sources and relevant to both internal and external stakeholders. Subjective wellbeing assessments can then be integrated within existing, periodic employee surveys to provide a snapshot of employee sentiment.

Experts from the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing also suggest using local pilots to consult with employees and build stakeholder buy-in before rolling out wellbeing metrics across the wider organisation.

Sir Cary added: "There are so many factors within the workplace that can impact an individual’s wellbeing and their performance at work. And as the world around us continues to change it is important that business leaders look, learn and adapt to the way the world of work is evolving.

"We need to support our people. But there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so to do so effectively we need to tailor our wellbeing strategies to our own organisations and most importantly, measure the impact of them. Only then will we truly be able to create a better working environment for our people and, in turn, improve productivity."

To find out more, read the report here.

[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

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