· 3 min read · Features

Musings on wellbeing: Ownership, D&I and awareness


Could heightened awareness around H&W actually be driving stress levels higher?

A while back I attended a great roundtable hosted by CABA and HR magazine. HR leaders from various industries and sectors came together to share thoughts and perspectives on challenges and approaches on wellbeing.

Wellbeing has continued to rise as a priority. But is it a new phenomenon or are we just more aware of it now? With media headlines highlighting concerns around heart disease, debt, homelessness, mental health and an ageing workforce with increasingly less state pension provision, is it any wonder stress is prevalent across society? Is it possible that by being more aware of wellbeing issues we have become less able to cope?

Nowadays it seems everyone is stressed, from students with their studies, to parents, homeowners, employees and employers, with workplace disputes indicative of the pressures of work.

A workplace’s primary purpose is to generate a revenue profitably or in the case of non-profit organisations, a surplus. In the pursuit of greater profits we arrive at doing more (output) with less (input), and doing it faster (efficiency) and better (quality). These are often the drivers behind automation or what is being referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

Breaking work down into its component parts it really is nothing more than a simple process diagram. However staff are complex beings with hopes, dreams, worries and concerns that they bring with them into the workplace. Work adds to the mix through different individuals with differing competences and personalities coming together to focus on performance. So workplace stress becomes a by-product of the pursuit of profit, while wellbeing is secondary and often only in the service of the primary purpose.

When a person is put under pressure sometimes they perform their best. But for some the pressure leads to poorer performance. If you don’t push hard enough little work gets done; push too hard and you can reach a person’s breaking point. Pressure on employees is therefore on a sliding scale between laxity and stress in relation to outputs.

Wellbeing initiatives typically fall under the remit of HR. Herein lies the challenge though. Stress is not created by HR so cannot be solved by HR and certainly not by HR alone. Wellbeing has to be owned by the whole organisation.

However it should be HR at the forefront as an enabler and facilitator. As HR professionals, many of us have sought to address wellbeing by focusing initially on physical wellbeing, then evolving that into something more holistic, covering mental, financial, career and community. Initiatives have included top-down approaches, but also bottom-up where the role of HR is to facilitate after work clubs such as football, springing up naturally. Technology can be an enabler through apps.

Often HR makes the business case for wellbeing by highlighting the number of lost days through sickness absence and the effect on productivity. So It was revealing to hear at the roundtable that one organisation focused on wellbeing simply because it was the right thing to do. It was clear HR was moving from being reactive to being proactive in thinking about how to engage with staff to champion wellbeing.

A number of us had tried uniform approaches to wellbeing such as offering gym memberships. But what was clear was that everybody had different needs and a single approach was not going to work, especially in larger organisations. A few of us had used ‘nudge theory’ (although no one called it that), closing offices at certain times or encouraging staff not to eat at their desks. However this doesn't prevent staff working at home after hours and employers can't force people not to stay at their desks over lunch.

While the roundtable was themed on wellbeing, I could not help but be struck by the fact that delivering on wellbeing is intrinsically linked to diversity and inclusion. We all need to see the person, not the age, colour or gender, and not have preconceived ideas about what we think is best for them. If I take myself as an example, my faith is a big part of my wellbeing and having a quiet space to think, reflect and pray is a big part of how I cope with the daily stresses of life.

Shakil Butt is former director of HR and OD at Islamic Relief Worldwide, and founder of HR Hero 4 Hire