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Part 2: Understanding the difference between a health and wellbeing strategy and a health and wellbeing plan

In the second part of this blog series on health and wellbeing strategy, I’ll be looking at where the line is between a strategy and a plan – and how to decide which side of that line you sit.

As we saw in part one, we’re moving towards a future where most organisations have a wellbeing strategy, albeit this is not yet quite the reality. We know (from a range of surveys) that there is a genuine desire and an intention to get going in earnest with wellbeing, whether that be through an internal project or by engaging external experts to help. But in either case, I think there is very often a strong desire to move through the thought piece and quickly get into action. One of the drivers for this can be cultural; so in cultures characterised by pace, action and results, senior people are likely to be heard saying things like:

‘This consultation is all very well, but we do a lot of consultation – when are actually going to get on and do wellbeing?!’.

Of course, people who think this way are entitled to that view and in such cultures you might even say it’s understandable… but I don’t think it’s the right mindset to adopt in this context.

Your health and wellbeing strategy is there to provide a desired end state or vision

The reason for this assertion is that strategies are different to operational plans. As we noted in part one of this blog series, a strategy is there to provide a desired end state or vision for which to aim, and to describe the nature of the journey required to get there, as well as the kind of resources that are going to be needed along the way. On the other hand, an operational plan is a set of activities that will deliver the strategy – much more specific and time-bound – but also less rich in terms its ability to have a lasting and positive impact on the culture of the business.

Any health and wellbeing strategy must be connected to, and aligned with, the broader strategy and direction of the business

As such, it’s an enabler of the future that the Board has in mind for the overall business and its goals should be informed by those bigger, longer term objectives. So the big risk of getting into action too quickly is that there isn’t time to engage with the people at the top who can help to make those connections and build in the long view.

Of course, some businesses might not need to (and/or be ready to) take such a broad strategic approach. And actually that’s ok, provided all that’s required is a plan with positive activities to drive basic awareness and that you acknowledge what you still need to do in the future in the absence of having a truly joined up approach. In short, a well-constructed wellbeing plan is fine (and can be very useful) unless you decide to call it a strategy and expect it to deliver what only a strategy can!

Very often the planning approach is chosen because it’s narrower and feels easier to manage internally, rather than because it’s what’s best for the business. Again this can sometimes be the right decision, but I would always advise businesses considering getting started in this area to have a conversation with an expert before they make that decision. If nothing else, that’s about registering the difference between a plan and strategy when it comes to workplace wellbeing and factoring that into your thinking.

One can’t be too prescriptive about this, but whatever you end up doing (strategy or plan) the most important thing is to be clear upfront about why you’re interested in improving wellbeing inside your business and what you want to achieve by investing in it. Having a structured conversation (or more likely conversations) that involves the right people before deciding whether you’re taking the strategy or plan route can be invaluable. Avoid the temptation to short-cut into immediate actions and you will undoubtedly save yourself time, money, frustration and false-starts in the future. It’s natural that just getting going today and commissioning some support or training feels like the easiest solution, but business plans and strategies exist for a reason. Workplace health and wellbeing is no different.


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