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Who is responsible for getting wellbeing right?

The link between a happy and healthy workforce and high levels of productivity is an established one – Good Days at Work really count in today’s competitive and rapidly changing work environments. 

Our own analysis on the business benefits of actively improving wellbeing in organisations estimates that improving the wellbeing by a very modest amount (1 standard deviation) results in an increase in productivity worth £1,201 per individual.  Investment in wellbeing is wise for organisations who want high performance. 

But to achieve the increases in wellbeing that organisations desire, we must have a clear view about who has the responsibility for making sure wellbeing is part of everyday working life within organisations.

It’s a complex question, and one that we at Robertson Cooper help our clients untangle.

In and around every organisation there are all sorts of stakeholders for wellbeing – from the Government through the CEO and the Board, right down to the individual employee – all of whom have different roles to play. Of these, it is tempting to think of line managers as having the most responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff (‘people leave managers not organisations’). Indeed, they are often seen as the agents of any initiative, wellbeing or otherwise, within organisations.

They certainly do play a crucial role; balancing challenge and support for their workgroups, forming genuine relationships and listening to staff needs. At the same time, they have a role in coaching team members to understand and manage their own wellbeing and resilience levels, while proactively managing absence and flexible working. It’s a long list which shows why managers are the focus for much of the research and best practice around making wellbeing happen. 

But managers don’t operate in a vacuum and we can’t place all of the responsibility for wellbeing at their door. Managers need to know where wellbeing sits as part of the broader organisational strategy, to help them to prioritise initiatives and compete for scarce resources. In this way, mapping responsibility is as much a part of ensuring wellbeing ‘happens’ as building the business case for it with identifiable savings and efficiencies.

But line managers don’t have to resign themselves to being caught in the classic ‘management sandwich’, having requirements fed down to them from an executive team and then finding ways to meet them. If they can facilitate the flow of information upwards they can play an active role in creating the responsibility map for wellbeing in their organisation, as well as helping to set the agenda for action. They are in a unique position to make this happen, unlocking valuable information from within their teams and the day-to-day experiences of the ‘shop floor’.

Roles are clearly important when it comes to mapping who owns what when it comes to getting wellbeing right, but we cannot ignore the importance of the interactions between those roles. In this sense, perhaps this set of organisational relationships designed to deliver wellbeing is better conceptualised as an eco-system than a map. Seeing it this way emphasises the importance of each element in relation to others, and the potential problems that can arise if just one stakeholder group isn’t committed to the concept of wellbeing. This is where the chief executive and their management team can be so integral in modelling behaviours very visibly for other groups in the organisation, encouraging their adoption and giving out business functions permission to define wellbeing for themselves.

Clearly, managers cannot set the agenda on their own. Whilst they can collect the metrics required to demonstrate the difference their policies are making to the bottom line, feeding the information back to increase senior management buy-in, there needs to be a wider appetite, and hence responsibility for, workplace wellbeing. Part of this comes from other groups in the wellbeing eco-system, those external to the organisation such as charities or democratic movements of the kind promoted by Action for Happiness. Indeed one aim Robertson Cooper had clearly in mind in helping to establish the Good Day at Work network was that of assisting managers to make the case for wellbeing within their organisations, as well giving access to resources that can build knowledge and capability, at a time when business-funded training is in short supply.

By creating a system of classification which identifies each component and takes into account the way that they interconnect, we have an opportunity to create something that will help organisations and their managers build firmer foundations for change and get started with embedding wellbeing much more quickly. Mapping this eco-system has to be the starting point if we are to achieve the ambitious and admirable resolution of increasing wellbeing at work.

At Robertson Cooper, we use a simple framework to help organisations map out their own wellbeing eco-system, taking in all the component parts enabling our client organisations to set their priorities and make sure that their wellbeing work delivers impact and measurable results.   


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