There are many varied definitions of well-being. However the CIPD sums it up nicely in its belief that well-being at work initiatives need to balance the needs of the employee with those of the organisation. They define it as:

‘Creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation.’

Well-being is more than an avoidance of becoming physically sick. It represents a broader bio-psycho-social construct that includes physical, mental and social health. Well employees are physically and mentally able, willing to contribute in the workplace and likely to be more engaged at work. Other CIPD research shows employee engagement influences a range of variables, including employee turnover and absence.

The achievement of personal well-being involves a number of positive decisions regarding lifestyle. This is very different to stress avoidance with the negative connotation of being unable to cope and falling ill prior to any action being taken. In their ideal form, well-being initiatives are proactive and work to enable employees to achieve their full potential – physical, mental, social, intellectual and spiritual.

Well-being at work, therefore, is not merely about managing a physical and cultural environment with the limited aim of not causing harm to employees. It requires organisations to actively assist people to maximise their physical and mental health. The well-being approach also brings benefits for people at all levels inside and outside the workplace. It makes the workplace a more productive, attractive and corporately responsible place to work. Positive well-being can also benefit the local community and, more broadly, the country as a whole due to well people requiring less support from the health services. Today there are a number of organisations working to promote and maximise well-being initiatives that also improve the well-being of their local communities.

In the past, well-being was something that was provided for employees by beneficent employers. Today employers and employees share that responsibility in partnership. Your organisation can create and support an environment where employees can be healthier through providing information and access to schemes to improve well-being. However, well-being is ultimately an individual’s responsibility requiring education and a degree of self-awareness.

One of the reasons for the wide variety of ways of defining well-being is that the term has come to mean different things to different people. For some people the ability to do 50 press-ups may be a sign of well-being, while for others the intellectual challenge of handling a difficult meeting well may provide the positive experience of well-being. The nature and range of provisions therefore need to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual employees and their organisation.

Well-being is a subjective experience. It can involve practical measures such as introducing healthy food or a gym at work, or perhaps less tangible initiatives such as working to match the values and beliefs held by employees with those of their organisation. It could be argued that a change in the way employees are engaged in discussions about how their work is organised could have more of an impact on an individual’s well-being than the introduction of a corporate gym.

Well-being will run the risk of being dismissed as a gimmick unless those involved in its introduction and promotion demonstrate the positive business benefits that it brings. To be effective, employee well-being needs to be part of a regular business dialogue and to be deeply embedded into an organisational culture. The well-being dialogue can be beneficial to employees’ health by making employees feel valued and by giving them an opportunity to use their experiences to improve their working environment.

Many organisations are trying to create a balance between maximising productivity and the risk that their employees may burn out, making costly errors or resigning. An understanding of a holistic approach that underlies well-being, and development of initiatives co-ordinated with other HR policies can offer an approach to achieve that balance.

Organisational well-being:

Organisational well-being is about many things, but some of the most important include employees having meaningful and challenging work and having an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in effective working relationships with colleagues and managers in a safe and healthy environment. Well-being-orientated organisations provide the tools to get the job done and the opportunity to achieve personal aspirations while maintaining work–life balance. Some of the essential factors leading to organisational and personal well-being are:

  • values-based working environment and management style
  • open communication and dialogue
  • teamworking and co-operation
  • clarity and unity of purpose
  • flexibility, discretion and support for reasonable risk-taking
  • a balance between work and personal life
  • the ability to negotiate workload and work pace without fear of reprisals or punishment
  • being fairly compensated in terms of salary and benefits

(Kraybill, 2003)

Employers should focus on creating a workplace culture in which everyone feels included, valued and respected. To foster personal responsibility and engagement, a balanced approach is needed to address diverse stakeholder and organisational interests and preferences. Creating a climate of mutual respect and dignity will foster improved working relationships and contribute to productivity and business performance.

Employee well-being:

Perhaps the most important factor in employee well-being is the relationships employees have with their immediate manager. Where there are strong relationships between managers and staff, levels of well-being are enhanced. A good manager will recognise the strengths, likes and dislikes of their team members and will be able to recognise when the volume or complexity of the work is too much for a particular team member. The more capable that line managers are in identifying the personal interests and concerns of the individual, the more likely they will be able to create a team where employee well-being becomes an integral part of getting the job done.

Employee well-being involves:

  • maintaining a healthy body by making healthy choices about diet, exercise and leisure
  • developing an attitude of mind that enables the employee to have self-confidence, self-respect and to be emotionally resilient
  • having a sense of purpose, feelings of fulfilment and meaning
  • possessing an active mind that is alert, open to new experiences, curious and creative
  • having a network of relationships that are supportive and nurturing

(Canadian Centre for Management Development, 2002)

Source: CIPD Change Agenda

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