A pro active appraoch

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A pro-active approach

Whilst visiting businesses for our research we realised:

  • Many employers understand that improving workplace wellbeing could help their business, but do not know what a good, rounded programme of activities to support wellbeing looks like in practice.
  • Many employers are already devising new activities and programmes that will have an impact on employee wellbeing, but do not realise these activities are part of their wellbeing approach, because of a narrow view of what ‘workplace wellbeing’ is and is not about.

In the mass media we are often shown aspirational images of silicon valley offices, with beanbags, mini-football and contracted ‘create what you like days’. These types of stories can give a false, superficial impression of what underpins good workplace wellbeing, making it look like workplace wellbeing can only be achieved if you have high profits and lots of money to spend.

While creating pleasant informal social spaces, showing respect for employee creativity, offering rewards and hosting wellbeing activities can all be great things to do within a wider context of good working conditions, if they help improve workplace wellbeing it will be because they are in line with a deeper intention of fostering good working relationships, showing the business is aware of wellbeing need and demonstrating managers are willing to pull back on short-term productivity for long-term people and business benefit.

In contrast to these media examples, evidence suggests that delivering improvements does not require lots of money, gifts and ‘fun’ activities but an embedded, authentic approach that then can be expressed in ways that suit each business and its employees. Believing that wellbeing is primarily about superficial fun and bonuses is what we call: ‘The Spangle trap’:


What is ‘the spangle trap’?

Spangles are shiny and distracting. They look good in the short-term.

‘The Spangle Trap’ is focussing only on occasional gifts / events rather than building workplace wellbeing considerations into the way the organisation operates on an everyday basis.

So how do you avoid the spangle trap and instead put in place affordable, sustainable activities that evolve over time with the needs of your workforce? Insight from our collaborating organisations on how wellbeing programmes evolve over time suggests that you pro-actively focus on the basics of how being at work impacts on people and how people interact with each other.  Conditions, security, pay, management, relationships, opportunities and doing work that makes a positive difference all impact on employee physical and mental wellbeing. That is – the very substance of how work is organised and managed.

In previous workshops and seminars with employers, the idea of the ‘spangle trap’ has helped people to distinguish activities undertaken to ‘look busy’ on wellbeing and those that genuinely address fundamental human needs for support, interaction, meaning and more.

The consequences of interactions with colleagues and managers, as well as the available resources to do your job well, are incredibly important everyday influences. They determine whether people enjoy their jobs, work conscientiously and intend to leave or stay in the near future. Wellbeing is not a niche activity, but the underpinning foundation of good work.


Not yet sure whether you’ve fallen into the spangle trap?

Once you are convinced of the business case (see Align to Thrive) and realise how broad the remit of workplace wellbeing is, how do you start to set out a programme of activities and systems to help you build your foundation? Here’s a list of examples of what large and small businesses are doing in real life that makes a difference to wellbeing. You don’t have to do all of these – they are offered as inspiration and ideas to help you be pro-active and to think open-mindedly about suitable options for your specific workplace.


Health/wellness promotion ‘Help if you’re struggling’Good relationships Good managersHigh quality jobs
Small and medium-sized enterprises– NHS health checks
– NHS flyers
– Piggybacking national campaigns (smoking, stress, sleeping etc.)
– Cycling / walking outings
– Actions to address the working environment – safe, clean, pleasant
– Inspirational talks
– Resilience and / or mindfulness courses
– Cards and posters on the support available in-house
– Approachable people
– Ad hoc signposting: NHS, charities and counselling
– Occupational health
– Mental health first aiders
– Part-subsidised physiotherapy
– Part- or wholly-subsidised counselling
– Private medical insurance
– Spaces to interact (e.g. staff rooms, canteens)
– Parties / nights out
– Christmas or milestone event balls / dinners
– Opportunities to take part in charity fundraising
– Conversations over table tennis / games
– Continuous improvement meetings/ discussions across departments
– Availability via walking the office / shop floor regularly
– Offering praise and being interested
– Recruiting managers for attitude and ethos
– Providing external line manager training (e.g. ILM, CMI, ECITB)
– Training managers as trainers
– Open door culture
– Job-related training
– Appraisals around training, wellbeing and demands
– No zero hours contracts
– Coaching
– Using free external engagement surveys to identify issues
– Development courses
– Encouraging rest and refresh (e.g. via taking all holiday and breaks)
Larger businesses– Health checks
– Wellbeing days / weeks
– Cycle to work schemes, running clubs, gym discounts and challenges
– Courses (stress, dementia, debt, mindfulness)
– Healthy food canteens
– National campaigns like ‘Time to change’
– Actions to address the working environment
– Space for external providers to provide massage or other therapies
– Contemplative space
– HR teams – open door
– Employee Assistance Programmes (confidential, externally-provided telephone / online advice)
– Internal intranet info sites
– Wellbeing information as part of the induction
– Occupational health
– Subsidised counselling
– Subsidised physiotherapy
– Mental health first aiders
– Absence management procedures
– Private medical insurance
– Income protection scheme
– Spaces to interact (with free tea and coffee, TVs, music and other perks)
– Christmas party budget
– Business milestone events
– Charity of the year programme to vote for and raise funds together
– Paid volunteering days (1 or 2 per year per person)
– Away days / Team cohesiveness training
– Monthly communications packages designed for line managers to deliver
– Mediation-trained staff
– Senior management availability and example
– Internal line manager / leadership training
– Absence management and rapport-building training
– MIND / Time to Change training on mental health
– Recruiting managers for attitude, ethos and people management experience
– Manager guidelines on respect, praise, feedback
– Role-modelling
– 360deg leadership analysis
– Open door culture
– Job-related training from a dedicated training budget
– Supportive appraisals around work life balance, roles and development
– Encouraging staff to use discretion (e.g. no scripts)
– Paying the living wage
– Internal and external mentoring and coaching
– Using engagement surveys / focus groups / forums to identify issues and act
– Flexible working options
– Public commitments to wellbeing: plan / vision
PrinciplesRaising awareness
Preventing problems
Learning together
Identifying issues early
Being supportive
Signposting to help
Knowing each other better
Sharing purpose
Asking and listening
Valuing people skills
Designing quality jobs
Developing people
Getting the basics right


Practitioner examples – pro-active attention to the fundamental organisation of work

In the construction industry, working patterns traditionally include notoriously long hours. A large construction firm tried to work on changing wellbeing norms – not by offering wellbeing ‘spangles’ but through thinking about how working hours could be organised better:

“We’ve done so much around mental health. … We’ve done a lot of work and probably the thing that’s maybe been more influential and impacts the workers’ well-being more has been around shift patterns and designing their working arrangements.

So, I’ll give you an example. Traditionally in the industry they would work seven 12-hour shifts days, have four days off, and then work seven 12-hour night shifts and then have three days off. I mean a horrendous shift pattern. You can imagine by the last night shift how these workers are feeling. That’s what traditionally has been done. So, at [our company] we said right, we’re not going to allow anyone to work that. But the balance has been really hard because, one, they’re still hourly paid so for them, changing them to an 8-hour shift pattern means less money. A lot of them work away from home….

So, we’ve done quite a lot of work with managers and the site workers about trying to design shift patterns that are better for them, that will enable them to have the social interactions, be able to do things that they want to at the weekend or with their family. And probably that is more meaningful to them than some stuff around nutrition.”

In a large pharmaceutical company, wellbeing is looked at from a range of different angles which impact directly on how people feel at work on an everyday basis:

“Where we have really focused is on the physical energy and making sure that we are creating the right environment for colleagues. And setting expectations that this is not an environment where you come in at 8 in the morning and you stay until late at night. You work flexibly to meet the needs that you have for your family and your role and business needs. …

I think increasingly … we had greater focus on mental wellbeing … in our [x] site where I think it was ahead of the organisation in terms of running some pilots for us around what we can do to support colleagues in very early phases of mental health [issues], to actually prevent issues from arising in the first place.

Unfortunately, some colleagues do develop mental health challenges and illness. What is the support that we would put in place there? And trying to normalise that to help them and the rest of the organisation to see that mental illness – whilst you may not always see it or hear people talk about it – is the same as physical illness like breaking a leg. So that’s a journey we are on that’s really working.”


Taking a moment to think about pro-active approach

As a leader:

  • Do we as a business take a pro-active approach to improving wellbeing instead of waiting to react to individual issues that arise?
  • In what ways do I show colleagues that I am open to considering different ways of approaching working practices, conditions or relationships as part of our businesses’ approach to wellbeing?
  • Are our line managers pro-active in exploring, with their teams, small changes that could benefit our wellbeing and work performance?

As a wellbeing / HR practitioner:

  • Am I showing others that I am available to help leaders and managers think through the wellbeing implications of areas of business that might not traditionally seem like my remit?
  • Considering what I do in my role as a whole – how central are my efforts to embed good communication and management practices throughout the organisation long-term, compared to offering ‘quick fix’ events or gifts to try to make a generally poor working experience seem a little better?


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