Sharing the load

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Sharing the load


‘Many hands make light work’ is a long-standing proverb with surprising modern applications.


In our in-depth research with businesses at different stages of evolving their workplace wellbeing approaches we could see that the more evolved their approach, the more people, of different roles and seniority, were involved in ensuring workplace wellbeing in a variety of ways.

Where workplace wellbeing was thriving, senior leaders set the tone by showing they thought it was important to ‘align to thrive’ – seeing that in the longer-term pursuing wellbeing goals could benefit staff and business together. As role models and influencers they acted as ‘catalysts’ for change.

These leaders were usually supported by people-focussed colleagues, for example occupational health and human resources professionals in larger organisations and those who take on the personnel responsibilities as parts of their roles in their smaller businesses. They use their subject expertise and experience to help inform the leaders and advise colleagues. They help monitor whether things are going well and provide early warning of any emerging challenges to work on.

Then, where workplace wellbeing was thriving, the wider workforce – colleagues showed their active support for each other and the programmes in place. Formal wellbeing examples include wellbeing champions or mental health first aiders embedded in teams, but line manager engagement and action is vital and even more fundamental. When line managers are supported to learn more about good management (spotting and intervening when people don’t seem themselves, signposting, role-modelling, managing work demands) and colleagues are encouraged to look out for each other in hard times, then wellbeing champions become a useful complement, rather than the only port of call.

It is also important for members of the wider workforce feel comfortable to step up to sit on committees or employee forums and make sure the employee voice is heard. This is part of the dialogue-building that underpins sustainable wellbeing approaches.


Want to know more about how sharing the load and other workplace practices helped our collaborating organisations through the Covid-19 crisis?

Download our briefing from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing on adopting productive and healthy workplace practices link: Find more detail on the roles different colleagues play (catalysts, practitioners, agents) and also the role of balance and suitable wellbeing resources.

Wellbeing champion story:

Financial services companies have in the past been famous for their long hours, pressured environments. One of our collaborating organisations is trying to change that in many ways. One of these ways is recognising the need to have people who are wellbeing aware and active throughout the company….

“At [our business] we have the well-being champions initiative.  So that’s people within the business. That’s where I kind of come from the well-being champions.  And that’s just trying to reach out to people and just let people know that there is this help there if people need it.  And we try to advertise it in a way, you know.  …We get a monthly newsletter and then we just make sure everyone in our business is aware of what’s available.  And also I try and have like coffees with groups of people, especially at the minute [during the Covid crisis].  On WhatsApp we just do a 15 minute coffee with different groups of people so that we can see faces and try and break that isolation a little bit.”

Having wellbeing champions in place is not a panacea though. It takes time for them to be known, trusted and for the culture of the wider business to feel in line with the messages coming out from such new initiatives….

“We have a flag on our desk, well-being champion, and if people are struggling they know they can come and talk to you.  But I just think some people are not, you know, not as eager to come forward for that help.  But it’s also looking out for people, looking out to see if people are looking particularly stressed and then, you know.  But then people are only going to open up to you as much as they’re going to open up.  I’ve done like taking people for coffee, just have a chat, see how they’re getting on.  A couple of people have said they appreciate that and, like I say, now because we’re in this virtual world it’s just getting small groups of people together, just having a chat and saying hello.”

“So far I’ve just spotted people and just approached people.  Not under the guise of ‘oh I’m the well-being champion, you know,’ just really as a friend.  Some people appreciate the chat but other people, you’ll have that chat with them and you say do you know this is available, I’ll send you the link, and you send them the link and they don’t do anything with it.  I think we’re kind of at a stage where some people may be embracing mental health in a different way to others and I think some people are still not over that hurdle of I can’t do that, I can’t be seen to be weak.  I think that mindset is still there with some people.  Even though like the management are so supportive, the people around are supportive, I still think that for some individuals they would struggle to reach out and ask for that help because they feel like oh I can’t go to HR, I can’t go to occupational health, because if I do go to occupational health then that’s going to be a mark against me type of thing… So, it really is key for a manager to be in tune and to see how their people are but also to recognise that a referral to occupational health is not a bad thing.”

Overcoming a history of a less supportive culture takes time…

“I have one example of somebody who, they won’t go to HR, they won’t go and get support from occupational health, because they just feel it will go against them.  And that’s just not the case.  I think it’s historical, you know, maybe something from like 10 years ago, and maybe this person has had different experiences to me and haven’t had a good experience.  My experience isn’t, you know, gosh, I mean it’s got to be 15 years probably that I’ve been using counselling or self-help, looking into that type of thing.  I just think it goes hand in hand with everything else.  I just still think that there are some people who won’t admit that they’re having a problem…  There is so much out there, I mean they’re brilliant for their staff, honestly.”

Taking a moment to think about sharing the load

As a leader:

  • In what ways do I role-model the wellbeing behaviours our business encourages and have I recently sought and acted upon feedback?
  • Are any of my senior leader colleagues ‘off-message’ or likely to counter- or undermine attempts to move towards wellbeing. Can I speak with them to discuss why this may be and what could be done to help?
  • Do our line managers take responsibility to be the first point of call for struggling employees? (e.g. do they understand when to support, get advice or signpost appropriately?)


As a wellbeing / HR practitioner:

  • How can I continue to improve my knowledge around health and wellbeing – to support our specific business?
  • What data and information (of whatever is the most appropriate kind) do we, as a business, collect on workforce wellbeing? How do I ensure senior leaders know about and trust this data and information as an evidence base to inform strategic and operational decision-making?




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