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The importance of dialogue
During a small project to understand how business leaders could use the workplace wellbeing insight from our wellbeing research, we asked one owner-manager about the wellbeing initiatives he had tried to implement at his firm, without much change in wellbeing:
“Business leader: It’s the same small minority who embrace and get involved and it’s a little bit of a challenge… at the moment… If I’m honest, I’m a little bit surprised that it hasn’t been embraced by the guys and girls within the company…
Interviewer: Have you had a chance to chat with them about that?
Business leader: No. No. If I’m honest…”
Respondent from a medium-sized manufacturing and engineering sector business
The exchange above was not unusual during the conversations with business practitioners. Many respondents commented on low take-up of new initiatives they had tried. However, they had not necessarily taken steps to ask the workforce why or whether any other initiatives would have been more useful or popular. It was interesting to see that quite a few of the respondents simply had not thought of asking their employees but could see it as a useful thing to do when it was suggested. One impression was that sometimes senior managers believed that they should ‘know and do’ for their organisation, rather than sometimes ask and listen.
Our more recent, much larger project confirmed that those businesses where workplace wellbeing was thriving, were those where there was ongoing dialogue throughout the business about what could be better, how it could be made better, trying out relevant solutions and then checking back to see what made a difference – in short pro-actively evolving the workplace wellbeing approach with the co-operation of all involved (part of sharing the load). We saw that this process of continuous dialogue conveyed authenticity to the wellbeing programme, something which then started to overcome historical reluctance to share wellbeing concerns with the business (see champion story in sharing the load).
In a small IT firm trying for exemplary workplace wellbeing, there had been an accumulation of initiatives since start-up. They realised it would be useful to check what was and was not making a difference…
“So, a lot of the things that we have got in place, the things I have just spoken through with you, have been with the company pretty much since they started or very much in the early days. So, the training budget, the travel cards, the wellness allowance, the flexible hours they have all been just the way we do stuff. But I have just conducted a benefits review so in the time that we have had we have never actually done a review of the benefits to see whether there are things that people want. And if there is anything else that people would be interested in having.
I did a review of benefits asking people what their thoughts were on the existing benefits, what were the most beneficial to them, what were the least beneficial to them. And that’s where I found the travel card was by far and away the thing that most people appreciated. We also offer morning yoga to people and that was the one that was a bit more divisive, the people who do it love it, the people who don’t: like ‘it’s not interesting to me’….
But on top of that I gave people a suite of suggestions of additional benefits that they might be interested in just to gauge whether people would want other or more benefits. And not surprisingly the ones that people came out wanting the most were things around flexibility and time off. As I said we had an informal flexible working policy what we are going to do now starting from April is formalise that and actually have core hours. So, we will have core hours of ten to four and then people can choose if they would like to come in early and leave early or developers they are up until 3 in the morning at home so they like to come in later and work later. It’s something that we are going to have to manage but we decided to do that because we did this benefits review and found that that was the one thing that people really wanted a more formalised flexible work from home policy.
And then there were other things like, surprisingly I had lots in there that people just didn’t want an employee assistance programme which is something that I am quite used to being in larger organisation, nobody was interested in that. Which is actually quite a good reflection on our company because it shows that they get enough support internally that they don’t need that extra normal help line. But had I not done that review I instinctively would have thought we should invest in that. But the employees are saying to me actually we don’t need it. So we are not going to spend the money on something that people don’t necessarily use. … I have done some research into what we might add next. … So that’s one of the benefits of being this kind of SME size that we can do these kind of things.”
Taking a moment to think about how dialogue and the process of evolving workplace wellbeing interact:
This is a process for the whole workforce. You can implement it as a senior leader or HR/wellbeing practitioner. As we saw in ‘sharing the load’ – everyone has a role to play. The important point is that the discussion and interchange of views is continuous and groups of the workforce are not excluded.
LISTEN – Ensure that there are ways of really hearing what is going on for your workforce – relevant to your size of organisation. Surveys are good, especially for benchmarking, but you will probably need formal or informal ways of discussing issues too – at individual and group level (1-1s, employee forums etc.)
IMAGINE – Involve the employees in thinking through what better would look like and what could feasibly be done to reach that point. A common way to approach this task from a leader / HR point of view might be to see how other businesses have dealt with this problem. This can really help with ideas, but expect to need to tailor any initiative to your setting (avoiding cookie-cutter initiatives!)
PILOT – Let your workforce know you would like to try out the new activity, approach, programme, initiative etc. but that you will also be taking feedback on it in due course to see how it needs to be tailored more for the specific business.
EVOLVE – Don’t stop listening and imagining when one thing seems to be working well! The need for a pro-active approach includes making sure you have many, varied, regular formal and informal ways to discuss wellbeing issues and how the current wellbeing approach is working.
- Watch a PrOPEL Hub Masterclass, where two business leaders talk about their pro-active and embedded approaches to wellbeing: https://www.propelhub.org/people-performance-and-wellbeing-in-manufacturing/
- Where are you on the workplace wellbeing journey 2 pager http://propelhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2018_Where-are-you-on-the-workplace-wellbeing-journey_UEA-ESRC.pdf