Round table debate: the relationship between wellbeing and organisational culture

Many employers now have some form of wellbeing strategy in place and spending on workplace wellbeing is on the increase, according to REBA’s Employee Wellbeing Research 2018. But with few company boards actively driving agendas, how can wellbeing take the next step and become truly embedded in a positive workplace culture?

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JLT Employee Benefits have been undertaking a review of the wellbeing market given the significant number of market product offerings available to businesses today and further to their ‘Thinking Beyond Reward’ research paper in 2018. JLT wanted to understand first hand from senior reward and benefit professionals how organisations are getting executive ‘buy in’ for wellbeing in the workplace, together with the role wellbeing plays in organisational culture and in the reward and benefit market in the years ahead.

We created a forum for debate together with 13 senior reward and HR professionals to discuss current and future directions for wellbeing in the workplace. Our round-table participants were from a mix of sectors including technology, education, retail, utilities and construction. They are at varying stages in their wellbeing strategy, with some saying that their organisation was building ‘Wellbeing 2.0’, whereas others felt they were at the very early stages of introducing wellbeing at work.

Our discussion focused on how to assess tangible returns from wellbeing benefits, the role of wellbeing in a reward and benefits strategy, and the relationship between wellbeing and a positive workplace culture.


Do current reward and benefit models provide a tangible return to the company?

All participants were convinced of the benefits of workplace wellbeing, but except for some base measures such as sickness absence rates, felt it can be challenging to identify and quantify tangible returns. “If you have healthy employees who are fit and at work, they are going to perform better – that’s common sense - but it can be hard to measure,” explained one participant.   

Delegates had approached the challenge in different ways, with ideas including a wellbeing index for employees, as well as using staff surveys to measure views.

Everyone agreed that personal feedback from employees is essential – and in some instances more effective than quantitative measures: “If your objective is to be a happy place where employees can do their best work, then on-the-spot feedback from a few people can be more effective than survey statistics in getting Board buy-in.”

Some participants talked about moving towards a conscious culture – where a business is committed to its social purpose and the values that underpin it such as accountability, transparency and personal growth. Here, wellbeing becomes inseparable from broader business objectives. One practitioner noted: “Even if wellbeing itself isn’t on the board’s agenda, their business priorities, such as reputation and engagement, are all intrinsically linked to it.”

Should wellbeing be the cornerstone of a modern reward and benefit offering?

To make wellbeing a central pillar of reward and benefits, it needs to be designed with the business’s culture and requirements in mind.  For example, in a global company where employees are required to work anti-social hours on a regular basis, the design of a wellbeing programme can mitigate the effects of the role.

Financial commitment, flexibility and a joined-up approach were identified as critical factors for an effective wellbeing programme, rather than paying ‘lip service’ by offering health benefits in isolation.

Some participants said that they had faced concerns about how employees would interpret benefits: “Could offering support for financial wellbeing imply that the business knows it is not paying staff enough?”, for example.  Others argued that offering benefits choice can mitigate this, so that employees choose the support they need, rather than being offered a one-size-fits-all approach.

“There is also a question of duty of care,” added a participant. “By not offering employees support when they are struggling financially or helping them to stay well mentally, are you failing in that duty?” 

Encouraging employees to create good health habits and to take responsibility for personal wellbeing – so that the strategy becomes “do with, rather than do to” – was also seen as important.  

Several of our participants had responsibility for global workforces. To make wellbeing relevant for all employees, their three main challenges were: harmonising benefits across multiple jurisdictions, making sure strategies are inclusive, and resolving any local clashes of culture and expectations.

The design of wellbeing products must evolve as well. Insuring an ageing workforce is becoming a concern, with some participants saying they can only cover employees up to the age of 65, despite having many employees beyond that age.

Our practitioners also added that they want to influence the insurance market so that mental and physical health are truly considered equal. “We still need more cultural learning to bring benefits up to the standard that we need,” concluded one participant.

What is the role of wellbeing in creating positive cultures and work environments?

Everyone agreed that commitment from board level is essential for wellbeing to become part of the fabric of a business. One delegate highlighted the importance of using the board’s own experiences to help with buy-in. “Nine out of ten members of your board will have their own experience of mental health issues, either personally or through someone that they know. If you can open up that knowledge, you can help to build understanding for all.”

Most participants agreed that wellbeing not only involves reward professionals, but also corporate social responsibility, occupational health, engagement and the business’s brand values.

Industry sector plays a part in ownership of wellbeing. In some sectors, such as construction, the key focus has traditionally been on health and safety; in other fields, it may be more closely aligned with engagement. However, participants agreed that if wellbeing is to become an integral part of company culture, it needs a joined-up approach that involves many different stakeholders, rather than being siloed in one department.

Practitioners agreed that wellbeing is fundamental to building exceptional workforces, with one concluding: “How can you be world class externally if you are not world class internally?”

It is clear from the discussion that workplace wellbeing has a significant role to play in the workplace of the future and that cultural alignment is crucial for its long term success. We look forward to hosting another gathering soon to preview further research that JLT are undertaking in this area together with exciting new research into the psychological and habit aspects of personal wellbeing.   

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