Professionalising the Wellbeing role through qualifications


While the Wellbeing industry has come on leaps and bounds in recent years in terms of credibility and working towards rigorous, respected measurement methods, there is still a sense that it needs to do more to be treated like a ‘proper’ profession.

For Maria Anderson, Global Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing, Cambridge University Press – who spoke on our panel about ‘The Future of the employee wellbeing profession’ at The Watercooler Event – it’s vital that we as an industry “study and never stop learning because we need to bring that knowledge into the workplace to change the image of the wellbeing professional”. 

Wellbeing needs to be seen as strategic

She believes that with more emphasis on the training and knowledge needed to do Wellbeing jobs, the function would be seen as more strategic: “When I joined CUP seven years ago, the Wellbeing team was seen more as our events organiser, and there to give ergonomic and adjustment advice. But I’ve been championing the change that the Wellbeing professional is a strategic thinker and influencer”.

Nick Pahl, Chief Executive of the Society of Occupational Medicine, has also got this issue very much on his radar and urges people working in Wellbeing “see themselves as professionals, and act like professionals”. But he has concerns with the status quo:

“There isn’t a professional regulator, as such, and there is a potential backlash of people thinking [of wellbeing professionals] where’s the evidence base for what you’re doing?”

Speaking the language of business

Naturally, he’s an advocate for talent with an Occupational Health background to lead on Wellbeing, arguing they are best placed with their clinical evidence-based backgrounds. While this is certainly a strong case, others also note that a training challenge with these individuals is that they have to learn to speak the corporate language. 

Jen Fisher, Human Sustainability Leader, Deloitte US, picks up on this point, saying that those with clinical backgrounds without commercial experience often have to learn to pivot their knowledge to answer questions like “what is the business narrative?” and “how do I communicate that to business leaders and not to academics or psychologists?”

Across the pond, in the States, Fisher believes that the profession also needs “elevated”. In her experience “all too often these roles are being buried somewhere in benefits; but Wellbeing isn’t a benefit… Wellbeing is supported by benefits programmes, but it’s not a benefit, it’s an outcome.” She agrees with Anderson that “more rigour around the training that’s needed” could elevate the way the profession is seen.

What qualifications?

But what qualifications are currently out there to help build your career in employee health and wellbeing? Beyond the MSc in Workplace Health & Wellbeing, offered by the University of Nottingham, and the Working with Wellbeing qualification that NEBOSH runs, what other credible qualifications are available to help professionals who want to advance their career in employee health and wellbeing?

We posed these questions on LinkedIn, quickly finding that this is a zeitgeist topic that people are currently grappling with.

Stuart Mace, Occupational Health and Wellbeing Lead, Skanska, for example, says that “there is a real need for comprehensive qualifications in the industry”, echoing again fears around the perception of the profession, as well as hinting at the lack of ‘gold standards’ regarding qualification as yet:

“There is a real danger with organisations being satisfied with those who are charged with the health and wellbeing of employees, simply having workplace health and wellbeing bolted on to their existing job because they have a ‘passion for it’, or lived experience, or the department they happen to work in.”

The need for continuous learning

A quick look at Mace’s CV shows how committed he is to continuous learning – as well as completing both the University of Nottingham’s Master of Science, Workplace Health and Wellbeing and NEBOSH’s Wellbeing in Work certificate, he’s also done some ISO 45003 training in psychological health and safety with FlourishDx.

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But while he encourages health and wellbeing leaders to accumulate as much knowledge as possible, he also stresses the need to take the learning and adapt it rather than applying it in a blanket way:

“I’m all for workplace health and wellbeing leaders to have as much knowledge as possible and being able to appropriately apply to THEIR organisation. 45003 is not for everyone, however, and doesn’t ultimately eliminate psychosocial risks, it identifies them and then there is an expectancy that organisations act on the risks. Knowing the content would certainly be valuable, however, the maturity of an organisation’s health and wellbeing is a factor. The resource, value and commitment from the organisation are also considerations.”

Skill yourself up

Marcus Hunt, Head of Employee Health and Wellbeing, APAC & EMEA, Johnson & Johnson, is similarly committed to continuous study, with his CV also including the NEBOSH qualification, as well as an MSc in Organisational and Occupational Psychology from Birbeck, University of London. His advice to “all aspiring Wellbeing influencers” is to skill yourself up in a way that helps you “establish the root cause of disharmony, dysfunction, underperformance, etc”. He also believes that “having peers and mentors is super critical” because these help to “consolidate and embed formal learning, and to prepare and undertake calculated risks”.

Perhaps it will be Jo Yarker, Professor in Occupational Psychology at Birbeck, University of London, and her colleagues, who will come up with the “comprehensive qualification” that Mace hopes for…. She reveals that she is “in the middle of scoping out a programme to address this gap”.

No qualification yet for all backgrounds

“We often find our research partners, University students and clients have many pieces of the jigsaw but, as everyone comes with different experience, backgrounds and priorities, it can be difficult to put it all together,” she says, adding that there will be more news on this development “soon” (as well as saying she is “very open” to hearing ideas people may have, should they wish to contact her).

Regardless of which qualification you choose (see below for summary of courses suggested), the Wellbeing sector is evolving at such a rapid pace that qualifications will not be enough to stay at the top of (or ahead of) the game.

As another of our Watercooler Panellists, Professor Liza Jachens, Deputy Course Director, MSc in Workplace Health & Wellbeing at University of Nottingham says, “it’s super important we all embrace continuous learning because the work environment is always changing”.

And that has never been more true than in the last few years. Even with a CV to bursting of qualifications, who would have ever predicted, after all, a global pandemic to kickstart a new learning revolution in hybrid and remote learning? 

A good reminder, perhaps, of the huge value of learning on the job, alongside any studies.

Recommended Qualifications for Workplace Health and Wellbeing

Course name: Workplace Health and Wellbeing (Distance Learning)

Organisation: University of Nottingham

How long it lasts: Part time up to 36 months (no full time available)

Qualification at end: MSc/PGDip

Entry requirements: 2:2

Cost: MSc: £11,850, PGDip: £7,900

Course name: Organizational Psychology

Organisation: Birbeck University of London

How long it lasts: Options from 1 year full time flexible/online learning to 2 years part time flexible/online learning

Qualification at end: MSc

Cost: From £6075 per year for part time home students, to £19,830 for full time international students

Entry requirements: 2:2 or above

Course name: Working with Wellbeing

Organisation: NEBOSH

How long it lasts: this one-day qualification has a minimum of 6 hours study with a recommendation of 1 hour for the assessment

Entry requirements: none

Cost: varies depending on learning partner

Note there are also a host of courses offered by respected health and wellbeing consultants in this space, some of which are mentioned in the LinkedIn post mentioned above which you can read here.

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