Writing a wellbeing strategy which resonates

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Beginner’s Guide to writing a wellbeing strategy – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, directed at professionals embarking on writing their company’s wellbeing strategy, we covered the importance of having a vision, defining what you mean by both ‘strategy’ and ‘wellbeing’ and the merits of using an established framework.

In this section, part 2, we go further indepth on progressing through a framework in order to write a strategy which resonates and is relevant to both your employees and each business function.

The importance of consultation

In order to be effective, your strategy must be created in constant consultation with your business. 

Yes, this is so you can get familiar with employee wellbeing needs and cater to them, but also so you can bring them with you on the journey, naturally getting their buy-in for later when the strategy is rolled out.

And yes, consultative processes can be messy and hard because you are dealing with human beings, who are rarely straightforward, but ensuring they feel heard is vital to success and engagement. 

Good leadership of the process is vital

Another ingredient of success and a strategy that resonates is clear leadership of the process. As Jo Yarker, director, Affinity Health at Work, says:

“The most effective approach is when there is a clear owner of the strategy because, otherwise, the lines are blurred and there’s no accountability. But there needs to be collaboration with all the key stakeholders [such as HR, finance, DEI, Health and Safety, the board, etc] so that everyone is invested and sees their activities reflected in the strategy.”

One of the issues in the wellbeing industry, with it being in its infancy, is that not all the roles have the seniority that is helpful to gain visibility and credibility. If this is you, consider seeking sponsorship from someone more senior than you, ideally with board representation, to amplify your work and voice.

The courage to be upfront

It’s important at this stage to have the courage to be upfront. Yarker suggests before you start, be clear on the answers to questions such as:

  • What can we realistically achieve this year, and in the next five years? 
  • What budget will be allocated to developing the wellbeing strategy? 
  • What budget will be allocated to delivering the wellbeing strategy?
  • Where is the budget going to come out of in order to make the strategy happen?
  • Has the definition of wellbeing (outlined in Part 1) been accepted and once it starts taking shape, does it work for your organisation?
  • Is every function clear of its responsibility? 
  • What are the specific activities that need to happen to deliver the wellbeing strategy?

Once you’re clear on these questions, you can move onto identifying your organisation’s wellbeing needs.

The assumptions trap

A significant trap that professionals fall into when they embark on this consultative process which prevents a strategy that resonates is making assumptions based on their own level of knowledge and expertise.

Dr Shaun Davis, Group Director of Safety, Health and Wellbeing, at Belron, took up his role about a year ago, tasked with the challenge of creating a wellbeing strategy, and is very self-effacing on this front. 

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While he is a hugely experienced professional, having done his doctoral thesis on wellbeing an organisational culture and worked in the industry for 20 years, he soon realised that he had to meet his new organisation, and its employees, where they were, rather than where he was.

Blank stares

“At first I made an assumption that there was a base level knowledge, an awareness of what ‘good’ looked like and an awareness of what we needed to do. But when I started talking about these things I literally got blank stares back,” he says.

Taking a step back, he realised he had to simplify his vocabulary and build education into the process. He also – in typically self-aware fashion – realised he had to “get out” his own way and stop making any assumptions about how much employees knew, ditching the doubt making him feel like he was being “patronising”. 

Change takes time

All this might mean that writing, let alone implementing, a wellbeing strategy might take longer than you’d anticipated, or hoped, to do effectively. 

Dr Davis’s other top tip alongside “don’t make any assumptions”, is “don’t let one or two people define wellbeing for you”:

“So if you have some employees that say ‘oh, we’ve got a terrible wellbeing culture here’, don’t take that at face value. Ask: are there one or two people that have got a disproportionately loud voice? You want a wellbeing strategy that is all-encompassing and doesn’t exclude anybody, but that reflects the demographics you’ve got.”

Where are your employees on the wellbeing spectrum?

When considering the demographics of your employee base, you also need to identify where the majority are on the wellbeing spectrum, as this will inform a strategy which resonates.

It’s important to define whether your strategy is going to focus solely on supporting employee wellbeing, or also on supporting ill-health. Ideally, a strategy needs to do both but, whether you can do this or not, may be dictated by your budget. 

“Preventative mental health strategies are very different to those managing employees who have already stepped into need and require professional support beyond the scope of a Mental Health First Aider,” says Marteka Swaby, Founder, Benevolent Health. “When people are struggling, they may fall into stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, etc, and that needs a more formalised approach such as an EAP for counselling or therapy.”

Ask your employees about their wellbeing

To gauge where most of your employees are on this spectrum, Swaby suggests getting the workforce to take a basic stress risk assessment asking them how they are feeling about their wellbeing.

“It doesn’t have to be a really formal assessment, it could just be five simple questions to pulse check how people are feeling about their workload, autonomy and relationships with bosses and colleagues,” she says. 

Yarker suggests simply asking employees the open question of: what do you need for your wellbeing? 

Use your existing data

Once you’ve consulted employees, Swaby advises combining this data with existing data around metrics like absence, engagement and EAP utilisation, to get a fuller picture. There is a lot you can do earlier on to address presenteeism, which is not possible when people are off on longer term sickness.

“Most organisations have this kind of data, so it’s a good place to start. I’d also advise looking at presenteeism, which is an area employers often miss, but is just as important as absenteeism,” she says.

At this point you should now be getting an idea of where your organisations’ wellbeing needs predominantly lie.

Don’t forget the framework

As mentioned in Part 1, using a framework to progress methodically through tasks, which you can tick off, gives you reassurance that you haven’t missed anything while putting together your wellbeing strategy. It also helps you identify gaps in provision. (See here for an example from Affinity Health at Work).

One of the first questions, says Yarker, you need to be thinking about at this stage are what your organisation’s “pillars” of wellbeing are. How broad or narrow will your wellbeing strategy be?

Your personal pillars of wellbeing

For many organisations, pillars include physical, mental and financial. Other organisations might add psychosocial and Dr Davis is passionate about adding, since the Covid global pandemic, a “spiritual” pillar; another piece of vocabulary he has spent time talking to colleagues about, and raising awareness of:

“By spiritual pillar I mean belonging in the sense of community. For some, like me, you might get this from the Church. Some from nature, others from exercise, or friends.”

Then Yarker goes on to suggest asking:

  • How do you define these pillars? Does the language work for your organisation?
  • How do you separate them out so that you’ve got distinct activities under each pillar?
  • How do you translate your strategy into terms that managers can understand and support?
  • How do you ensure that everyone is clear on their responsibilities and what they need to deliver?

“You need a clear plan of how you’re going to operationalise your plan,” says Yarker. “Which means that you need to communicate your strategy in a cascaded way, ensuring that it’s reported on a board level and you can see progress being made.”

As this feature should have made clear, being in continual dialogue with your business while you write your wellbeing strategy is essential to create a strategy that resonates. What we haven’t gone into detail into yet is the importance of always having your eyes on the ultimate prize: ensuring your strategy is taken seriously by senior management and the board. For tips on how to do this, look out for Part 3 of this ‘Beginner’s Guide’ series!

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