Help! I need a wellbeing strategy. Where do I start?


Beginner’s Guide to writing a wellbeing strategy – Part 1

You’ve been tasked with writing your company’s wellbeing strategy. But where on earth do you start?

Don’t worry if you feel slightly overwhelmed at this point, that’s normal. The burgeoning wellbeing industry is growing and evolving rapidly, full of enthusiastic suppliers keen to sell their wares and tell you about the latest, greatest solution.

To reassure you if you’ve never done this before, even the most respected, experienced wellbeing leaders in the industry feel this sense of overwhelm sometimes.

Take Dr Shaun Davis, for example. He has more letters behind his name, including an MBA, than most other wellbeing experts, but he admits that starting from scratch in creating a wellbeing strategy can be “super tough” and requires you to “dig deep” while you grapple with a long list of “competing priorities”.

Be kind to yourself; acknowledge the challenge

After ten years at Royal Mail, this is exactly what he’s doing now at Belron International, where he is Group Director of Safety, Health and Wellbeing.

“I did 10 years at Royal Mail…I knew the place inside out and upside down and then I came here and I’m the new kid, with a new culture and a new way of doing things.”

His top piece of advice, before you get into the nitty gritty of strategy-setting is to “be kind to yourself and remind yourself not to be too hard on yourself, and that kindness is as much of an internal activity as an external one.”

Connect with your ‘why’

Another crucial ‘inner’ step that many starting out on this task forget to do is really connect with ‘why’ they are creating this wellbeing strategy. Whether you’re a wellbeing professional, a safety specialist, in occupational health or DEI, or even a CEO, you need to be clear about what part of the challenge motivates you most, as this will keep you going through the inevitable tough spells.

If you’re writing this strategy at all, it’s a fair bet to guess that your motivation comes from one of two things, or both:

  1. Supporting your colleagues to be the healthiest versions of themselves is a right, good thing to do
  2. Creating healthy, happy people means more productive employees and healthier profits

Use your imagination

Andy Holmes former Global Head of Wellbeing at Reckitt, and now Client Partner at Korn Ferry, urges people to spend time visualising what this would look and, crucially, ‘feel’ like for you if you achieved your most coveted wellbeing goals:

“Before you embark on a wellbeing strategy, it is critical that you have a sense of what wellbeing will be like in your organisation when you get it right. This is more visceral, more emotional, more about what wellbeing will feel like, what will people be doing, saying, experiencing day-to-day. This should ultimately drive your strategy but is the step that many organisations miss. There’s no point in a strategy if it doesn’t change the day-to-day.”

(To see Holmes in action, see this webinar here).

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The nuts and bolts of a strategy

Once you’ve done these ‘inner’ steps, you’re ready to start thinking about the actual nuts and bolts of what makes up a good wellbeing strategy.

Here there’s another stumbling block, as Holmes says, that companies often run into:

“A lot of people use the word ‘strategy’ without really knowing what it means; it just tends to be a collection of tactics.”

The definition of strategy is, according to Collins English Dictionary:

“A general plan or set of plans intended to achieve something, especially over a long period”.

The final four words are crucial: “over a long period”.

Write a strategy with ‘teeth’

Wellbeing strategies are often criticised for being a set of random, short-term, unmeasured interventions that aren’t joined up coherently and, so, aren’t more than the sum of their disparate parts and don’t last in the long-term.

The biggest danger of this? You spend many hours and much effort writing a wellbeing strategy which is then set aside by the senior management and board to gather dust.

“Unless a wellbeing strategy has teeth, it will never exist for very long at the board table,” says Holmes. “Whatever the size of your organisation, unless wellbeing is contributing something tangible and measurable on the Profits & Loss, then the budget will get cut as soon as the business hits tough times, or as soon as the mental health milestone the strategy sets is reached. That’s why it’s so important to have a vision which is compelling, believable and has gravitas.”

How do you write a strategy with teeth?

But the big question is ‘how?’ do you do this.

Firstly, it’s imperative you define what definition of ‘wellbeing’ works for your organisation, so you are all on the same page from the start.

Jo Yarker, director, Affinity Health at Work, has helped many companies write their wellbeing strategies. She suggests, in terms of a definition, you could align with existing definitions, such as those of the World Health Organisation.

(For Yarker’s views on supporting employees back to work after illness, see this article here).

Ask yourself these key questions:

From there, she advises asking yourself key questions related to your chosen definition of wellbeing, such as:

What are the pillars of wellbeing for your company and what is the over-arching design under which they all fit?

How do you define each pillar?

How do you separate them out so they can be aligned with their own specific activities?

How much of your definition of wellbeing are you covering in your strategy?

Eg. Are you focusing on health promotion, or also looking at areas like psychosocial safety as well?

Use a framework

Just as there are recognised definitions of wellbeing, there are also recognised frameworks, with clear steps which companies can progress through in order to be reassured they have considered all the necessary questions. (To see Affinity’s Working Well Maturity Framework, click here).

“Having a framework you can reference and say ‘this is what we’re building our strategy around’ gives you a clear focus because, otherwise, it can turn into a melting pot of lots of people’s different ideas,” she says.

Going methodically through a framework will often help you avoid the temptation of simply seeing that a competitor has taken a particular path and feeling compelled to follow it, especially if it involves a shiny, new solution which they are shouting about in PR. In wellbeing there is no one-size-fits-all (despite what some off the shelf solutions may say) and every company culture is different and will require a slightly different approach to achieve the desired behaviour change and subsequent boost in productivity.

For more on progressing through frameworks and how to write a wellbeing strategy with the board in mind, look out for our other features in this ‘Beginners Series’.

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