The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published new guidelines which are aimed at helping to improve employee health and wellbeing. The guidelines were developed in response to recent research indicating that 27 million working days were lost due to stress-related illness in 2012-13. The chief aim of the guidance is to build a leadership model which promotes the wellbeing of employees, informed by an understanding of the role corporate culture can play in this. There is particular focus on the role of line managers in developing this model.
The following recommendations are made for employers, employees (where applicable), senior management, human resource teams and all others who have an impact on workplace health:
Organisational commitment to wellbeing
- Treat health and safety as an integral and visible component of workplace culture, and as a valuable asset to the business, with impact on productivity recognised in business plans.
- Incorporate a commitment to health and safety into workplace policies (e.g. an aggressive return to work policy may encourage presenteeism, which is potentially damaging to workplace health and safety).
Physical work environment
- Ensure that workplace procedures around physical working environment reflect best practice and statutory requirements and that all facilities and equipment are clean, safe, well maintained and of a good standard.
Mental wellbeing at work
- Develop policies to support mental wellbeing at work (e.g. build a respect for work/life balance into policy drafting). When developing policies, be mindful of the factors which contribute to mental wellbeing at work: manageable demands (workload and work patterns), employees' sense of control over their work, positive relationships and effective change management.
Fairness and justice
- Ensure that all unfair treatment of employees is treated as a priority, and that line managers know where to direct employees for support if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
Participation and trust
- Ensure employees feel valued and trusted by the organisation by offering training to make them feel competent in their roles and to help promote a sense of community. Encourage employees to have a voice in the organisation, and to play an active part in decision-making by taking part in staff engagement forums or in anonymous surveys.
- Senior management should ensure that the organisation actively supports employee health and wellbeing from the top down. They should include duties to promote employee health and wellbeing in line managers' job descriptions and training, and act as a positive role model for line managers, displaying the behaviours they encourage.
Role of line managers
- Provide training for line managers in creating performance reviews, job design and person specifications in a way which promotes wellbeing (e.g. acknowledging commitments outside work).
- Allocate sufficient time and resources to line managers to enable them to balance the aims of the organisation with their promotion of the health and wellbeing of their employees.
Leadership style of line managers
- Line managers should adopt a positive leadership style that encourages innovation and new ideas, and offer help and encouragement to each employee to build a supportive relationship with them.
- They should avoid negative behaviours such as detachment and ignoring employees' suggestions.
Training of line managers
- Ensure line managers are given training in the above leadership style and in the importance of health and wellbeing in organisational performance, and in recognising when employees may need extra support (e.g. with maintaining a healthy work-life balance, managing demands of home life along with workload).
Monitoring and evaluation
- Regularly monitor and evaluate the effect of new activities and policies on employee health and wellbeing.
- Ensure managers review their own progress in promoting workplace health and wellbeing and identify where they could improve.
Line managers should:
- Encourage employees to seek involvement in the design of their role, to achieve a balance in the work demanded of them and to have a degree of control over their work.
- Be flexible about work scheduling, giving employees control over their own time, but staying conscious of the pressures placed on other employees.
The guidelines touch on a perceived tension between the pressure to obtain good results and the need to foster a caring workplace; it may be felt by some managers that too "soft" an approach to wellbeing will encourage employee complacency, which will impact on productivity. The guidelines indicate that the opposite is true, with workplace stress an increasing cost to employers, and suggest that the financial benefits of health and wellbeing should be factored into business models. The aim of the guidelines is laudable, but the challenge may be in measuring the "bottom-line" cost benefit of health and wellbeing to businesses.