Wellbeing in the Workplace

Want to improve your workers’ health in a wellbeing programme but don’t know where to start? Here are the steps to take to make sure the plan you choose is successful and right for your organisation.

Many employers across the UK are already committed to ensuring that their workers stay healthy over and above that required by law.

If you are looking into the best ways of starting a workplace wellbeing programme, you will find it here. This article gives insight into how to go about setting up a wellbeing programme.

Knowing your organisation best, you should have some idea about what general health factors that are influencing your business performance, seen in:

  • Employee’s commitment to work
  • Staff performance and productivity
  • Staff turnover and intention to leave
  • Attendance levels
  • Staff recruitment and retention
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Organisational image and reputation
  • Potential litigation

It is also worth thinking about the impact that your organisation’s culture is having on your unit or team. For example, losing a colleague for an extended period with a work-related stress illness can have a dramatic impact on the workload and morale of the rest of the team. Or by not providing sick pay you are encouraging sick workers to come to work and fail or, worse still, make errors or have accidents.

This report helps organisations to care for their people so that a larger number of employees can benefit. The first part of this report deals with the thinking behind setting up a wellbeing programme.

Part 2 deals with the actual steps to take – if you have a forward-looking company and are ready to put your plan into action go to part two of the report below.

The Business Case for Wellbeing

The Ashridge/Nuffield Report[1] (Autumn 2012) gives 3 reasons for investing in a Wellbeing Programme:

  1. The organisation is 2.5 times more likely to be in the best performer list
  2. Employees will be 8 times more likely to engage
  3. The organisation is 3.5 times more likely to be creative
  4. The organisation is 4 times less likely to lose talent in the next year
  5. Sickness costs an average of £600 per employee per year
  6. The Black Report when reviewing 55 Wellness Programmes, found a reduction of sickness in 45(82%) plus reduced staff turnover in 18 (33%)

Before you introduce the 7 step approach to this Wellbeing Programmes, you need to plan and prepare the organisation well in advance.

Start by getting a commitment from other senior managers, line managers and employees. Set up a project or steering group to oversee the work. This group will typically include senior and line managers, health and safety managers, trade union health and safety representatives or employee representatives; human resources and occupational health professionals.

What is Wellbeing?

The term ‘wellbeing’ is used throughout business today. But the phrase is confusing as it has many meanings and interpretation varies according to the work sector.

The World Health Organisation defines health using the term wellbeing in 1946 as:

‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

Therefore wellbeing links to an individual’s overall health.

The principle of developing workplace wellbeing is a major theme in influential reports such as Dame Carol Black’s ‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’ (2008)[2]. Built on the work of Waddell and Burton in 2006[3], which asked ‘Is work good for your health?’ and led to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence producing the NICE guidance on promoting mental wellbeing at work[4] and managing long-term sickness absence and incapacity for work[5]

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

Another report produced by the UK New Economics Foundation in 2011 identified five ways to improve wellbeing which people could build into their daily lives.

  1. Connecting: With family, friends and neighbours
  2. Being more active: walking or running, cycling and gardening even dancing. Exercising gives feelings or happiness and good for overall health
  3. Taking notice: of the environment whether walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends
  4. Keep learning: try something new: sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things to make you more confident
  5. Give: do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Volunteer your time. Join a community group For many employers the ‘wellbeing’ aspect of working is generally offered in the form of health promotion (stopping smoking, health M.O.T’s, poster campaigns) and for a few others focuses on mental health issues, equality and rehabilitation.

There are key terms about workplace wellbeing which most employers accept as being part of the wellbeing agenda:


Absenteeism is a pattern of absence which might be seen as ‘work avoidance’. High levels of absenteeism is usually seen as an indicator of poor  wellbeing


Mental exhaustion, often accompanied by feelings of lack of hope, disillusionment, powerlessness and/or emotional collapse. Burnout is particularly difficult to predict with staff who normally work hard and conscientiously.

Positive Work Culture

A work culture with a big idea or vision which all staff are working towards, staff get involved, supported, good communication and support networks. Staff will feel valued and potential fulfilled through training and development opportunities.


Workers are at work but struggling to keep up or not performing at all due to physical or mental health problems. Presenteeism might be best described as the worker is at work but should really be at home recovering. A poor organisational culture and/or lack of sick pay contributes to this.


Productivity refers to the output (produced by the team or organisation) per unit of labour and whether it caused by wellbeing issues eg work stress.

Health Promotion

Is the process of enabling people to exert control and improve their own health, it’s not something done on or to people.

Health Education

Learning to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge, and developing life skills which are conducive to the person and community health (World Health Organisation)[7]

The focus on wellbeing is being well, in good health physically, mentally and emotionally, with a balanced state of mind.  For more information about the UK well-being programme and associated articles and guidance go to Office of National Statistics website[8]

Part Two (Action)

Most businesses want to take responsibility and are caring employers, however, if you approach the wellness program as a quick fix or as a one of short-term strategy, chances are the program will be superficial and unlikely to reach all of your workers. But if you follow the 7 step wellbeing programme below, you are more likely to influence the workforce health positively and create long-term behaviour change giving the benefits listed above.

Let’s Get Started

Before you start your wellbeing programme spend some time being realistic about what you expect because this guides your planning.  Maybe it’s just been handed down from your manager and you’ve been told to get on with it or maybe you have had a recent poor health experience?

Identify those who can help with the planning and the implementation of a plan; such as occupational health providers or information sources that can help and guide you to a meaningful end.

Go to Live Well pages written by the NHS for health information and ideas that are reliable and free.

For smaller organisations, many of the 7 steps of the wellbeing programme need only a few notes but for large organisations, the wellbeing programme will benefit from detailed planning at each stage.

7 Steps to a Workplace Wellbeing Programme

Seven Step Model

Step 1: Responsibility

Allocate responsibility for the plan with set time targets and adequate resources, to a person who will be in charge of the plan.  This person should have an understanding of health and have some degree of power within the company to move things forward. Consider resources you have and what you want to get – will workers engage with the wellbeing programme? Has this been tried before? Jot down some barriers to success that you foresee and discuss with your fellow employees before moving forward.

Step 2: Consider

To make sure you get the best return on your investment and have an effective programme; look at the needs of the employer and employees together.

For example, a stop smoking programme.

The health effects of working with vibratory equipment such as power tools, brick cutters, and strimmers if not controlled can cause vibration white finger. Employers are legally obliged to manage vibration under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations.

If you are a smoker and user of vibrating tools there is an increase in the risk of making the health effect worse. Therefore wellbeing programmes which focussed on reduction or stopping smoking would not only help prevent lung cancer but would also decrease the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome. The same applies to asbestos workers; smoking multiplies the risk of asbestos-related lung diseases; if the employer provides on-site smoking counselling services and nicotine replacement therapies for the workers that would be mutually beneficial for both the organisation and the asbestos worker.

A cautionary note though – it’s important the employer is honest about the reasons for opting for a particular program otherwise the workforce becomes sceptical about taking part. It is essential to understand the mind-sets, challenges and the demographics of your workforce before opting for any wellbeing programme.

Employee benefits:

  • Increased knowledge about lifestyle and health
  • Increased opportunity to take control of their health and treatment
  • Improved health and quality of life
  • A feeling of benevolence from Management
  • Gaining support from team members
  • More incentive to stay at work and not to change employer
  • Increased worker morale, wanting to help the business and productivity
  • An informed and empowered workforce
  • Better public relations
  • Recruitment tool
  • Cost savings from improved attendance, less litigation (accidents, errors), workers working longer (pension savings)
  • Reaches workers who do not use the NHS system
  • Improves national and local public health standing
  • Improves the quality of life for the workers and by spreading the word to their families, the community
  • Helps control and cut the economic and social tax burden

Employer Benefits:

  • A happier workplace with people wanting to come to work and when there, working harder
  • An informed and empowered workforce
  • Better public relations – people will want to work at your business and be interested in how you do it
  • Recruitment tool
  • Cost savings from improved attendance, less litigation (accidents, errors), workers working longer (pension savings)

Community Benefits:

  • Reaches workers who do not use the NHS system
  • Improves national and local public health fitness
  • Improves the quality of life for the workers and by spreading the word to their families, the community
  • Helps control and cut the economic and social tax burden

Step one involves building the trust of the workers by talking with employee representatives or surveying the employees for their suggestions about what they would find most appealing. For larger organisations with different types of workers (administrators, drivers, sales force, engineers, and safety critical) it is usually more meaningful to do a health risk assessment looking at current health issues in your organisation.

Ways to do this are by considering:

  • Past reasons for absence from work
  • Reviewing accident investigations
  • Analysis of reasons for leaving
  • Insurance company recommendations
  • Professional advice on options for your type of industry
  • Demographics of workers such as male-female ratio, age range
  • Type of well-being programme e.g. poster campaign, demonstration, videos, health checks such as cholesterol testing and blood pressure monitoring etc

Step 3: Decide which Programme

Analyse the information collected and create a plan that meets all the goals outlined at the pre-planning stage. The information you receive helps you decide the well-being programme most likely to work in the existing culture, such as an on-site exercise class is unlikely to be a success on a construction site as most of the workers are on their feet all day and usually climbing stairs and ladders.  This is an extreme example of poor use of a wellbeing budget.

Plans for wellbeing programmes include any of the following most popular programmes depending on your workforce and budget:

Table 1: Top Wellbeing Programmes
Health issues Type of programme Workers
Heart Disease Cholesterol testing, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure,   diabetes, overweight and obesity, lack of exercise and sedentary Ageing, smokers, overweight, office workers, under 20’s
Accidents Driving Speeding, drink/drugs, smoking, planning journeys, defensive driving techniques, road rage, fatigue Lorry drivers, sales reps, senior executives, delivery drivers, shift workers
Lung health Smoking, using masks for working, health effects of work on lungs, air pollution, pollen exposure, dealing with asthma Young workers, working with dusts, fumes and environmental hazards in the air
Cancers Smoking, obesity, diet, high fat diet, self-examination, sexual behaviours, sun sense Outdoor workers, young workers, construction
General health Stress management, Back Care, manual handling, nutrition, weight control, high blood pressure, general health check, executive medical,   male/female health checks, urine sample for sugar, retirement planning, substance abuse, physical exercise, binge drinking, caffeine, eating habits, dental care, vision, presenteeism Executives, management, warehousing, construction, ageing workers, men

If there are many people joining a programme, discounts could be negotiated, especially if fitness companies have access to your website. Techniques can include feedback, surveys, classes for larger groups, cascade training in health, discounts from local clubs (gym, weight watchers, physiotherapists etc.)

Step 4: Create a communication plan

Wellbeing programmes are unlikely to reach their full potential without encouragement to join. Employers need to create a way of letting employees know what’s happening, why it’s happening and what they will get out of it.

A good strategy for success is to pick wellbeing champions from volunteers. These volunteers have an interest in health and energy to make the wellbeing programme successful. These winners form the links through the business and across departments so connecting from top to bottom and sideways, giving more workers access to the programme.


Rewarding employees for getting healthy and achieving results help get the program off the ground, especially if this is the first time the organisation runs a wellbeing programme. One effective method is to encourage teams to work towards health goals such as ‘which team can lose the most weight’ or gets a mention in the company magazine for raising money for charity e.g. running marathons, children in need, red nose day etc. This not only promotes the well-being programme but recognising achievements keeps the required healthy behaviour in the public eye and helps motivate those who may most need to take part in a workplace well-being programme.

Step 5: Running the Programme

Perhaps the easiest part of all will be the running of the wellbeing campaign which is where the pre-planning stages and wellbeing champions come into their own.

Whether a poster campaign, competition, a visiting physiotherapist or exercises classes, organising times and places for the event will be crucial. Almost as important as allowing workers to visit the wellbeing programme. Organisations should prepare their literature using company logos and images as well as hiring or providing health professionals or practitioners to deliver the health and wellbeing messages.

Case Study: As part of the healthy heart programme occupational health, I offered to take the blood pressures of staff one day per week and an appointment schedule was setup. On the day of the blood pressure taking, there were about four candidates on the appointment list, however, the first two who had their blood pressure checked went back to workmates and talked about their blood pressure results. After that, there was a queue outside my office door for the rest of the day. Word had spread and the competition started to find out who had the highest and lowest readings on site.

Step 6: Measure success

Wellbeing programmes are difficult to assess for ‘success’ but if there were measures included in the planning stage, you should have some outcomes to check. For example, if the employee satisfaction survey showed that there were dissatisfaction levels with the organisation in terms of perceived management concern about wellbeing and general health – run the satisfaction survey after the programme to look for improvements.  Or if you used high absence figures as a reason for your choice of programme, review the effect on attendance during and after the programme – is there any significant change that you can report?  Be careful about claiming success for factors they have not been measured or are difficult to define, such as employee engagement.

Try to get stories in the local paper about your programme results or people who are willing to go on record to report that they have benefited from an employer-sponsored health check such as finding diabetes or dangerously high blood pressure.  These types of reports endorse the campaigns and encourage others to take part.

One manager who felt that if the blood pressure programme identified one dangerously high reading – then the company-wide programme would have been worth it.

Step 7: Review and Reflect

Review the plan and whether it met the organisation’s original set goals.  What have you learnt?  What has gone well?  Where could improvements be made in the next wellbeing campaign? And then start again

Wellbeing Initiatives to Seriously Consider

The two most common causes of work-related health issues are stress and musculoskeletal disorders.  Both of which are rising steadily in the UK workplace; so each deserves a special mention here.

1. Stress

Organisations must manage stress but many do not realise that research has shown that there are strong links between stress and:

  • Physical effects such as heart disease, back pain, headaches
  • Stomach and digestive health problems and minor illnesses
  • Psychological effects such as anxiety and depression

Stress can also lead to other behaviours that are harmful to health, such as

  • Skipping meals, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or smoking
  • Presenteeism – coming in to work when it would be better to stay away, such as those who may have infectious diseases that could pass on to others, fatigue – all of these can worsen workplace accidents, errors and increase absenteeism.

Tackling the causes of stress before they lead to ill-health can prevent this from happening[9] [10]

2. Musculo – Skeletal Disorders

Problems resulting from the muscles and joints being injured such as bad backs, knees and upper limb disorders,  come under the classification of musculoskeletal disorders.  The number of this type of injuries equals the number of work-related stress incidents, both of which results in having time off from work.
Managers should plan a wellbeing programme that includes physiotherapy and fast-track referral to help workers return to work quickly and safely.

Occupational Health Services

Occupational Health services consist of doctors, nurses, and technicians usually employed as contractors (occasionally as employees) to manage and run health matters in your organisation. For a list of suitably qualified and accredited services go to SEQOHS website or (in times of Covid 19) ring Public Health in your area (or 111).

Barriers to Success

To help with planning your wellbeing programme there are some common problems:

  • Don’t alienate workers eg obese workers may feel vulnerable or targeted for healthy eating campaigns
  • Try to get all categories of employees involved in a wellbeing programme.  For example, woman may feel excluded in a prostate cancer awareness campaign
  • Consider different types of  communication methods for those not wanting to openly participate, e.g., poster campaigns to reach all parts of the workforce
  • Don’t have too many health promotion campaigns in a year or the impact will be lost and workers may feel overwhelmed. It is also difficult providing resources.
  • If sending out a questionnaire asking opinions make sure you act on them.  If you don’t it will take away some of the goodwill and support for your plan
  • Workers may not want to discuss the results of any  follow-up tests or visits to their Doctors with the organisation – respect individual confidentiality needs
  • Ensure the delivery of the wellbeing campaign is professional
  • Take advantage  of national  health campaigns  so that you’re seen as  topical eg World Aids day, Sun Awareness campaigns
  • Demonstrate leadership by participating in campaigns and practising healthy behaviours,  e.g.  not smoking on site
  • Do no pressurise workers into taking part in any well-being programme

Have I left any important points out or have you a story to share about a successful health promotion programme? If so let me know in the reply box below?


Further Resources and Information

If you want to talk to someone about your mental health see if your company has an EAP, go see your Doctor or phone the Samaritans



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