Fostering employee well-being is good for people and the organisation. Promoting well-being can help prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Good health and well-being can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.
This factsheet focuses on well-being in the workplace, explaining why it matters. We outline the domains of our well-being model, and look at the role of different stakeholders in cultivating a healthy workplace.
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What is well-being at work?
In our Growing the health and well-being agenda report, we show that healthy workplaces help people to flourish and reach their potential. This means creating an environment that actively promotes a state of contentment, benefiting both employees and the organisation.
There’s now a much broader understanding and application of holistic health and well-being approaches in many workplaces. However, it's also clear that there's an implementation gap, with many organisations not yet embracing the health and well-being agenda to full effect. These organisations could benefit from greater investment in the well-being of their workforce.
Investing in employee well-being can lead to increased resilience, greater innovation and higher productivity. Put simply - it makes good business sense.
What an effective health and well-being programme looks like depends on the needs of the organisation and its people. It's likely to include:
- health promotion
- a good working environment
- flexible working
- positive relationships
- opportunities for career development
- an open and supportive management style.
However, well-being initiatives often fall short of their potential because they stand alone, isolated from the everyday business. To gain real benefit, well-being must be integrated throughout an organisation, embedded in its culture, leadership and people management.
The people profession is in a unique position to drive forward this agenda, to convince senior managers to make it a priority, and ensure that line managers accept and uphold its importance its importance.
The CIPD's role in fostering employee well-being
We have set an aspirational agenda for workplace health and well-being. An effective employee well-being programme should be at the core of how an organisation fulfils its mission and carries out its operations, and should not consist of one-off initiatives. It’s about changing the way business is done.
An integrated approach to health and well-being:
- benefits employees
- can nurture heightened levels of employee engagement
- fosters a workforce where people are committed to achieving organisational success.
Our well-being pyramid model
As our well-being pyramid shows, to create a healthy workplace, an employer needs to ensure that its culture, leadership and people management are the bedrock on which to build a fully integrated well-being approach.
When people feel a high level of well-being they are more engaged and productive at work. Conversely, when people experience low levels of well-being, they don’t perform at their best.
The key domains of well-being
We've identified seven inter-related 'domains' of employee well-being, guided by the principle that an effective employee well-being strategy needs to go far beyond a series of standalone initiatives.
There’s no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to designing a health and well-being strategy; its content should be based on the unique needs and characteristics of the organisation and its workforce.
The underlying elements include examples of workplace initiatives and activities to support people’s health and well-being.
- Physical health - Health promotion, good rehabilitation practices, health checks, well-being benefits, health insurance protection, managing disability, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
- Physical safety - Safe working practices, safe equipment, personal safety training.
- Mental health - Stress management, risk assessments, conflict resolution training, training line managers to have difficult conversations, managing mental ill health, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
2. Good work
- Working environment - Ergonomically designed working areas, open and inclusive culture.
- Good line management - Effective people management policies, training for line managers, sickness absence management.
- Work demands - Job design, job roles, job quality, workload, working hours, job satisfaction, work-life balance.
- Autonomy - Control, innovation, whistleblowing.
- Change management - Communication, involvement, leadership.
- Pay and reward - Fair and transparent remuneration practices, non-financial recognition.
- Leadership - Values-based leadership, clear mission and objectives, health and well-being strategy, corporate governance, building trust.
- Ethical standards - Dignity at work, corporate social responsibility, community investment, volunteering.
- Diversity - Diversity and inclusion, valuing difference, cultural engagement, training for employees and managers.
- Employee voice - Communication, consultation, genuine dialogue, involvement in decision making.
- Positive relationships - Management style, teamworking, healthy relationships with peers and managers, dignity and respect.
5. Personal growth
- Career development - Mentoring, coaching, performance management, performance development plans, skills utilisation, succession planning.
- Emotional - Positive relationships, personal resilience training, financial well-being.
- Lifelong learning - Performance development plans, access to training, mid-career review, technical and vocational learning, challenging work.
- Creativity - Open and collaborative culture, innovation workshops.
6. Good lifestyle choices
- Physical activity - Walking clubs, lunchtime yoga, charity walks.
- Healthy eating - Recipe clubs, healthy menu choices in the canteen.
7. Financial well-being
- Fair pay and benefit policies - Pay rates above the statutory National Minimum/Living Wage, flexible benefits scheme.
- Retirement planning - Phased retirement such as a three- or four-day week, pre-retirement courses for people approaching retirement.
- Employee financial support- Employee assistance programme offering debt counselling, signposting to external sources of free advice (for example, Citizens Advice), access to independent financial advisers.
Everyone has responsibility for fostering well-being
Adopting an organisational approach to employee well-being carries with it distinct responsibilities for particular employee groups.
HR professionals have a key part to play in steering the health and well-being agenda in organisations. They need to ensure that senior managers regard it as a priority and integrate well-being practices into the organisation’s day-to-day operations.
They need to communicate the benefits of a healthy workplace to line managers, who are typically responsible for implementing people management and well-being policies. They need to work closely with all areas of the business and provide practical guidance to ensure that policies and practices are implemented consistently and with compassion.
Lack of senior management commitment to well-being can be a major barrier to implementation. Senior managers are crucial role models, and line managers and employees are more likely to engage with health and well-being interventions if they see senior leaders actively participating in them. Senior managers have the authority and influence to ensure that well-being is a strategic priority embedded in the organisation’s day-to-day operations and culture.
Much of the day-to-day responsibility for managing employees’ health and well-being falls on line managers. This includes implementing stress management initiatives, spotting early warning signs of stress, making reasonable adjustments at work, and nurturing positive relationships.
Yet our surveys consistently suggests that ‘poor management style’ is one of the top three causes of work-related stress. Leaders and managers are important role models in fostering healthy behaviour at work, and this finding shows how harmful the impact can be if managers aren’t equipped with the competence and confidence to go about their people management role in the right way.
Managers also need to understand the impact their management style has on employees and the wider organisational culture at work.
Occupational health (OH) is a specialist branch of medicine focused on health in the workplace. For this reason, OH practitioners are likely to work closely with HR practitioners and those responsible for health and safety in a workplace.
Employees also have a responsibility for looking after their own health and well-being, and will only benefit from well-being initiatives if they participate in the initiatives on offer and take care of their health and well-being outside work as well. Employers can encourage employees’ involvement by communicating how staff can access the support and benefits available to them. It’s also important that the organisation seeks employee feedback about its current offerings so it can learn how to shape existing initiatives and plan new ones.
Useful contacts and further reading
Books and reports
COOPER, C. and HESKETH, I. (2019) Wellbeing at work: how to design, implement and evaluate an effective strategy. London: Kogan Page and CIPD.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH AND CARE EXCELLENCE. (2015) Workplace health: management practices. NICE guidelines, No NG13. London: NICE.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH AND CARE EXCELLENCE. (2017) Healthy workplaces: improving employee mental and physical health and wellbeing. Quality Standard QS147. Manchester: NICE.
WADDELL, G. and BURTON, A.K. (2006) Is work good for your health and well-being?. London: Stationery Office
Visit the CIPD and Kogan Page Bookshop to see all our priced publications currently in print.
BEVAN, S. and BAJOREK, Z. (2018) Workforce health: Why ‘good work’ trumps fruit and pilates evangelism every time. HR Magazine. October, pp42-44. Reviewed in In a Nutshell.
KELLIHER, C., RICHARDSON, J. and BOIARINTSEVA, G. (2019) All of work? All of Life? Reconceptualising work-life balance for the 21st century. Human Resource Management Journal. Vol 29, No 2, April. Reviewed in In a Nutshell.
KIRTON, H. (2017) One in four workers doubt their organisation takes wellbeing seriously. People Management (online). 7 July.
SUFF, R. (2019) Financial wellness is the poor relation of employee well-being. CIPD Voice. No 18, 26 April.
SUFF, R. (2019) Health at work: prevention is better than cure. CIPD Voice. No 19, 5 July.
CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.
Members and People Management subscribers can read articles on the People Management website.
This factsheet was last updated by Rachel Suff.