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Is it time wellbeing grew up? Acas asks the question

'What does wellbeing really mean in today's workplace, and is it a concept that needs to be clearer about its boundaries in order to be truly effective?' asks Acas in a new employment relations comment article.

The paper pdf icon Is it time wellbeing grew up? [83kb] builds on the observations of the Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies, who said in her recent annual report that 'we currently have no consensus about what wellbeing actually is when considered in terms of mental health and mental ill-health - let alone how to measure it and how we might develop, implement and evaluate interventions to improve it'.

The Acas piece surveys the different ways wellbeing is defined and viewed, from an aspirational, happy 'glass half full' mentality, to something 'multi-dimensional and complex', covering subjects ranging from 'health and safety to toxicology, back care to mental health management, leadership to ergonomics and sickness absence to corporate social responsibility'.

The wellbeing challenge

The paper noted five broad responses from employers to the 'wellbeing challenge':

  • taking employee surveys and one-to-one meetings to give them useful insight and understanding in how staff feel about their work, colleagues, and managers
  • starting absence management initiatives, the 'cornerstone of most organisational action on wellbeing', to keep employees in work, or get them back to work as soon as possible
  • following the Mindful Employer Charter, HSE's Stress Management Standards, and Acas pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [284kb], which all help to isolate problems, and encourage work on areas of mental health that they can control
  • giving advice around diet, exercise, and drug and alcohol misuse, now also featured in various wellbeing charters
  • asserting the concept of the 'good life', including the contribution made to communities and 'living in a way that is good for you and good for those around you'.

It noted that employers would find it easier to take action to improve subjective wellbeing than address the 'bigger structural issues', such as employee voice, autonomy and pay.

A consequence was that it would be hard to measure the effects of these interventions - for example, 'how can you prove that improving your listening skills is going to make someone more inclined to disclose a medical illness?' it asks.

Even so, giving people access to the mindfulness training and the like, may help keep people mentally healthy, just as exercise and diet can aid physical health.

Acas publications and services

Acas has guidance on Wellbeing and workplace performance and Introducing wellbeing to the workplace, and has published the pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [284kb], which aims to help employers tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. It also sets out practical measures to improve wellbeing, and to build supportive working environments.

Acas can also help you review your health and wellbeing arrangements and find ways to reduce organisational stress. See Stress: how Acas can help for more details.

Practical Acas training is also available on Mental Health Awareness for Employers, Stress management, Managing absence at work and essential Skills for supervisors

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.


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