How To

How to make a wellbeing strategy that works

The best schemes are digitally-enabled, manager-centric and focus on what staff actually want…

Words by Dan Cave| Design by Jonathan Balallo

Wellbeing was on the agenda long before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Yet, it has become a particular sticking point during the pandemic. A recent Glint study found that staff burnout has doubled during this difficult period with particular worries for staff trying to balance personal and professional responsibilities, as well as working parents. Anecdotally, huge numbers of individuals were reporting that their working days were getting longer alongside added worries about their personal health and safety, as well as long-term employment and financial security.

With a potential wellbeing disaster for those in charge of this important facet – HR, this responsibility, usually falls on you; and there are countless other reports into how wellbeing dovetails with engagement, usually held to be the key to better productivity – the study did throw up some correlations that might guide the implementation of a successful wellbeing plan. Results showed that employees who felt their managers were poor communicators were 2.7 times more likely to use language pointing towards burnout. Similarly, employees who felt that their organisation was poor when communicating workforce changes also used language to describe their condition in burnout terms.


Look at all areas

And for a wellbeing strategy to be successful, it must touch all areas of life. Damien Shieber, Head of Culture & Inclusion at Santander UK, explains that the Santander strategy offers a wide range of support to colleagues across physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing. He says: “By focusing on physical, mental, social and financial, we look at how all these aspects, whether at work or home, add up to our overall wellbeing, which impacts on how energetic, positive or productive we may feel. We also offer support on all issues through our Employee Assistance Programme and partnership with the Bank Worker’s Charity.” This isn’t to the say that the wellbeing programme isn’t adaptable – the crisis has necessitated a focus on mental wellbeing in particular.

Shieber adds: “During the current crisis, we have undertaken regular employee surveys which have informed our support regarding wellbeing, particularly mental wellbeing. We introduced enhanced wellbeing support which includes opportunities to access live chat with a trained psychologist being offered to staff through Thrive, our mental wellbeing app, alongside the provision of comprehensive advice and information designed to support personal resilience, home-schooling and to tackle potential feelings of isolation amongst home workers.”

Leadership communication

Therefore, it would make sense that communication does sit at the heart of any wellbeing strategy. This is something that Colette McKune MBE, Group Chief Executive at Forviva, an umbrella firm behind a housing association, believes. Not only is its commitment to wellbeing splayed across the top of the organisation's website, it’s communicated from the top down. She tells HR Grapevine: “One thing I’ve done and all leaders worth their salt have been doing is communicate, communicate and communicate and that communication has to be meaningful because people are frightened during this time, for their families and income and way of life and their worth.”

It’s okay to be flexible

McKune also explains that for better wellbeing – especially during the pandemic – organisations have to be more flexible. She adds: “We say it’s okay to not be at your desk looking at your screen for eight hours a day. In fact, it’s not okay to be sat at your desk for eight hours a day looking at your screen. You need to go and walk and sit with the cat, or watch Netflix and go and spend time with your kids, and if you need to homeschool your kids go and do it and come back when you can. It's pressured enough without us adding that pressure.”

All leaders worth their salt have been doing is communicate, communicate and communicate

Why should leaders take a central role in wellbeing?

For many leaders, they’ll be concerned about the health of their business at this time with concerns over continuity and immediate financial security. However, McKune believes this doesn’t mean that senior staff and leaders should forget about wellbeing.

“If you don’t believe in people, people are the most important thing in an organisation,” she explains. “The minute leaders lose sight of humanity and compassion, they cease to be effective leaders. They have to see the importance of people as people make them look good. We get the title of leader but we’re not doing the job; what we’ve got to do is ensure that the people around us have the tools to do the job.

“To ensure the best people around us, we have to ensure that they are in prime tip top condition mentally, physically and emotionally.”

By focusing on physical, mental, social and financial, we look at how all these aspects add up to our overall wellbeing


Shieber notes that having an easy-to-access digital hub has been central to success in the Santander wellbeing strategy. Bringing together all wellbeing support in one place means staff know where to go in times of need – and they have done so over 60,000 times thus far despite it being new. “It has been so successful thanks to its simple design, ease of use, and collection of useful support. It was developed alongside our colleagues through a combination of focus groups, collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and through all we have learned from the many feedback mechanisms we have,” Santander’s Head of Culture adds.


Managerial support

As ever, it isn’t enough to be passive and provide places where staff can access support. Proactive managers will always define wellbeing success. As such, Santander develops managers to start difficult conversations. “We empower our managers to do this by providing a range of support to help start the conversation. Our ‘Let’s Talk about Wellbeing’ initiative provides a range of sessions managers can use in their team meetings, and guidance on how they can start difficult conversations with colleagues. Our Mental Wellbeing Network sends Tea & Talk packs and templates of presentations on request so anyone can host sessions, which has been well received,” Sheiber adds.

More from this issue
Dr Employer
COVID-19 - How we can return to work after the lockdown
Health Management

COVID-19 - How we can return to work after the lockdown

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Is Chief People Officer the most stressful role?

Is Chief People Officer the most stressful role?

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Star Interview
Solving wellbeing with employee passion

Solving wellbeing with employee passion

HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

Our award-winning archive