‘Well-being’ at work – is it important?

Organisations need to support individuals to stay fit and well if they are to remain “happy and here”. But what does an effective well-being strategy look like, and how can employers build a culture of health within the organisation?  

Let’s start off by understanding what well-being is. “Well-being at work is about creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation.”(1)  

There are two views of workplace well-being, one being the traditional view that is primarily about being compliant with the law and putting into place an agreed salary structure, medical insurance, a pension scheme, benefits and so on.  

Whilst the other view is one that is more holistic by taking those important elements and combining them with factors around employee’s enjoyment, engagement and overall happiness at work.  

This involves examining the role of the leadership of the organisation, the employee involvement styles and what the company does to encourage employees to participate in activities and events outside of the office and normal working hours. 

Employers need to be interested in the role of well-being by fostering high performance working, which will result in a shift in business leaders’ attitudes. For example, more and more recognise the crucial role line managers play in helping employees maintain a healthy work/life balance, or to become involved in effective decision making.  

Getting well-being right can yield real business benefits, both in bottom line financial performance and in employee engagement and motivation. A number of suggestions that organisations can adopt to create effective well-being at work are:  

  • Improve site facilities and help employees make small improvements,  
  • Concentrate on making an impact on the healthier 80 per cent rather than the less healthy 20 per cent, to gain more value,  
  • Introduce ‘well-being’ days to measure key vital signs of health, including cholesterol testing, body mass index, body fat content, blood pressure, heart rate, etc.  
  • Concentrate on three key areas – nutrition, hydration and exercise.  
  • Introduce a discounted gym membership and/or encourage employees to participate in local organised walks/runs, 
  • Encourage employees to get active while working, for example walking meetings (weather permitting), using the stairs, stretching exercises at their desk, and so on.  
  • Encourage and promote a good work life balance. 
  • Autonomy and control over their work.  
  • Manageable workloads and achievable deadlines,  
  • A culture should be encouraged in which employees feel valued and trusted 
  • Measure – if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve,  

If organisations take the happiness agenda seriously and make the changes that would enhance well-being at work, they would see real bottom-line benefits due to reduced sickness absence and greater productivity from more engaged employees. 

The CIPD has reported that nearly half of organisations participating in its 2010 absence management strategy have an employee well-being strategy in place. The main reason for this rising interest is the established link between health and performance in the workplace. The general hypothesis is that the healthier and happier people are, the more productive they are likely to be. We all perform at our best when we are feeling good and the academic research generally supports this notion. 

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest we are motivated at work by things other than money and that, as long as we are relatively job-secure and earning a reasonable wage, the quality of working life is at least as important. In the Mercer global engagement scale – developed with thousands of workers in the UK, US, Japan, India, Germany, France and China – “base pay” as a motivator comes low down a list of 12 factors that engage workers. 

The top motivator is “respect”, how valued and trusted by their organisation do employees feel. Then comes (in order of priority) “type of work”, “providing good service to customers”, “the people you work with” and finally, good “work life balance”. Only after these does pay come into the equation.  

The way jobs are shaped, by both managers and employees, has a huge impact on our sense of well-being at work. If people don’t have much control over their jobs, are not engaged and involved in decision-making, consistently work long hours, and are badly managed or bullied, their general well-being and engagement will falter. 


1) Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development ‘What’s happening with well-being at work?’ (2007) 


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