Joined up and holistic approaches - Louise Aston on the Bupa Wellbeing at Work Award Finalists 2016

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community, takes a look at the trends apparent from this year's entrants to the Bupa Wellbeing at Work Award.

The Bupa Employee Wellbeing at Work Award infographic

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This year's award entries have shown in a more compelling way than ever how wellbeing has the potential to transform business. Our assessors and judges raised the bar in their expectations of what can be achieved, giving feedback that discrete initiatives alone are not sufficient to demonstrate a culture of wellbeing. Only a holistic approach that encourages the whole person to flourish is effective.

We wholly applaud this direction of travel, and the fact that many companies, like Unipart, are adopting our Workwell model as a framework for embedding wellbeing strategically. Unipart is this year’s joint Bupa Wellbeing at Work Award winner because their approach truly reflected wellbeing as being built-in and not a bolt-on. Unipart has aligned its wellbeing approach to its business model that emphasises employee responsibility and ownership, encouraging each part of the business to adopt a wellbeing focus that suits their priorities, and each individual to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.

This year, it was particularly exciting to see some of our smaller entrants using wellbeing and engagement as a way of transforming their business model. North Star Housing Group is our second joint Bupa Wellbeing at Work Award winner. Recognising that high levels of absence and low engagement were unsustainable, it took a courageous approach to re-structuring the organisation in fundamental way where wellbeing was positioned as critical to developing strong trust, engagement and performance at work. This emphasis on shared leadership meant that all employees now feel invested in their work and this has had significant impact on the organisation.

North Star has achieved significant reductions in stress levels and sickness absence, which in turn has freed up revenue that has instead been directly reinvested into the community it serves. North Star’s solution offers an alternative vision to cutting back during challenging business periods, by investing in staff and creating a positive culture of wellbeing that can better respond to those challenges.

Finalist Visualsoft also provided a bold example of how organisations can reap benefits by achieving greater employee wellbeing by promoting greater trust and autonomy in and from its workforce. With unlimited annual leave and real-time measurements of engagement and happiness, this is an inspiring example of using leadership to impact positively on both people and productivity.

I’m also encouraged to see the continued trend toward investing in parity between physical and mental health. Marks & Spencer’s mental health programme shows how a business can take a sensitive issue like mental health, and position it as an opportunity for its leaders to transform business practices. Other entries, like bmjv, demonstrated a joined up approach across health and safety - achieving great results for a workforce that operates in a highly challenging environment.

Measurement still appears to be a challenge- but we were pleased to see that a majority of entries have tracked improvements in sickness absence, and that half of companies had measured cost savings and improvements in engagement scores.

While it is heartening to see many businesses focusing on wellbeing because it is the ‘right thing to do’ we know that it is still important to articulate return on investment - a return that is very much there.  Seeing employee wellbeing as a cost is looking down the wrong end of the telescope - it must be positioned as an investment.

See the full list of Bupa Wellbeing at Work Award Finalists and Shortlisted case studies.