The government is committed to measuring and improving national wellbeing – the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is measuring it, and Cabinet Office is encouraging consideration of wellbeing in policy and practice. A Whitehall wellbeing steering group has been established and among other policy areas it has identified wellbeing at work as an important area for consideration, which among other benefits could support reduced ill-heath, stress and absenteeism and on the other support productivity and increased public health. This is an important consideration for all sectors, and there is excellent work in some companies which have clearly recognised the business case for investing in staff wellbeing. With some 455,000 people working in the civil service (at September 2012), Whitehall clearly has the potential to make a contribution. This is particularly the case during the challenging times and significant reforms; arguably supporting staff wellbeing and the ability to cope with change is an important enabler to the success of reforms.
As a result we are now measuring the wellbeing of civil servants through the annual Civil Service People Survey, in the same way that ONS is measuring the wellbeing of the population. Employment clearly impacts our wellbeing with research indicating it can explain between a fifth and a quarter of the variation in life satisfaction. We spend much of our adult lives at work and there are aspects of the workplace which would intuitively influence our wellbeing such as relationships with colleagues, levels of autonomy, and fairness associated with performance, pay and promotion.
Using evidence on the wellbeing of Civil Servants from the 2011 and 2012 People Survey’s we find that wellbeing varies by factors such as grade, job, health, work patterns, age and region of work. We can therefore identify groups of staff with characteristics that are associated with lower wellbeing and we can identify departments with pockets of low wellbeing. This means that we can target initiatives designed to tackle lower wellbeing.
Why would we want to do this? Because we also see a clear link between wellbeing and staff engagement. Staff who are more engaged are more likely to give higher scores for life satisfaction, ‘worthwhile activities’ and happiness. They are also more likely to give lower scores for anxiety. The links between engagement and wellbeing supports the business case for HR activities which increase both, and by doing so improve staff performance.
There is a growing number of examples of how departments are supporting staff wellbeing and we will look to share these across government. Furthermore we will also investigate, and where possible test, innovative new approaches from other sectors that might be applicable to the civil service. We will continue to share progress on these pages.
- CSPS 2012 – Wellbeing toolkit (Powerpoint document): a toolkit for action contains information on wellbeing in the Civil Service People Survey and five action points for individuals or organisations to undertake
- NHS Scotland and the Universities of Warwick and Edinburgh have collaborated to produce a Wellbeing Tool. The tool uses WEMWBS, a scale which is often used by scientists and psychologists to measure wellbeing
- The aim of the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing has been to advise the Government on how to achieve the best possible mental development and mental wellbeing for everyone in the UK in the future
- The Health and Safety Executive website outlines an approach to help employers and managers manage sickness absence and return to work
- The Management Standards for work related stress define the characteristics, or culture, of an organisation where the risks from work related stress are being effectively managed and controlled
- Working for a Healthier Tomorrow (PDF) is a review of the health of Britain’s working age population
- Improving Health and Work: Changing Lives (PDF) is the Government’s response to the Working for a Healthier Tomorrow review
- The Whitehall II study was established in 1985 by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and his University College London team to investigate the importance of social class for health by following a cohort of over 10,000 working men and women
- The ACAS Model Workplace (PDF) helps employers check how good their organisation is at people management – from recruitment to performance management to wellbeing
The evidence suggests that there are common processes that help create a positive working environment. In the UK, there are currently many frameworks and tools on supporting individual and organisation wellbeing. For example, these include:-
- Business in the Community’s Workwell Model
- The new economics foundation’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing
- The Workplace Wellbeing Charter developed by NHS Liverpool and now being rolled out to different English regions
- Ten Keys to Happier Living by Action for Happiness