Staff happiness and organisational success are inextricably linked. In the week that HSJ reveals the best places to work in healthcare, Noeleen Doherty explains how to ensure a health organisation and its employees can flourish

Charlene Betts

Staff nurse Charlene Betts

Charlene Betts

Although legislation requires organisations to ensure the health and safety of their employees, supporting a healthy and happy workforce has many benefits beyond meeting this regulatory “duty of care”.

The challenge for organisations is to recognise the interconnected nature of organisational health and employee health.

‘Cultures that allow long working hours and a poor work-life balance result in increased sickness absence’

Wellbeing for the individual is about feeling good and being able to function effectively.

Evidence suggests, however, that the workplace can have an adverse impact on wellbeing: cultures that allow long working hours, conflicting work demands, a poor work-life balance and poor working practices result in increased sickness absence, along with low effectiveness and productivity. Such situations result in resource depletion.

Short and long term effects

The pressures of putting in long hours at the office, being seen to be “present”, being unable to have sufficient time off from the job or not being able to engage in meaningful work all prevent people from functioning effectively.

This impacts on organisational efficacy in both the short and the long term.

‘Not being able to engage in meaningful work prevent people from functioning effectively’

The focus on avoiding the loss of potential creativity, employee commitment and performance has for a long time been the basis for building a business case geared towards avoiding the negative outcomes of poor wellbeing.

The counter perspective is one of resource accumulation, an approach that fosters the adoption of good management practices as advocated by the Health and Safety Executive.

Growth and development

“Plain good management” can support the growth and development of employees by creating:

  • a positive work environment where jobs are well designed and appropriately matched with individual skills; and
  • an organisational culture where people are provided a degree of autonomy and supported to achieve a good work-life balance.

Creating a culture in which people feel valued and trusted and can also engage in meaningful relationships is fundamental.

Environments that encourage employee involvement reflect an organisation’s culture and management style, and are reinforced by fair human resources policies. These environments support and facilitate the individual’s ability to become resilient.

‘Environments that encourage employee involvement reflect an organisation’s culture and management style’

These strong people are more likely to be able to develop adaptive coping mechanisms and have better wellbeing. By encouraging such resource accumulation, individual wellbeing is supported and the conditions that drive productivity and organisational effectiveness are reinforced.

Pockets of good practice across a range of organisations have been identified and published by the Department for Work and Pensions

For example, the occupational health management programme on the site of the Olympic Park and Olympic Village identified and treated health conditions, allowing continued employment on site. 

Further examples of good practice flag the occupational health initiatives in the Department of Health’s Improving Working Lives standard for staff. 

Organisational success

Corporates such as pharmaceutical company AstraZenica have achieved major financial savings through initiatives that aim to reduce sickness absence levels, while other companies such as BT and Unilever have adopted a proactive approach by instituting programmes designed to support the health and wellbeing of employees by helping them to make healthy choices.

Perhaps it is not surprising that it is now recognised that wellbeing and happiness are crucial to both national and organisational success.

‘Cultivating a culture where people feel valued, trusted and can engage in meaningful relationships is fundamental’

The Better Life Index, created in 2011 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, includes a subjective wellbeing measure that considers life satisfaction as a key index.

In the UK the national wellbeing survey run by the Office for National Statistics also measures life satisfaction. While recent figures indicate that the UK scored above the EU average on some measures, these are positive trends at a national level and not a signal for complacency.

There is a continued need to address issues that are relevant to the workplace, as well as those relevant to the creation and maintenance of a safe, physical and positive social work environment.

Good practice principles in achieving this include:

  • a clear policy on wellbeing;
  • resources to help ensure appropriate provision of support; and
  • regular monitoring of practice.

Failing to create a positive working environment, coherent job design, employee involvement and a proactive approach to wellbeing as a result of poor management practice is not a cost effective strategy.

Training managers so that they can understand different personalities, behaviours, motivations and stress tolerances means they will be able to recognise symptoms and support staff proactively.

Managers who understand the individual and how he or she relates to the work context can influence both commitment and a sense of wellbeing.

‘Recent figures indicate that the UK scored above the EU average on some life satisfaction measures’

Internal and external stakeholders, including senior managers, line managers, human resource managers and occupational health professionals, need to work together to facilitate a strategic approach to generate awareness and to provide support and wellness programmes for their employees.  

One major challenge for organisations is the need to recognise the importance of the interconnected nature of employee and organisational health. This is a message promoted by bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which recognises the role of the organisation in promoting and supporting employees to achieve their full potential. 

While most business leaders know instinctively that a happy, healthy and engaged workforce is a productive one, many still approach wellness like a bolt-on. In reality, there needs to be a holistic view, supported from the top.

Dr Noeleen Doherty is principal research fellow at Cranfield University School of Management