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Cary Cooper

Robertson Cooper


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HR and health: The hard work starts here


Wellbeing and work. For HR at least the two ideas are synonymous but it’s only relatively recently that some of our biggest businesses and CEOs have settled down to consider this new world view. Perhaps they’ve been distracted by the huge numbers flying around: absenteeism costs £29bn a year, presenteeism £15bn and mental ill health is a major challenge matched by its’ over £70bn financial impact in the UK.

The wellbeing discussion shouldn’t just be about minimizing ‘regrettable’ labourt turnover and costs. We’re beginning to see a notable shift, from ‘safety first’ to ambitious strategies that use wellbeing to drive personal and business growth. In short, creating organisations that thrive.

But the HR community aren’t sitting around, slapping each other on the back for recognising the potential of healthy, engaged people. It’s now that we’ve reached this tipping point of acknowledging the importance of wellbeing, that the hard work starts.

At Robertson Cooper, we’ve surveyed over 30,000 UK workers and 95% agree they are committed to achieving the goals of their job, with 74% agreeing that it’s worthwhile to work hard for their organisation. The question is how do we harness this ‘sense of purpose’, this potential? Creating emotionally intelligent organizations, and the right balance of support and challenge, is a task that encompasses the entire business.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is where to start. Malcolm Gladwell sums the answer up nicely in his book, The Tipping Point; ‘we have somehow become convinced that we need to tackle the whole problem, all at once. But the truth is that we don’t’. Strategies that work don’t get formed in a day, but they do start from a common point.

Those organisations who have fully developed cultures of health share the same thing, a confidence in what they stand for, where wellbeing fits, and what it can achieve. For some, that sense is reflected right down to their job advert straplines (Doing cool things that matterthis is our story, ready to shine).

The wellbeing agenda has definitely benefitted from a new mood following the recession. Businesses response isn’t just about getting the finances in order, it’s about how they bring meaning to and serve communities (which at the same time is good for business). The next three to five years present a great opportunity for businesses to grow that same confidence, and to break out of the mindset that just tackles individual symptoms.

In its’ place is a rounded view of people and their motivations at work, something which is already defining how the best talent look for their next role. Barclays have recently announced a great step towards that view, surveying all junior bankers on their role models in the workplace. These are the things that matter and we need to find a way to join them up in a meaningful way with how we think about performance and bottom line success. I was recently at City Hall for a ‘Bank on Your People’ event with a number of banks all looking to address the question of culture and wellbeing strategy – an encouraging sign that it’s definitely on the agenda.

The World Health Organisation model of wellbeing reflects that idea, defining these key areas – Psychological, Physical and Social Wellbeing. It’s these themes which form the centre of the Good Day at Work Conference I’ve organized this year, to help businesses think about their wellbeing strategies. In many conversations I have with business leaders, we recognise the power of wellbeing. Now is the time to ask, what is the organisation hoping to achieve by harnessing it? Whichever processes you use to bring that to life in your organisation, reaping the full benefit of wellbeing at work will depend on the answer to that question.

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Cary Cooper


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