Author Profile Picture

Paul Carter

HR Writer

Read more about Paul Carter

Standing up for the workplace wellbeing profession


The role of health and wellbeing professionals is not to be a positive and shining beacon of light for the company. Their aim is to improve the health of both the business and its people by ensuring employees feel supported, respected and included. 

Telling people you work in health and wellbeing is like saying you studied leisure and tourism at college. “Oh, cool,” people say as everyone wants to be fit, happy and go on holiday. “But what do you do, and why does it matter?”

Everyone knows that flexible working, good managers, meaningful work and inclusive cultures are good for business. My challenge is to prove I am instrumental in making that happen and enabling organisations to deliver and evolve in the new world of work.

With jobs being automated and created, and so much uncertainty ahead, maybe health and wellbeing is important. 

Standing up for my profession

I was at a summer barbecue discussing my job when someone said, “Employees have to look after their own wellbeing, not depend on their employer.” This led to comments about poor performers citing stress or mental health problems to avoid disciplinary action, and a shared resistance to organisations being your buddy.

Everyone was bonding through their mutual respect and understanding of their innate ability to succeed in business, whatever barriers they face. Wanting to join in, I said the statistic that ‘one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem’ was becoming such a clichéd hook for debating the topic.

Pride in my career and empathy with that 25 per cent made me regret that comment. Although it’s difficult to challenge the dominant opinion in a public setting, I refocused the conversation, saying the changing world of work and personality clashes could make any of the partygoers vulnerable to work-related stress, career derailment and redundancy, which really got the party rocking.

To prevent a food fight, I conceded that public and private sector approaches to resolving long-term absences and poor performance may differ. However, my point was health and wellbeing matters because experts, organisations and professionals say so. It’s a megatrend supported by research on how deconstructing what it means in practice can give organisations a competitive edge in performance, engagement, recruitment and retention.

People agreed but the debate over organisational and individual responsibility continued. A resolution was needed so everyone could tuck into their steaks. The horn blew and I heard ‘Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin…’ Jump Around pumped out of the speakers to end the stand-off and get people dancing. Unfortunately, no-one heard me say jumping up and down mitigates the health risks of our sedentary office jobs.

If the organisation hits the right notes in their approach to health and wellbeing, the employees will sing along and feel good doing it; thriving when times are good, united by the meaningful anthems, and finding hope in the heartfelt pain of the tearjerkers. When the music stops, it’s time to move on.

We do not dance around the office with balloons, telling everyone to soak up the positive energy of organisational change and play ‘guess my favourite colour’ at team meetings.

The one where everyone thrives and jives

Addressing the perception that organisations want to be your buddy made me reflect on the Friends episode where the kooky and rather offensive Phoebe Buffay stops a depressed office manager from killing himself because his colleagues ignore him and his life feels meaningless.

Good for her, but for most people the thought of Phoebe as a health and wellbeing buddy would be the final straw. A guitar-playing gossip, turning personal stories into happy-clappy songs, bringing her smelly cat into work, and seeking to increase engagement by telling everyone they are lobsters who stay together for life. Everyone would wonder what difference her job makes and question the importance of health and wellbeing.

Showcase your purpose, survive the process map of productivity and deliver outcomes.

Health and wellbeing professionals are not like Phoebe or Alec Baldwin’s overly enthusiastic character Parker who looked on the bright side of everything. We do not dance around the office with balloons, telling everyone to soak up the positive energy of organisational change and play ‘guess my favourite colour’ at team meetings.

We are HR professionals who embed health and wellbeing in business delivery and employee relations because if everyone feels fulfilled, respected and confident in asking for help, organisations can succeed and play their part in building a more inclusive and supportive society.

We do our job to help you do yours. And organisations can learn something from Friends: “I’ll be there for you because you’re there for me too.”

Final thoughts

What difference do I make to the world of work? I concur with the experts: “We should not measure our wellbeing just by looking at GDP or measured output per worker. We should look at the whole life,” says Professor Richard Cooper in this Mckinsey Podcast.

Showcase your purpose, survive the process map of productivity and deliver outcomes. Your career is an algorithm, you just have to ride it. So keep on developing and enjoy your life.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is entirely my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of any organisations I am affiliated with.

5 Responses

  1. Thank you for your comments.
    Thank you for your comments. I agree everyone needs to own the wellbeing agenda, but I’m a HR professional employed to ensure this happens. The more people talk about it, the more it becomes accepted as part of business delivery. My job involves data analysis, policy-making, management practice and much more. So it is a proper job!

  2. I’m really intrigued that you
    I’m really intrigued that you feel a need to ‘stand up’ for the workplace wellbeing profession. As a HR and wellbeing professional supporting businesses to make good wellbeing part of their ‘DNA’, I actively discourage HR professionals from ‘owning’ wellbeing. We all need to own the wellbeing agenda, whatever that means in our organisation. This applies whether we label ourselves finance, marketing, HR, customer services, facilities or any other department/activity.
    Good wellbeing is a fundamental human right and not a set of initiatives or ‘things to do’. You can feel it in the culture of an organisation and it is driven by a multitude of activities, behaviours and employee/employer practices, including how we talk and listen to each other.

    It is great practice to encourage wellbeing ‘champions’ within the business and these people should come from every level every department. As soon as we put it in the HR camp, in my experience it just becomes another HR ‘initiative’ and loses credibility and engagement from the wider organisation.

    1. Hi Lucy, hi Paul
      Hi Lucy, hi Paul
      Thank you for your article and your important comment. I am with both of you. Yes, it is important that wellbeing is not a stand-alone initiative from HR. But it is also vital that someone takes the lead (usually HR), at least as long managers still believe that wellbeing is a pretext for low performers.
      I referenced and linked your article in my blog post

  3. Regardless of your profession
    Regardless of your profession, it does not matter what other people have to say about it. At the end of the day, you are holding that very post so you need to be happy while doing it. That is what we encourage at our self storage which is for our employees to love serving us and our customers so as to ensure they are enjoying what they are doing and they will always give their best everytime.

  4. I am not trying to say that I
    I am not trying to say that I’m not supportive of businesses offering such services to its employees, but I think it’s rather akin to having a confessional box in the office. I mean, you’re basically trying to find a solution for your employees to vent and discuss issues they might have. That can be done in a lot of different ways without increasing headcount…

Author Profile Picture
Paul Carter

HR Writer

Read more from Paul Carter