How do you know which wellbeing activities are effective for your employees?

Over the past 10 weeks, we have highlighted different aspects of staff wellbeing that employers should be aware of and can support during this time of continued change and uncertainty. Next week will be the last in our series. We’ll be sharing a new workplace wellbeing survey that extends our previous snapshot questionnaire.
(If you would like to jump back to any of the previous emails in this series for a refresher, you can find them here). 

An uncertain return to work spaces

ONS data shows furloughed workers are beginning to return to work, with 5% of the workforce having returned from furlough leave between 18 May and 14 June. Some retail and hospitality businesses are now reopening. Yet the way we will be commuting and working is still changing as a result of the pandemic and the future for many people is uncertain. More than half of all adults in the UK say that they are still unable to make plans

Work and wellbeing in a new normal

Now is an important time to commit to your employees’ wellbeing as organisations, economies and society continue to shift and change. There are many different interventions that you may be thinking about introducing in your workplace. From those that address the specific health risks associated with Covid-19 and new working from home setups, to those that foster a sense of purpose and teamwork. These can benefit your employees, and in turn improve the productivity and resilience of your business. 

What wellbeing activities are effective (and cost-effective)?

The Centre works with research partners, businesses, government and other organisations to find the evidence of what works (and what doesn’t) to improve wellbeing.

This week we publish the findings from a systematic review of workplace wellbeing activities and programmes. This is a high-quality study of all the existing research. It is the evidence that informs our guidance for better workplace wellbeing.

As well as identifying a diverse range of successful wellbeing activities and programmes that organisation’s have introduced, the review also found that even in organisations where there is cynicism towards wellbeing interventions, this can be overcome. This means it’s possible to shift attitudes and build the capabilities of those delivering the activities or programmes, so that a supportive workplace context can enable the success of interventions. 

And we’re seeing a broader shift in attitudes towards recognition for the value of a wellbeing approach, and the role of businesses and employers more broadly in such an approach. Some examples of successful programmes are:

  • A USA-based social care organisation ran a 12-month peer-led group programme called ‘Community of Practice and Safety Support (COMPASS)’ targeted to home social care workers. The intervention involved education on safety, health, and well-being; goal setting and self-monitoring; and structured social support. In a randomised controlled trial the participant group showed significant improvements in health and safety behaviours and performance. At least two factors were key to the success of the programme: (1) establishing functional learning structures (e.g. using evidence in early stages of the intervention); and (2) establishing effective governance and delivery structures (e.g. regular project group meetings).

  • A Brazilian manufacturing firm implemented a 4-month participatory ergonomics programme aimed at improving workers’ quality of life and productivity. The programme included training and support from external consultants. At the outset of the intervention, workers had little confidence in management and weak commitment to change. However, there were noticeable changes to job roles, tools, processes and work spaces, with ultimately significant improvements in quality of life and the quality of work processes. The case study revealed at least two key factors related to the success of the intervention: (1) establishing functional learning structures (e.g. problem-solving approaches and training); and (2) having a planned sequencing of activities (e.g. from establishing the need for the programme and defining objectives, through to designing of the research to evaluate the changes and defining expected and unexpected effects). 

Taking action on wellbeing

There are many ways in which an organisation can address employees’ wellbeing. The question is, where to start. The review finds that for any activity - from job design to team-building to sport programmes and so on - there are five principles that underpin a successful wellbeing intervention which you can use when planning your approach to wellbeing:

  1. Communication – A key thread running through many successful initiatives is ongoing communication about wellbeing. 

  2. Commitment – This is about perseverance. The evidence shows that, in many cases, it is possible to overcome things that can get in the way of successfully implementing a workplace health and wellbeing programme.

  3. Consistency – The vital thing here is ensuring compatibility with existing processes, systems and organisational norms – but only where existing processes, systems and organisational norms are not toxic for health and wellbeing. Attaining consistency with existing ways of doing things reduces the scope for conflict and resistance.

  4. Coherence – It is important to ensure workplace health and wellbeing programmes are coherent, in that there is a consistent narrative on the importance of wellbeing that is evident to front line workers, line and middle managers and senior managers. As well as through communication, this comes from having elements of the programme that are self-reinforcing and integrated, rather than working against each other or duplicating something that was introduced in the recent past.

  5. Creativity – Creating new social norms or organisational processes about wellbeing is necessary where existing norms or processes are toxic to wellbeing (examples might be social norms that tolerate bullying, encourage unsafe working practices and excessive hours).

Whatever programme you develop to improve wellbeing in your organisation it’s vital to measure its effectiveness. 

The new workplace wellbeing survey that we will be sharing next week is an important tool for collecting data at regular intervals so that you’re able to monitor wellbeing over time. 

If you would like advice on bespoke evaluations of programmes and interventions or if you would like support with tailored analysis of your data as well as support to improve wellbeing, please do get in touch. 

Below are some of the ways the What Works Centre for Wellbeing can support you.


If you would like tailored help to measure your results, get in touch.

Contact us>>


Find out how other people in the UK respond to our wellbeing snapshot survey questions with these benchmarks.
Read more>>


We will soon be launching a comprehensive Workplace Wellbeing Index. You will be the first to find out about it when it's ready.

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