Work wellbeing breakthrough

More than 3,000 academic studies about wellbeing in the workplace have been systematically reviewed to come up with a free online guide to the most effective strategies for supporting employees.

The World Wellbeing Movement together with the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre and employee website Indeed have distilled the key insights into an accessible, high-level summary with practical suggestions of how to tackle workplace wellbeing issues including stress.

Sarah Cunningham is a co-author of the Work Wellbeing Playbook and is Managing Director of the World Wellbeing Movement. She says:

“While the downsides of poor workplace wellbeing to both employees and their employers have sadly been well-documented, we are also now starting to establish a better picture of the positive impact of strong workplace wellbeing.

“But employers need to take a holistic approach if they want their wellbeing strategies to actually translate into improved employee wellbeing. And now, thanks to our collaboration with both the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, and the recruitment company, Indeed, we are able to provide organisations with the tools to achieve just that.

“Employers, though, should be under no illusion: there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving workplace wellbeing. Each organisation must develop their own unique ‘menu’ of resources based on their unique employee needs and environment.

“Although there is no magic formula, and all interventions have their limitations, many companies start to affect positive change when they combine multiple interventions (organisational-level interventions, group-level interventions and individual-level interventions) across multiple drivers of employee wellbeing.”

“Wellbeing can no longer be an afterthought in the workplace,” believes LaFawn Davis, SVP of Environmental, Social, and Governance at Indeed.

“Some of us have part-time gigs, some of us work 40 hours a week at work, and some of us spend much more. It is imperative that employers understand the ways in which they can empower their workers and increase their feelings of happiness, purpose, and satisfaction while lowering their stress.”

An interdisciplinary team of researchers also including sociologist Dr William Fleming, social intervention and policy expert Cherise Regier, and economist Micah Kaats contributed to the review.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the Saïd Business School, Oxford, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre, and a co-author of the Work Wellbeing Playbook, said: “It’s clearer than ever that how we feel matters at work. The quality of our work affects how we feel and, equally importantly for employers, the inverse is also true.

“The fact that many workplace interventions focus on the individual employee – and therefore only scratch the surface of the true drivers of wellbeing at work – demonstrates the urgent need for a clear, but concise and accessible resource such as this playbook, sharing strategies proven to boost workplace wellbeing.

“My hope is that the Work Wellbeing Playbook will serve as the ultimate foundation for improving the future of work.”

Here is an example of the playbook’s best-practice suggestions to tackle one factor of workplace wellbeing: stress.  

1 Involve employees with decision making

“This action is particularly important when implementing new interventions – asking employees to help co-design solutions to workplace problems can lead to greater success,” says the playbook.

2 Identify stressors in your organisation

Working out what is causing employees’ anxiety at work is a vital factor in dealing with it. To measure stress in your organisation, try the UK’s Health and Safety Executive Management Standards Indicator Tool or ASSET: An Organisational Stress Screening Tool.

3 Job crafting

This is when employees can reshape a work task to “better align with their personal needs, goals, and skills,” explains the playbook.

“It involves identifying the conditions that are hindering their wellbeing or productivity and making adjustments to reduce or eliminate them.”

4 Redesign jobs

Job quality is strongly affected by how tasks and duties are structured and scheduled, affirms research. Engaging employees and managers to talk about how best to carry out a role can go a long way to tackle stress.

5 Flexible working and employee control

Empowering employees to have greater autonomy over how they work helps people achieve a work-life balance, which typically leads to greater job satisfaction.

6 Leadership

“The wellbeing and behaviours of leaders are linked to employee stress levels, absenteeism, and job satisfaction,” reports the playbook. “Thus, interventions that reduce leaders’ stress levels and encourage positive leadership behaviours can improve overall workplace wellbeing.”

7 Encourage relaxation

Mindfulness, yoga, meditation and muscle relaxation therapy is proven to have an impact on reducing stress in the workplace. The playbook cites a randomised control trial of an eight-week relaxation programme for employees across different workplaces, which resulted in “significant” reductions of stress. The programme involved deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation twice a day for 20 minutes.

The Work Wellbeing Playbook has been divided into 12 categories to give managers a high-level summary of the findings, with practical suggestions of how to implement initiatives:

Achievement

Appreciation

Compensation

Energy

Flexibility

Inclusion and Belonging

Learning

Management

Purpose

Stress

Support

Trust

To download the playbook, which is available as open access and free-of-charge and to find out more about the World Wellbeing Movement and the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre, see: https://worldwellbeingmovement.org/playbook/

Cunningham, S., Fleming, W., Regier, C., Kaats, M., & De Neve, J. (2024) Work Wellbeing Playbook: A Systematic Review of Evidence-Based Interventions to Improve Employee Wellbeing. World Wellbeing Movement.

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