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 min read

Systematic Wellbeing

Our CIPD People Management 'Best use of People Analytics' award winning case-study with Experian

Systematic Wellbeing

What is it and how do we get it right?

Over the past year we have seen a wealth of positive enthusiasm and action being taken towards addressing Mental Health at work. We’ve also seen the shift to more remote and hybrid working options along with a wave of new ‘work tech’ tools to support better collaboration and productivity.

But how do we know if these new and progressive approaches are working effectively? How do we bring more conscious design thinking to how we organise our work and teams to thrive? How do we avoid things like burnout occurring in the first place?

A recent survey highlights a stark reality that we are experiencing burnout at epidemic proportions; 89% of people report experiencing burnout in the past year, but the most important question really hangs in why are we still suffering and struggling along with it? Burnout is not a new concept and for years the trend has been far from ideal. Why does it remain ignored? It would seem that despite best efforts, organisations are focusing on treating the symptom… Not the cause.

Why does burnout develop? What matters most?

When you explore the precursors to burnout, research indicates that poor workplace wellbeing is often directly linked to the workplace environment, work design and workplace behaviours, norms and values in the way in which work gets done. Psychologists refer to these things as ‘psychosocial’ factors - the aspects around us that interact with and impact how we think, feel and behave. 

In other words, burnout can be explained by a very simple formula - it develops when our demands exceed our ability to cope effectively, for too long. Examples of demands include high workload, competing pressures, volatile change, conflict and emotional strain at work, to name a few.

This is not something that happens overnight, it is something that gradually chips away at our personal resources due to chronic stress on an everyday basis. We call this the ‘doom loop’ - that wrenching feeling you get as things spiral downward within your work or life and you find yourself in a frenzied, exhausted, survival mode. Specifically, the three sure signs of burnout are 1) a state of exhaustion, 2) cynicism and finally 3) low sense of accomplishment. Whilst these three symptoms are measurable, arguably it is more important to be able to measure the factors in our environments and behaviours that can lead to burnout developing if we are to avoid it (a.k.a psychosocial factors). 

If we understand why things like burnout occur within our workplaces, why then do we not take the time to measure it systematically? Why do we leave mental health to chance or wait for issues to fester in order to act? And why is it that our workplace wellbeing strategies seem to jump only to yoga, meditation or solutions for when we are in crisis? A compelling article by The Financial Times recently outlined this paradox, raising the point that supportive messages, initiatives and apps from workplaces are meaningless unless the intensity of work is addressed. 

This is such an important area, that 70% of us report that we would leave our workplaces to join somewhere with better resources to address burnout. This isn’t surprising, especially given that burnout increases the likelihood of poor mental health (e.g. anxiety, depression) and impacts overall productivity and performance over time.

We’re now facing in to a new era of sustainable work

Sentiment and expectations from employees have now fundamentally changed - the need to focus on employee experience is not new and the onset of remote working from the pandemic has meant that our broken ways of living and working are being called into question even more than ever before. Once upon a time it was expected for work to “suck,” - today, this no longer stands. The coined term “the great resignation” brings raw focus to this new reality of shifting expectations. ‘Burning the midnight oil’ is no longer something we accept within our working norms. The concept of the “office-as-a-factory” is dying and with good reason.

Developing healthy, sustainable workplaces starts with data

If we are to make fundamental changes to how we live and work for the better, then we need to be informed and we need to be data-led. Without insights, we risk leaving our mental health, work-lives and organisational cultures to chance. The good news is that we already have a rich scientific understanding of human psychology and exciting new technology that now allows us to better innovate within this space. This is where People Matter have brought together the latest thinking to innovate in how we can measure, track and manage the factors that are most important to workplace mental health at scale.

We call this systematic wellbeing.

By taking a more scientific, data-led approach to our workplace cultures and working patterns, perhaps we can be empowered to not only understand where real issues are festering (and why), but to also take a more preventative approach. What if we could create more conscious, intentionally designed systems and cultures that support us as individuals as well as the collective? 

Without this, we fear that we will find ourselves stuck in an endless vortex of overworking and ‘toxic wellbeing’ practices that never get to the core issue, meaning continued unsustainable practices, more suffering, more burnout. Etc.

What is systematic wellbeing?

People Matter have developed a methodology to develop systematic wellbeing cultures. This means that organisations move from being solely in the ‘action zone’ towards a process of gathering insight, developing evidence based strategies and from this launch more effective action that can then be evaluated.

Key components of systematic wellbeing:

Insight

  • Underpinned by psychology/science
  • Robust measurement
  • Data-led stories

Strategy

  • Informed by data to target focus
  • Evidence based
  • Inclusive

Action

  • Owned by 'the business' and not HR
  • Human focused
  • Impact driven
To enable systematic wellbeing within the workplace:

To develop a more systematic approach to workplace wellbeing, there are a number of core factors that need to be developed.

1. Measurement to enable Insight, Strategy & Action

Identifying core aspects that are important to measure are central to the approach. This means going beyond the more simplistic factors such as engagement, which only provides a small slice of insight on employee wellbeing. 

Understanding the psychology of mental health, burnout and flourishment are essential areas to explore and define. Importantly, defining the psychosocial risk factors (environmental, behavioural) that could influence and impact mental health is key.

In 2021, the British Standards Institute released a new workplace standard to address this; ISO45003. 

In addition, defining a robust measurement and data collection framework is of critical importance. Relying solely on surveys will limit the insights that you can glean. 

At People Matter, we not only collect subjective wellbeing data that measures the mental health and psychosocial risk factors, but we can also analyse digital working patterns to better understand the dynamics of the flow of work. Taken together, this provides a rich 360 view of how things are working. All data is always private - individuals can not be identified. 

Being ethical is a principle that should always be at the forefront of any measurement approach.

Finally, data is only powerful if it is understood and used effectively to inform action. It is therefore critical to empower not only the business, but individuals with their own data to empower action. This is a central part to our approach at People Matter.

2. Management

If workplace cultures are to be sustainable and healthy, then the role of the manager must be addressed. This means setting expectations and being clear on how managers can better support employees with their mental health, by creating psychologically safe environments and to encourage signposting to important resources. Providing managers with access to insights also enables a deeper, more tangible understanding of how the team might be doing and provides clarity on where to focus precious attention. 

Taking this a step further, setting in place wellbeing action plans for managers to own with their team is extremely powerful. When these action plans are informed by feedback and data, it also means that action can be targeted and success can be measured.

Our approach at People Matter provides a specific manager toolkit to address this. Offering not only insights on team wellbeing anonymously, but also intelligent recommendations on actions that can be taken with the team. This can be anything from conversation starters, team activities and things to notice.

3. Behaviour

Developing a wellbeing culture is much more than launching an initiative or training programme. The shadow that leaders and managers cast on the tone of the climate and culture is significant, which comes down to everyday attitudes and behaviours. 

Building awareness of these behaviours and biases can be very powerful along with building up positive role model behaviours. For example, how are your managers and leaders operating day-to-day? Are emails and actions being sent at odd times or unrealistic demands being made from them to their teams? 

Working with managers and leaders to agree on a shared approach to positive workplace behaviours that are important to wellbeing, measuring against these and celebrating good examples go a long way in developing a more embedded, healthy culture. In our approach here at People Matter, we offer training and support on how to understand mental health so that everyone has a shared language and approach to developing healthy behaviours.

4. Systematic

Continuous measurement, reporting and management against the above key areas is the final part of Systematic wellbeing. This means establishing a solution that provides ongoing insights, processes that provide clear ways to identify and address issues or risks, and clear lines of responsibility. 

Taking this a step further, this ideally should exist across all parts of the organisation; for every individual, manager, leader and the strategic business. 

Without systemising the approach, organisations will not be successful in delivering the intended impact. Change is now constant as is our mental health. It is a constant moving picture. If we are to be more preventative and proactive, ongoing measurement and action is essential.

Putting theory into action

CIPD Awards Case Study:

Rapid transformation in a business, paired with a global pandemic, is a recipe for increased pressure, stress and a risk of poor mental health and burnout. This was the case for Experian’s UK Group HRD, who had limited data or insight into employee mental wellbeing during a process of change.

In 2020, Experian and People Matter welcomed Okina, a new analytics platform which provided a 360-degree view of wellbeing across the organisation, and meant Experian could track the impact of transformation and the pandemic on wellbeing.

The Digital Self technology allowed Experian to integrate its communications channels, such as Microsoft Teams, along with its HR system to provide a deep analysis of how working patterns influence mental wellbeing.

Individuals also had access to the Okina app, which was designed to work as a mental wellness companion to provide deep insight on the current state of mental wellbeing for employees.

Experian developed focused and targeted interventions to specific areas of the business by providing actionable insights via Okina Care, and decrease overall stress-related absence.

With the insights being delivered in real time, Experian proactively identified areas of the business where the risk of burnout was high or increasing over time, and delivered specific interventions based on what the data showed.

The judges said the platform was “very timely given the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic” and that People Matter had a robust predictive model that enabled the organisation to empower its employees to make meaningful decisions on wellbeing.

Privacy and data protection are built into everything at People Matter and this was the same for Okina. For the individual, when launching Okina and into the organisation there are several levels of consent required for the data to feed through into the Okina Care analytics platform.

The App allows users to anonymously share their ‘digital self’ (email, calendar and chat) information with their employer, and individuals are always given complete control over their data. Plus, Okina Care only ever reports on groups of 10 or more individuals within a team, and where this information is not available, the platform will clearly highlight this so no individuals are identified through the Okina platform.

The judges said there was a “great application of data science principles” with potential to explore the link between the app’s wellness model and organisation’s performance without identifying individuals and further extend the benefits.

To find out more and take the next step in your journey, please visit our website or book in a chat


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