IOSH president elect Lawrence Webb has been working on the wellbeing agenda in his day job as SHE strategy director at construction company Costain for some years. Support from the Board has been genuine and passionate, with a drive to create a workplace where everyone can be at their best.
In interacting and engaging with a network of like-minded professionals across industry, including IOSH, Business in The Community (BiTC) and others to enhance strategy, listen, support and share knowledge, one constant has been the question: 'How do we know whether we are doing well, and how do we compare?' A great question and one that deserves an answer.
I recently attended a launch session for new research in this area which demonstrated that no matter how diverse organisations and sectors of industry, there are general patterns and specifics that can – and need – to be accounted for when measuring wellbeing.
To start with, a universally agreed definition for and an understanding of wellbeing would help. On reflection, this sounds obvious and, for me personally, there are signs which show my own wellbeing is under strain: the need for laugh-out-loud humour or to watch a deliberately excessive action film or to listen to certain selections from my varied taste in music; an insatiable pull to visit my de-stress places of Rannoch in Scotland or Wengen in Switzerland or perhaps even the satisfaction that comes with the use of my knowledge to help teach others or solve problems.
People smarter than me state that these feelings result from chemical reactions in the brain that make us feel happy and satisfied. Herein lies a major realisation. Wellbeing isn’t one thing. It isn’t done to us; it is us. It’s personal and one of the reasons measuring wellbeing has been a difficult path to tread.
Agreeing a definition for wellbeing, or the inputs at least, is the first challenge. There are many variations but, generally, you could consider the cumulative effect on how we feel accounting for our physical and mental health, external influences related to our social standing, sense of connection, the environment around us and aspects associated with family and other needs such as financial safeguards and security. This indicates the extent of those influences.
But why measure? If you don’t, how do you know anything? You can’t manage without data, so for any strategy, intervention, or improvement to be effective, behaviourally sound leading and lagging metrics are needed to understand our beginnings and drive our progress. Again, standardisation is necessary for consistency, interpretation and then acting. The global perspective is further complicated by differing standards in terms of culture and legal requirements for example. These are just some of the reasons why wellbeing and its measurement is so hard. Hard and perhaps difficult, but important and not impossible.
We are changing as a global society. In recent years, we have reflected on our wants, our needs, our habits, and our ethics but one thing is clear: we must address and maintain our wellbeing as a societal whole, at an organisational level and as individuals. Alongside related disciplines, the OSH profession is perfectly placed to assist and support employers as an essential stakeholder if we are going to thrive going forward.
This piece is not intended to provide an answer or a plan, but with the work being done in this remit driven by a growing understanding of and need for social sustainability, I feel we may be at the early stages of making headway in this essential remit and that makes me happy.
That’s a chemical reaction in the brain, you know.
Lawrence Webb is IOSH president elect