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An Introduction to Workplace Well-Being

Staff well-being is an increasingly relevant and necessary consideration in the modern workplace.

Well-being at its simplest level is perhaps ultimately about personal happiness - feeling good and living safely and healthily. This means not allowing work to undermine our basic purposes and needs in our lives and by extension those of our families and loved ones.

In this respect, well-being is a hugely significant aspect of our work and careers.

Many facets of work do not necessarily impact our core life needs. This cannot be said for well-being and stress, whose implications run very deeply indeed - mind, body and soul.

Background Information

Well-being and stress management issues are within the overall 'duty of care' that an employer owes to its employees, yet the consideration extends far beyond the employer's duty of care.

The subject of well-being has broad implications for quality of life - how we choose to live, from a philosophical and fulfilment viewpoint - and in some cases potentially how long we live and whether we enjoy health and happiness, or suffer anxiety and illness, or worse.

Everyone at work has a duty to safeguard and nurture personal well-being at work, especially when there is no one to help you do it.

  • From an organisational management angle, wellbeing is a major factor in quality, performance, productivity and therefore business effectiveness and profit.

Where a person's wellbeing reduces, so typically does his or her performance and effectiveness.

The Impacts of Reduced Well-Being in the Workplace

Across a team or entire organisation, if staff wellbeing is undermined, many key organisational performance factors can be negatively impacted, for example:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Increased mistakes and errors
  • Conflict (with colleagues and up-line/downline management/subordinates)
  • Grievance and disciplinary incidents
  • Sickness and absenteeism
  • Low morale and negative atmosphere
  • Poor customer service and quality
  • Resignations and job terminations (causing increased staff turnover)
  • Poor employer reputation among staff, customers, and potential new recruits

Aside from all this, well-being at work is very closely linked to well-being and health in life generally. 

  • Where wellbeing is eroded, people can get sick, mentally and physically.
  • At work particularly, pressures involving deadlines, responsibilities, task complexity, challenge, relationships, supervision, etc., can all seriously reduce our wellbeing, especially if we fail to recognise and deal with the risks.

Where workplace culture encourages a lot of competition and challenge among managers and staff, there can be tolerance and acceptance of stress. Sometimes there is even a sense of bravado and pride in handling stress, where pressure is regarded to be motivational and thrilling. There is a fine line however between healthy motivation and unhealthy stress.

Understanding the risks to workers in relation to stress and well-being is an increasingly important responsibility for the modern employer.

Terminology and Concepts

Well-being is strongly connected with work-related stress, and also with associated terms such as stress management, stress reduction, stress avoidance, etc. The principles and ideas within this well-being article, therefore, align with and support the stress management article on this website, which in turn supports the information here.

Workplace wellbeing has many variations, extensions, and related concepts/terminology, for example:

  • Emotional well-being
  • Psychological well-being
  • Staff/employee well-being
  • 'Wellness'
  • Health promotion (all broadly equating to the same thing when referred to in the workplace context)

Extending more specifically to:

  • Natural health
  • Alternative health
  • Holistic health (all alluding particularly to mind/body health, as a vital aspect of well-being)

This in turn connects to many and various methods, treatments and therapies used in safeguarding well-being, and the prevention/reduction of stress, for example:

  • Yoga
  • Reflexology
  • Acupuncture
  • Reiki (see the Reiki guide on this website)
  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)
  • Meditation
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Joy and laughter
  • Fresh air and physical exercise
  • Fun and games
  • Diet and hydration (drinking enough water)
  • Careful use of alcohol and drugs

Wellbeing is also strongly influenced by factors concerned with attitude and self-image, as we might consider via classical behavioural and motivational models, for example:

For an additional wide-ranging view of all issues potentially involved in workplace wellbeing, see the 'The Psychological Contract' explanation and models on this website.

First a little about the term 'well-being', its traditional definitions and origins will be outlined below.

Definitions and Origins of Well-Being

The format variations: 'wellbeing', 'well-being' and 'well-being' are equally correct, although the hyphenated form seems to be the most popular currently. Different versions are used on this page. If using this material for your own teaching notes, you may wish to apply a standard format to suit your local preferences.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary shows 'well-being' although given language development trends it's probable that the single word format, 'wellbeing', will increasingly become the most common form.

The OED (2nd ed., revised 2005) gives the following definition of well-being:

  • "Well-being - The state of being comfortable, healthy or happy."

In time, it is conceivable that this definition will become refined to reflect the context of work and employment.

The 'well-being' word combination came into use (first recorded, according to the OED) in 1613, so it's not a recent 'fashionable' term, or an expression arising from the 'politically correct' movement. The concept and terminology of well-being have existed for 300 years or more.

Interestingly the 1922 OED definition refers significantly to prosperity alongside health:

  • "Well-being - The state of being or doing well in life; happy, healthy, or prosperous condition; welfare."

The OED also informs us that the term came into English with influence from the French equivalent, 'bein-être' (pronounced 'be-an etra') loosely meaning 'good being'. This, in turn, seems influenced by the equivalent modern Latin expression, 'bene esse'.

History of Well-Being in the workplace

Please note that while this historical perspective is mainly focused on the UK, it broadly reflects the changing views and approaches to stress and wellbeing in much wider regions around the globe. Much of Europe is subject to similar laws, interpretations, and trends that apply to workplace standards and attitudes. Other parts of the world, notably the USA, along with developed and developing economies everywhere, share similar experiences in these issues.

National cultures vary of course, but in general, wherever people work, personal wellbeing can be affected by workplace stress. The subject of well-being generally, and the specific guidance which follows here, are matters of genuine global significance.

Physiology and Stress factors

The stress response causes physiological changes in a person which prepare the body for 'fight or flight'.

At one time, this would have been an essential response to physical danger to ensure survival.

In the workplace, stress can be caused by very many factors which are not physically threatening, but initiate the same physiological response. 

  • Unlike ancient men, it is normally inappropriate for people today to have to choose between fighting or running away, for example, when the computer crashes or having to sit next to a co-worker who whistles all day or facing a difficult meeting with the boss.
  • Nevertheless, these 'low level' threats (compared to a sabre-tooth tiger attack), which tend over a long period of time to go unnoticed, have potentially serious health consequences over the longer term.

These threats are also costly to businesses and organisations in terms of absenteeism and 'presenteeism', staff turnover, and performance generally.

In recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in reducing stress and its impact on performance, in part due to difficult economic conditions requiring more innovative and effective ways to cut costs.

The 1980s

Interest in the stress response began to grow during the 1980s. Emphasis was more on workers managing their own stress, rather than broader management of stress in the workplace. 

  • This coincided with the expansion of gyms and fitness regimes. 
  • The 1980s was a time of privatisation, mergers and increased competitiveness in international markets. 
  • Towards the end of the 80s, there was greater interest in managing stress at work with the words 'stress' and 'burnout' becoming more familiar in the corporate environment. 
  • At this time workshops started to be offered to employees and there was a recognition that certain occupations could be more stressful than others.

The 1990s

In the early 1990s, the prolonged recession prompted organisations to downsize and flatten their structures resulting in job losses. This left fewer people to do more work. 

At this time there were increased technological developments which generated increased information and a faster pace of work. 

  • There was an increase in the number of cases of stress. 
  • Companies began to take interest due to the costs of stress, notably absenteeism, staff turnover and litigation and began to develop policies on stress management. 
  • This period also saw the growth of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). EAPs originally included counselling and were progressively extended to include additional support, ranging from financial and legal advice to health packages.

The (UK) Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

In 1997 the 'New Labour' government was in place, and was interested in stress due to its impact on health, and specifically the cost to health services and industry. The HSE was tasked with looking at ways to address the issue of stress.

After a period of research, piloting and testing, in 2004 the Management Standards were launched by the HSE, specifically to address issues of poor health, lowered productivity and increased sickness absence. 

  • The standards offered guidelines on stress for employers and highlighted six aspects of work which if managed poorly could create stress in the workplace. 
The standards were introduced to encourage good practice and raise awareness of how organisational/working methods and activities influence stress.

  1. Demands - such as workload and work environment.
  2. Control - a person's individual influence over how their job is carried out.
  3. Support - from the organisation; management and colleagues.
  4. Relationships - to reduce conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour.
  5. Role - understanding of what the job entails; what is expected and needed.
  6. Change - how change is managed within the organisation.

In addition to these categories, the HSE produced an assessment tool for companies to evaluate performance. This was a 35-item survey, useful in terms of raising stress awareness and encouraging organisations to investigate the problems caused by stress.

In more recent years there have been significant developments in stress management in the working environment.

There has also been a significant change of emphasis in terminology, which reflects a shift in ideas and approach:

  • The wider concept and terminology of promoting wellbeing became a common way to view the subject, alongside which 'stress reduction' can now be seen to have a more limited meaning.
  • There is growing evidence that traditional methods of managing stress in organisations and work were not sufficiently effective. Costs to industry and employers - and therefore to national economies - in terms of mental ill-health at work (notably in absenteeism, staff turnover, and rehabilitation of staff off work long-term) have continued to rise.
  • There is now greater awareness of the role of managers in determining wellbeing at work and an increasing amount of research, particularly in the area of 'positive psychology, which indicates that factors such as the quality of the working environment and employee engagement are crucial to improving the personal wellbeing of workers.

With continuing pressure for organisations to decrease costs whilst promoting performance, this is an area likely to be of interest to politicians and business owners alike for some time to come.

Promotion of Wellbeing in the Workplace

Workplace stress has been defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as "...The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work..."

  • This type of stress occurs when employees feel unable to cope with work demands or environment, and can result in decreased productivity and reduction in physical or mental health. 
  • The costs to the organisation are high in terms of reduced productivity, absenteeism, staff turnover, and potentially, legal cases arising from stress-related claims.

The cost to the individual can be high, for example undermining the quality of life, relationships, self-esteem and health.

Causes of Stress

Causes of stress can be varied and include:

  • High workloads
  • Coping with change
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Bullying
  • Ineffective management
  • Lack of resources
  • Unsociable or inflexible working hours
  • Lack of respect (for the individual worker)
  • Unclear job specification
  • Little or no involvement in decisions
  • Few opportunities for training or personal development
  • Threat of redundancy

The UK Labour Force Survey showed that in 2008/2009 an estimated 415,000 individuals in Britain who worked in the previous year believed they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.

The 2009 Psychological Working Conditions (PWC) survey indicated that around 16.7% of all working individuals thought that their job was very or extremely stressful. For any organisation, the key issues relating to stress are:

  • Stress prevention - Prevention is better than cure and tends to be more cost-effective.
  • Identification of stress - The earlier the better. This ensures the appropriate intervention or support can be offered at the right time. This can be through direct observation by managers and by the organisation monitoring relevant quantifiable statistics such as absenteeism, performance, any conflict situations which arise, questionnaires and other appropriate assessment tools.
  • Stress management - This involves having a stress reduction and wellbeing policy, typically entailing: relevant support arrangements, the enabling of employee access to support services, and the creation of processes for dealing with employees unable to work due to stress, together with procedures for a successful return to work when ready to do so.
  • Promotion of wellbeing - Encouraging a supportive work environment, healthy lifestyle choices, nutritional or exercise campaigns and initiatives, motivational rewards for staff, and training and personal development opportunities.

Effectively targeting these key issues requires that all levels of staff, and all organisational aspects, are involved. Measures must be embedded within the organisational culture and be adopted as a responsibility by all ranks of management, up to the topmost leadership.

Strategies and the support available may vary depending on the size of the organisation and type of business, but whichever way policy is constructed, it must reach and be properly absorbed by every part of the organisation

  • The management of stress and the promotion of wellbeing cannot be effectively achieved when restricted to groups, departments or territories, or across particular layers of staff, or types of roles.

A stress management and wellbeing policy may include any or all of the measures shown below.

See also the guide to stress and stress management on this website, which provides additional detail and ideas for preventing and reducing stress as an individual, and as an employer.

Policy Framework for Stress Management

The organisational issues and measures explained here for reducing stress and promoting wellbeing can be seen merely as guiding notes for learning and for perhaps developing a well-being strategy. Additionally, these notes serve potentially as a framework through which a formal organisational 'staff wellbeing policy' can be created.

1. Positive Work Culture

Create a positive work culture. Positive work culture is one with a clear vision and purpose and where staff are aware of their individual contribution.

  • This enables staff to be engaged with the success of the company.
  • Staff do not generally become truly involved with the aims and successes of the organisation without being encouraged and enabled to do so.

Where staff support each other and feel valued this tends to generate and maintain an atmosphere of confidence.

This is developed by:

  1. Having a clear business purpose and ensuring this is communicated throughout the organisation.
  2. Effective and ongoing communication between all levels of the organisation. Particularly, senior management must be accessible to all staff, especially those on the front line (typically 'customer-facing', or 'factory floor' employees), so that concerns and issues are exposed and transparent, rather than staying buried and hidden, which is often the case in organisations with a less-than-open (typically) X-Theory communications culture and management style.
  3. Ensuring that any conflict issues that arise are dealt with appropriately and quickly while acknowledging confidentiality and differences in points of view.
  4. Providing an opportunity for training and personal development.
  5. Encouraging teamwork through relevant training, exercises, rewards or recognition.

See the specific ideas for developing a more positive work environment below.

2. Organisational Management Structure

Flat simple management structures enable better management of staff wellbeing and stress prevention/reduction. 

  • Striving for a flat simple management structure must be balanced against other needs of the business/organisation (strategy, international operations, for example) which typically act in an opposite way, i.e., increasing the depth and complexity of the management structure.

That said, try to keep management structures as simple and flat as possible, because this is better for relationships, communications, and maintaining a cohesive approach to wellbeing.

Where there are disconnections or gaps in organisational management structure, properly dealing with stress and wellbeing tends to be more difficult, and generally places a greater onus on individuals to ensure that wellbeing needs are met.

Organisational management structure might also be referred to as 'organisational architecture' or 'management hierarchy'. 

  • Mainly this means the number of management levels in an organisation. Historically management structures tended to contain more levels than in modern times, but situations are subject to wide variation still today. 
  • Management structure also includes the reporting lines and 'shape' of the organisation, in terms of how teams and groups are positioned and connected, and especially management responsibilities. 
  • Some organisations have complex 'matrix' management structures, notably those with several different international operations, where managers may, for example, have a local responsibility for staff 'pay and rations' (i.e., local matters of contractual employment, pay, holidays, office/workspace, etc), while having a much wider international responsibility for a specific brand or business unit or activity, and also for the overseas staff involved in those activities (who in turn commonly can report to a local national manager for local 'pay and rations' issues. 
It does not take much imagination to see that such complexities provide more of a challenge for establishing and maintaining adequate support in relation to stress and wellbeing.

In organisations with lots of management layers, and/or complex reporting structures, this can create unhelpful separation between leadership/management and staff, and gaps where responsibility for managing stress and wellbeing can get lost.

We all like to be involved in decisions which affect us, our work environment and our future. Keeping management layers and reporting complexities tight and minimal enables better management and communication of stress and wellbeing issues.

3. Training and Development

Training and development opportunities add value to both the workplace and the individual.

  • This may be observable directly through increased performance, sales and/or improved customer care.
  • Training exposes people to new and interesting learning and development, which being generally positive and motivational, tends to counteract negative stressful pressures.
  • Training also demonstrates to the member of staff that they are valued and worth investing in for the future.
  • Training, particularly induction training (for new starters), also offers an excellent opportunity to establish expectations and awareness among staff about stress and wellbeing and to explain relevant organisational policies.

4. Pay and Remuneration, Working Hours, Pressure, and other Conditions of Employment

Contractual pay and conditions should reflect the responsibilities of the particular role, and the value the role represents to the organisation.

People working overtime should be compensated fairly with either overtime payments or be given time off in lieu

  • When employees are expected to work longer hours with no reward, this can lead to increased stress, lower performance and staff fostering resentment towards the organisation. 
  • Over a period of time, this can lead to talented and experienced staff leaving an organisation.

Rewarding long hours or extreme efforts are however no safeguard against risks of stress and damage to wellbeing.

  • Sometimes the highest performers are at the greatest risk because they seem to 'thrive on stress'. 
  • Here particularly there can be a hidden and profound risk from cumulative stress levels, which might seem acceptable, but which are ultimately unsustainable, and can lead to very serious problems such as depression or breakdown, 'burnout', i.e., when somebody has absorbed seemingly tolerable levels of stress over a long period, and finally reaches a point of mental exhaustion, typically accompanied by feelings of disillusionment or emotional collapse, causing departure or long-term absence.

Pay and remuneration and other conditions of employment (notably those readily perceived in financial terms) form a central part of 'The Psychological Contract', whose principles enable understanding of all of the issues here, in a wider context.

  • The Psychological Contract theory offers an excellent way to consider pay issues and to gain a deep appreciation of workplace wellbeing in a wider sense.

See also the separate section on pay rises and pay negotiations.

5. Job security and Risk of Redundancy - and Organisational Change

Job security, and especially the feeling that the job itself may be at risk, is a significant source of stress for employees and tends to impact far beyond job performance, to the home and family lives of staff members.

Where possible reassure staff and in the case of potential redundancies, visibility and good communication are essential.

  • Keep staff appraised of developments wherever possible and consider specialist support packages or services for those involved in redundancy.
  • Transparency and honesty are vital - especially if the news is bad. People need care and reassurance, but they also need openness and clarity from leaders and managers, so as to plan and prepare mentally and practically for personal and sometimes very difficult change.

Organisational change is an unavoidable feature of modern work. 

  • Our grandparents expected a job for life. 
  • Our parents expected at least a career or trade for life, probably with different employers. 
  • Today's workers can expect none of these. 
  • Economies and the nature of work, especially skills and technologies, change so fast, that workers today in virtually every field must expect to have to change their careers or trades once or perhaps several times throughout their working lives.

This fast and fluid state of change in work is especially difficult for older people who have known more predictable times, and for all people who are uncomfortable with change. 

6. Communications

Aim for good communications between all levels of the organisation, between departments, managers and staff, and between colleagues.

This fosters a culture of trust and cooperation, which results in less conflict and more efficient working.

  • Good communications encourage a positive work culture, which helps to promote well-being.

There are several wonderful communications theories/concepts which can be incorporated into a well-being strategy/policy. These methodologies can operate on a number of levels within communications:

  1. People can be trained to use them, so improving communications, especially for managers and leaders in their communications with their people.
  2. The methodologies each enable people to know themselves better, and in many cases to develop emotional maturity and resilience to stress and wellbeing threats.
  3. They help improve corporate/organizational culture, by providing structures, standards, meaning and integrity to relationships and communications (which are otherwise rarely subject to standards on a genuinely sophisticated level).

These communications models include notably:

  • Transactional Analysis - very accessible and meaningful psychological concept and methods, for self-development and communications in relationships - in work and life.
  • Neuro-linguistic Programming - as above - powerful and very accessible method for self-development, and human communications.
  • Emotional Intelligence - a very humanistic model for communications and relationships which helps recognise and foster emotional maturity and resilience.
  • Johari Window - Ingham and Luft's wonderful model for understanding and improving self- and mutual awareness.
  • Clean Language and Emergent Knowledge - more specialised counselling/therapeutic methodologies, but potentially very applicable and helpful in workplace wellbeing development.
  • Buying Facilitation® - Sharon Drew Morgen's methodology was primarily developed for sales/selling, but it is also a powerful model for coaching, counselling, facilitating, mentoring, etc.

7. Work-Life balance

Create a work culture which respects and encourages a healthy work/life balance. Again this is a significant aspect of The Psychological Contract.

  • Encourage staff to take time off after working long periods of overtime to give them chance to rebalance and maintain a healthy home life.
  • Offering job-share, part-time working, flexi-time and weekend work can also be highly beneficial for wellbeing, particularly for those with a long commute, onerous family commitments, young children or elderly relatives.
  • Offering time in lieu or overtime payments for additional work allows staff to be suitably rewarded for their efforts, which improves self-esteem and feelings of personal value, and encourages commitment and job loyalty.

8. Job fit

Hire people who fit the culture and vision of the company, and obviously also the role.

  • Revisit your recruitment and interviewing methods/processes, and ask yourself: are we doing enough to protect people's wellbeing at the very beginning of their relationship with the organisation, by ensuring we get the right people in the right roles?

For those already employed in a role, ensure that the job is suitable for them. People change. Roles change.

  • Where employees are struggling to work happily and effectively, discover the reasons for the discord and develop remedies, whether addressed through additional training or perhaps a move into a more suitable role within the organisation.

Where such opportunities exist for moving people into more suitable roles, especially good quality staff, the benefits for the organisation and individuals and be remarkably positive.

9. Confidential Counselling

Counselling can be offered to employees when there are particular issues arising in the workplace that might initiate stress.

  • Counselling can be particularly useful for those who have reported conflict situations within their job due to manager/colleague relationships, and also for those who may be under threat of redundancy or who are not coping well with changes in the work environment.
  • Counselling can also be offered to all employees as an additional benefit.
  • From a counsellor's standpoint, the notes on empathy are relevant to counselling.
  • Grievance and dispute resolution procedures and employment termination processes also relate to this area.

10. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) specifically apply in the UK. There are local national equivalents in many other countries, which can form a relevant and necessary part of a well-being strategy/policy.

In the UK, EAPs started to become popular during the 1980s and originally consisted of confidential counselling.

  • EAPs have since developed to include financial and legal services and now extend to support for family members.
  • Many firms specialise in providing EAPs. Such providers tend to be used by larger organisations.

EAPs can be an efficient way of supporting staff in all aspects of their work/life. The inclusion of family members within schemes is naturally an additional benefit.

11. Mind/Body Therapies and Stress Reduction/Prevention Activities

Happily organisations today are far more open to the benefits of introducing positive mind/body activities and holistic therapies into the workplace, both to prevent stress and to reduce it when it arises.

A vast range of activities and experiences is available to imaginative employers. Consult staff. Discover what staff would enjoy and find helpful.

  • Bringing helpful mind/body activities and therapeutic experiences into work can dramatically improve people's moods and feelings about themselves, each other, and also about their work and the perceived quality of the employer.

Nearly all employers, given their economies of scale and organisational purchasing power, have an excellent opportunity to provide all sorts of helpful therapies and activities to workers that for many people are simply not affordable on an individual basis.

See the more detailed section below on holistic therapies and mind/body help activities.

12. Management Responsibilities for Well-Being

The protection and fostering of staff wellbeing need to be embedded in management methods and systems.

  • Merely adding 'Protect the wellbeing of staff' to every manager's job description is not a viable approach.
  • Consideration of staff wellbeing must be far more deeply woven into the management and leadership function.

Leaders and managers should see well-being as a fundamental performance driver, and so should be measured and rewarded for managing it properly.

See the more detailed section below on management responsibility and wellbeing.

13. Monitoring and Testing - Stress and Well-Being

Linked to management responsibility for wellbeing are organisational systems for measuring and testing well-being across the workforce.

Like anything else, to manage well-being properly, it must be measured.

Put another way, if you cannot measure employee wellbeing then how can you possibly manage it?

14. Wellbeing Policy Commitment

Committing to formulate a strategy and policy for wellbeing is vital for successfully introducing and maintaining effective well-being protections in any organisation.

  • The commitment must come from the top.
  • It will not work otherwise.
  • See the guidance and tools relating to the Psychological Contract, if you have not already done so.

Wellbeing Policy Guide: Summary

There are many ways in which a well-being strategy/policy can be developed within organisations. The above framework is one possible approach.

  • Depending on the local situation, other factors may be just as important as the items listed above. Discover what they are and act on them.
  • The best policies (for anything, not just wellbeing) are developed in a carefully tailored way. There is unlikely to be a 'one size fits all' solution for managing workplace wellbeing across all organisations, and certainly, the world is some way from producing a best practice standard for organisational wellbeing, if such a standard is possible anyway.
  • Good policies evolve and adapt. Improvements are made when new information is discovered. So it will be when you begin to manage wellbeing in this way.

Use the above points to consider the issues as they apply to your own situation. Consult and involve your people. Discover what matters to them.

Holistic Therapies

Here follows a basic outline of some of the more popular activities which can be brought into employer organisations to help prevent and reduce stress, and by implication, to protect and foster wellbeing among staff.

  • The list is not definitive or exhaustive, merely a few of the main examples.
  • Each type of therapy has its own specific benefits. Typically this will entail relaxation, reduction of muscle tension, encouraging a calmer outlook and a clearer mind.

This sort of provision in a workplace demonstrates a clear commitment by the employer to valuing and protecting staff wellbeing.

The therapies described offer an immediate and direct reduction in stress levels in workers, which logically helps to create a more positive work environment.

On another level, such a provision adds greatly to the perceived (and real) quality of the job, and for some people genuinely gives a new reason to look forward to coming to work.

  • Many individual providers and companies offer massage/therapy services in the corporate environment.

These range from self-employed practitioners qualified in a number of therapies, to specialist companies who employ people to carry out the treatments.

Typically the practitioner attends the workplace to carry out the treatments, carried out at the work desk (for neck/shoulder massage) or in a separate room or treatment area provided by the employer.

  • Payment for treatment can be structured in different ways - by the individual themselves; subsidized by the employer, or paid fully by the employer. In any event, rates are likely to be reasonable and less than individual private treatment, due to the economies of scale and buying power implied within a corporate arrangement.
  • Treatments can be taken in work time or in staff time, such as in the lunch hour or flexi-time.
  • The employer must decide these matters of cost, subsidy and timing, mindful of operational and financial circumstances, and the extent and seriousness of interest and need among staff.

Below is a brief outline of some of the most popular stress-reduction therapies.

  • The word 'therapy' is a matter of choice too, since to some people it implies an illness or condition requiring treatment, which might be off-putting.
  • Alternatively, words such as 'sessions' or 'activities' or 'classes' can be less intimidating and more appealing to some people.


Yoga has many benefits in the workplace.

Yoga helps to:

  • Stretch the muscles of the body
  • Improve circulation
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Mobilise the spine
  • Regulate breathing
  • Calm the mind

Yoga can be particularly useful for preventing back pain and neck and shoulder tension caused by desk work, especially looking at a computer screen for long periods.

Yoga classes can be held before work, during lunch hour or at the end of the working day. Duration is generally between 45 and 90 minutes.

As already explained, classes can be paid for by employees, or partly or wholly paid by the employer.


Meditation can easily be incorporated into the workplace.

Meditation can be carried out at the desk or in a specific room set aside for quiet time.

Meditation has a wide range of benefits including:

  • Inducing feelings of calm and wellbeing
  • Relaxation and breathing improvement
  • Providing mental clarity
  • Enabling improved decision focus
  • Enabling innovative thinking
  • Changing negative routines and habits
  • Recharging
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Seeing life in more positive ways

Employees can be taught how to meditate at work, and/or meditation can be led by a qualified instructor.

Other Ideas for Stress Relief in the Workplace

and simpler ideas, such as:

  • Book clubs and poetry readings
  • Drama/performance
  • Singing, or drumming
  • A walk in the local park, or a game of rounders
  • A barbecue or picnic
  • cycle rides or swimming
  • various exercises and games
  • quizzes

Ask people what they want. Use your imagination.

  • It is not natural to work in the way we do these days. We evolved as active human beings, out in the countryside, using far more of our senses and physical capabilities than we do sitting at a desk or on a production line or in a meeting room.
  • It is no wonder that aside from the pressures of work and deadlines, we feel stressed when we are not able to use our minds and bodies in more natural ways.

Preventing and reducing stress and by implication protecting and improving personal wellbeing, doesn't always have to be complicated.

Sometimes it can be as simple as a walk in the park.

Management Responsibilities

The role of management in promoting wellbeing is increasingly recognised by companies and employers, but also (in the UK) through recommendations from the Health and Safety Executive.

  • Similar official importance and recognition of well-being exist increasingly around the world too.
  • Management is crucially positioned to identify and address signs of stress at an early stage.

Appropriate and timely intervention can prevent many problems from escalating and can improve workplace function by ensuring appropriate workloads and good interpersonal communication.

This, in turn, helps to lower absenteeism and staff turnover and to improve productivity.

Management style

A manager can greatly influence the immediate working environment for staff.

A manager conveys very many mood-influencing signals to staff according to his/her:

  • Verbal and written communications (specifically the content)
  • Attitude
  • Tone of voice
  • Selection of words used
  • Timing of conversations
  • Body language - see the body language guide.

Where these signals are (perceived to be) positive, staff can be:

  • Motivated
  • Inspired
  • Encouraged to improve self-belief, behaviour and performance

Where these signals are (perceived to be) negative, this can cause people to feel:

  • Incapable
  • Undervalued
  • Vulnerable
  • Unsuccessful
  • Alienated

It is utterly vital that managers are aware of their own preferred ways of communicating and how these preferences impact team members.

Managers must be able, and therefore must be trained to be able, to adjust the style of communications according to the needs of their people.

Management style is both determined and perceived according to:

  • The manager's personality
  • The manager's own personal experiences
  • Professional expertise
  • 'Emotional Intelligence' - see the EQ guide
  • Adaptability for given situations
  • His/her training in dealing with people

Autocratic and authoritarian management styles, typically represented by McGregor's X-Theory view (see XY-Theory) have been observed to induce strain among staff (for example evidenced in research by Ashour, 1982; and Seltzer & Numerof, 1988.

Managers who naturally or habitually adopt an autocratic management style should ideally be helped by the employer to understand the full effects of their style, and particularly given training in other styles.

  • It is common for highly autocratic managers and leaders to justify their actions (to self and externally) according to short-term results and uplifts achieved, which is sometimes not difficult using very dominant X-Theory methods.
  • Such methods and results however often come at a bigger hidden cost - including stress and attrition, and long-term performance - and these factors need exploring in a wider assessment of X-Theory (or any other description for highly autocratic methods) management effectiveness, where it is used inappropriately.

This website is far from being a lone voice in advocating more progressive and inclusive developmental management methods and suggesting that traditional X-Theory methods have a very limited role, if any at all in many situations, to play in the modern workplace.

Understanding Staff

People tend to see the world very differently. Perceptions and personality matter.

A manager who truly understands how to adapt his/her style according to each different situation, and to the style and support needs of the team and the individuals within it, can empower any group of people to achieve remarkable efforts and results. The manager can become a true leader, in helping team members to flourish as people and fulfil themselves in ways which far extend the normal expectations of a job or career.

Conversely, a manager who lacks empathy and adaptability, and who fails to lead and help his/her people in even the most basic 'humanistic' ways, can ruin a potentially brilliant team, and can (purely accidentally - there is no suggestion or requirement for intent) create serious conflict and emotional upset, never mind the disastrous effect on performance, quality and results.

Managers must be trained to understand and respond to different situations and personalities. The responsibility is with the employer for this to happen.

  • Principles such as empathy, and classical motivational theories, many established decades ago - Maslow and  Herzberg and Adair for example - provide most of what managers need today to manage well. 

Management Communications

Effective listening involves more than simply hearing, it requires concentration and evaluation of the information being given. 

  • It is important that managers practice active listening with their staff, avoiding the common pitfalls of interrupting, finishing the other person's sentences, talking over the other person or offering advice too soon.
  • It is beneficial to read the body language along with the words that are being offered. This offers much more information about what the employee is really thinking and feeling, and can help in determining stress levels or actions that may need to be taken to address any problems arising.
  • See the notes on questioning, and empathy, and within this especially listening and the 'levels of listening'.

Open Door Policy

Being accessible and approachable encourages employees to highlight any worrying issues at an early stage.

  • Giving staff the chance to 'vent' and offer ideas or opinions beyond formal review procedures captures a lot of vital feedback and reactions that otherwise quickly become hidden or forgotten.

When a manager welcomes his/her people's views - especially criticisms and worries - people feel far more valued.

  • And feeling valued greatly improves personal wellbeing.

Clear Directions and Positive Expectations

Stress is reduced when all employees are aware of their job roles and responsibilities and feel that the manager believes in them and trusts the job will be done well.

  • People tend to live up to high expectations, just as they tend to 'live down to low expectations.

If someone is underperforming, the manager must take time to investigate the root causes, and importantly stay focused on solutions and improvements, rather than becoming obsessed with the mistakes and criticisms.

  • This is especially so when the reason for under-performance may not actually be work-related.

Objectivity is a vital management capability in these situations.

When we are objective we stay emotionally balanced, and we can look at solutions and actions (which people tend to respond to positively), rather than mistakes and criticisms (which people tend to respond to negatively and stressfully).

Effective Review Processes

There are several effective methods for informal and formal reviews that managers can conduct with their staff.

  • Informal discussions are often better for exposing hidden anxieties because many people tighten up and become nervy at formal appraisals.
  • '360-degree feedback' is a useful appraisal method since it introduces reactions from a number of people, which is helpful for managers seeking to know more about their style and relationships, perceived by others.

There is more detailed information about reviews in the performance appraisals guide.

Warning Signs of Workplace Stress

There are often early signs that an employee is suffering from workplace stress.

  1. Once signs have been identified it is important that the manager takes steps to liaise with the employee in a confidential and sensitive manner to explain their observations, show support and offer additional help or resources where relevant.
  2. Where there is a clear indication of stress or unhappiness, the manager should inform and liaise with appropriate HR (Human Resources) staff.
  3. Some situations may naturally resolve themselves and not require any support or intervention, but for those cases where supportive action needs to be taken, it ensures early and timely intervention which will help to prevent situations from escalating to absenteeism or deterioration in mental or physical health.
  4. In some cases, it may actually be the manager who is the cause of the stress. It is vital that organisations keep open lines of communication with HR, and where possible a welfare officer to be identified so that members of staff who are in conflict with direct management are able to speak with another person in the organisation who is not directly involved.

People are individuals and may experience and show stress quite differently, however, there are some general indicators of stress problems, for example:

  • Change in behaviour - the employee ceases interacting with colleagues to some extent, appears quiet or withdrawn, and seems not to be enjoying the job (you might now imagine, according to the last point, that half the working population are stressed, but it's really a matter of change in attitude, not the usual Monday morning blues or typical job irritations that many people feel from time to time).
  • Lack of self-care regarding appearance, personal hygiene, timekeeping, paperwork etc.
  • Reduced performance (which cannot be explained easily by other factors).
  • Absenteeism - the member of staff may not initially state this is due to stress as they may be embarrassed or worried about the stigma associated.
  • Applying for other jobs.

Any of these signs in a staff member should act as a warning for the manager, who should then seek some discussion with the individual. If concerns persist then the situation should be moved towards some form of counselling meeting, and/or at least to facilitating some help or support aligned with the employee's wishes.

Management responsibilities for stress and wellbeing lead naturally to testing and monitoring of stress/wellbeing.

Monitoring Wellbeing and Stress

Management and leadership responsibility for wellbeing depends on the organisation's capability to measure and test for employee stress, and to gauge workforce well-being.

To manage anything properly, it must be measured.

  • This is not easy given the intangible nature of well-being, but one way or another, well-being and stress levels need to be monitored, and ideally, standards and benchmarks are created.

Systems and mechanisms - and ways to quantify and report on stress and wellbeing - will evolve over time. It is not realistic to create detailed scales of assessment at the start of implementing a wellbeing strategic policy. 

  • However, a commitment should exist to find effective ways to gauge wellbeing as a whole across the organisation (for example using staff surveys), and also to identify and measure stress at a departmental, team and individual level (for example using the 'pressure profiles' the method explained below).

Below are some ideas for gauging wellbeing and stress in the workplace, specifically among teams (which could, of course, be adopted across an entire organization).

Pressure Profiles

A pressure profile is a form of 'risk assessment' of stress.

  • Risk assessment methods are well established in conventional workplace health and safety, where risks are typically industrial machinery, electrical equipment, hazardous chemicals, or a step ladder. 
  • Risk assessment is rather less usually associated with well-being and stress, which are rather less tangible than a fork-lift truck or a drum of bleach.

Nevertheless, the 'risk assessment' approach is entirely appropriate for stress and wellbeing. Here 'stress risk assessment' involves noting down the 'pressure points' or negative aspects of the job.

Brainstorming can be a very useful way to achieve this, for example in team meetings.

Pressure points can include:

  • Increased workloads
  • Reporting timescales and deadlines
  • New/increased administration demands (extra paperwork or online form-filling)
  • Holidays - pre-holiday 'clearing the deck'; post-holiday piled up workloads, and cover for holidaying colleagues
  • Seasonal trends/demands - for example, Christmas build-up in the retail industry, or weekends in the leisure industry
  • Emergencies - for example, extreme weather - storms, floods, accidents, etc
  • Equipment/systems failure - notably ICT (information and communications technology) problems
  • Dealing with other departments - relationships, communications, conflicts, politics, unclear responsibilities and protocols, etc
  • New employee starters - onus on regular staff for teaching, 'buddying', mentoring, etc
  • New systems and processes - typically imposed without consultation or sufficient training
  • Training days - effectively taking people away from their work, with no allowance for lost time
  • Poorly delegated tasks - individual or group (see delegation and the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum)
  • A whole range of other factors which are easy to imagine, and which would quickly emerge in a team meeting brainstorming session, given any particular job situation.

For each pressure point identified, the following data must be understood and recorded:

  • The time the pressure point occurs (for example, sales figures required by the last Friday in each month)
  • The reason for the incident causing stress (for example, difficulty in gathering data)
  • The extent of stress impact (which implies some sort of weighting or grading or score, per pressure point)

The pressure points are then prioritised in order of importance, as seen and agreed by the manager and/or the individual.

The top priority for remedial/preventative action is logically the pressure point which has the most impact and causes the most stress.

Across a group, it can be possible to identify major 'quick wins' where many people are affected by a similar pressure point, providing the opportunity to greatly reduce collective stress by developing helpful changes as required, for example to procedures, or trained skill levels, or to timings, or to templates or delegated responsibilities.

Pressure Point Summary

  1. Brainstorm 'pressure points
  2. Identify timings, reasons, and weighting/extent (score each)
  3. Rank the pressure points in order of importance
  4. Agree on remedial/preventative actions on basis of the fastest and biggest improvements
  5. Implement actions, involving relevant individuals, teams, and others as necessary.
  6. Follow up and check successes - revise/refine actions accordingly.

Remedial actions might be, for example:

  • Allocating additional time for an employee to complete reports (financial performance, sales figures, statistics, etc) at month-end.
  • Arranging a single point of contact to improve the speed and efficiency of communication with another department.
  • Reallocation of resources to allow for increased demand during seasonal peaks.
  • Devising a template for a difficult and time-consuming report which is not fully understood by the person completing it.
  • Having a discussion with a manager of another department whose style in dealing with other departments is unacceptably aggressive or autocratic.
  • Improving arrangements for holidays, so as to spread workloads and absences more evenly.
  • Ensuring (instructing if necessary) people take breaks and lunch hours and leave work on time.
  • Reviewing and improving email and mobile working practices (which, notwithstanding the dangers of making assumptions, almost certainly cause stress for everyone).

As suggested by the example remedy above, managers should take a special interest in staff working excessively long hours, or too much overtime - also failing to take breaks, lunch-hours and full holiday allocations.

Many staff - often the best quality people - will not be the best judge of their own life balance.

A poor manager/leader allows and even encourages excessive working, even when it is obviously detrimental to the employee's life balance and wellbeing. A good manager and leader intervene to limit such excesses.

If a department requires continual overtime working this strongly indicates a lack of resources which could pose a serious risk to staff wellbeing. In such situations, a local departmental remedy commonly is not possible, and a bigger solution must be found by raising the risks at a higher organisational level.

Stress and Well-Being Monitoring - for the Individual

It is likely that individual workers - especially in the modern age, and during economic hardship and uncertainty - generally do not monitor and adapt their working methods and patterns to counter stress.

  • Most people are by nature dutiful, conscientious, and hard-working.

Where an employer allows demands, constraints, and pressures to build on good hard-working people, generally people take a while to complain many never complain at all. They simply work on, suffering from stress, and in the worst cases, people's well-being can be utterly undermined.

  • It is vital for people to be encouraged to safeguard their own well-being at work.
  • The modern world of work, and especially the big corporations and employing organisations which dominate working life, are a very very long way from being truly responsible for caring for staff wellbeing.

There are many actions individuals can take in the workplace to avoid stress risks and reduce stress when it happens. Deep down most people will know they have a problem that needs dealing with if they can step out of the pressure for a few moments. 

The key to individual empowerment here is taking time out to check and ask:

  • Am I okay?
  • Am I really okay working like this?
  • Is my family okay with it?
  • Is my mind and body and soul okay with it?

And if not - then to do something about it - to change something.

To take a few more breaks, to seek some help about the really tough challenge, or a really aggressive boss, or a computer system that never works properly and is driving me up the wall.

Employers have a responsibility to safeguard people's well-being in very direct ways, and if they cannot always do this, then the least of their responsibilities is to teach and allow staff to do it for themselves.

Turning a blind eye, for the sake of an extra couple of percentage points of corporate performance is simply not ethical or justifiable if people's wellbeing and quality of life is being jeopardised.

Monitoring wellbeing and the causes of stress is an organisational cultural and attitudinal necessity, just as much as it is a matter of strategy or policy, system or process, or of management and leadership responsibility.

Individual Pressure Profile

If the organisation or department fails to analyse stresses, especially where they are obviously present and causing problems for people, then the individual can complete his/her own pressure profile.

The process is effectively the same as if it were performed by a team leader or departmental manager.

  1. Brainstorm your 'pressure points' - paper and pen and 30 minutes of free time - that's all you need.
  2. Identify timings, reasons, and score or weight of each item as to its seriousness.
  3. Rank the pressure points in order - most serious first.
  4. Consider remedial actions - many will be within your control.
  5. Involve your boss in agreeing/developing actions including your own, and others outside of your control.
  6. Implement and follow up.
  7. If you are satisfied with the changes, fine.
  8. If not, think about changing what you do for work. Life is too short and precious to waste it being unhappy.

Changes to Protect and Foster Well-Being

Here are some ideas anyone can make for simple changes to protect and restore and further develop personal wellbeing. Much of this guidance involves avoiding risks of stress, and ways of reducing stress when it occurs. There are other ideas specifically related to stress reduction in the stress management guide.

1. Cultivate a More Positive Working Environment

  • Being able to personalise desk space with photographs of family, friends, and even pets can help create a connection with home and a feeling of support.
  • Fresh flowers and plants can help to brighten the environment whilst decreasing the effects of electromagnetic pollution from computer screens and harsh office lighting.
  • Meaningful quotes, perhaps in the form of inspirational and amusing posters can help to induce feelings of positivity and support through difficult times.
  • Clearing clutter and the mess has a cleansing and renewing effect - even if it is achieved by putting things into neater piles, or storing papers and other bits and pieces away in draws and cupboards.
  • Throwing rubbish away - including paperwork that you are unlikely to need (especially if it's saved as a computer file) - is also helpful for a sense of control and order. It's about managing your environment - and not letting your environment manage you. 
  • This relates to time management and organising things around you so that you are in control of them, rather than feeling cramped or submerged by tasks, notes, reminders, etc., some of which are perhaps actually unnecessary now anyway.

2. Be Flexible

It is helpful to realise that there are always different perspectives on a situation - different ways to see things.

Being stuck in particular thought patterns tends to limit options and feelings of freedom and choice, and often prevents solutions from being found to challenges.

  • Acceptance, tolerance, and patience are immensely useful attitudes to develop where possible, especially if you are prone to react quickly and emotionally to threats. Many threats exist only in the mind - imagining the 'worst scenario'. 
  • Being more trusting and giving situations time to become clear, will help to reduce the number of false alarms, which otherwise take up a lot of emotional reserves quite unnecessarily.

Saving yourself for the battles which really matter, and not bothering about things until/unless they actually become a real problem, will also improve your position, reputation and strength for those few occasions when you really need to make a stand.

3. Seek Help

Many workplace complaints arise from feelings of unfair treatment. Sadly there is unfairness in the workplace, but there are also services and processes which provide support and protection for victims.

  • If you experience unfairness at work, such as bullying or discrimination, or simply too much pressure - then seek out and utilize the support and help available. 
  • If your employer does not have structures in place to deal with grievances and conflict, look at resources and agencies such as the HSE and ACAS websites, which offer free information and further guidance.

Don't suffer in silence. Look for help and ask for help. It is out there.

4. Take Rests and Lunch Breaks

It is easy for reasons of inertia, habit, managerial or peer pressure, to work through your lunch break, in which case you are maybe not taking other opportunities to rest either.

  • Although it is common to see people working at their desks with sandwiches in hand and typing at the same time, such behaviour is counter-productive both to wellbeing and performance.

If you feel under pressure to be working at your desk during the lunch hour, it is likely that your body will be producing the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. An interesting action of these hormones is to inhibit digestion, causing nutrients and energy from your food not to be absorbed efficiently.

  • When 'eating on the go', whether trying to work or when walking between appointments, the body does not have a chance to relax, and digestion is not as efficient as it could be.
  • Taking a break away from the immediate work environment allows the mind and body to relax and refresh. Taking and break gives the mind a chance to switch off for a short period. 
  • This benefits performance and productivity in addition to wellbeing. When we refresh our minds our concentration levels return, and we are much more energized.

5. Nutrition

There is often a temptation to eat sugary snacks and drink large amounts of tea or coffee at work to get through the day. 

  • Such a diet can undermine emotions and mental performance, causing the body and mind to swing between highs and lows.

By reducing the intake of these unhelpful artificial stimulants, and better still replacing them with healthier snacks and freshwater, the body is kept hydrated and in greater balance, which greatly improves energy levels and concentration.

6. Exercise

Movement of the body is an excellent way to reduce stress and promote wellbeing. Exercise helps to dispel the hormones produced during the stress response, allowing the body to normalise.

  • Where workplaces have gyms or health classes, or special rates for local exercise facilities, try to make use of them.
  • Running and cycling can be quite easily incorporated into the working day for many people. The biggest factor/obstacle is usually just a matter of personal commitment.
  • Simpler and easier still, try walking up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

7. Movement at the Desk

For those working in offices and spending long hours in front of computer screens, it is helpful to take regular short breaks, stand up and even take a brief walk before returning to the desk. 

  • Stretching the arms up and overhead, and gentle shoulder rolls forwards and backwards can help to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders. This help reduces the risk of back pain and tension headaches.
  • Repetitive strain injury (RSI) results from long periods of repeating muscle movements, combined with fixed positions elsewhere in the body. Stretching and flexing muscles and the skeletal frame regularly helps counter these risks.

8. Relaxation

Build time into the day for relaxation, whether this is taking a stroll during the lunch hour, ten minutes sitting quietly in the cafeteria or refreshments area.

  • Relaxing after work is very important for creating separation between work and other parts of your life.
  • Work for many people can become very intrusive and difficult to shake out of the mind and thoughts.
  • Distraction using relaxation helps to cleanse the mind. It is not good to always be thinking about work, despite what some might say about the level of effort and commitment required for career/business success.

We need a balance between work and play. Relaxation is essential to unwind and shift from a work frame of mind into vital leisure and recreation time.

  • Do what works for you, whether this involves listening to music, running a hot bath, enjoying a meal with friends, reading, playing a sport, pursuing a hobby or pastime, meditating, taking a yoga class, or something entirely different - the important thing is that it takes you, mind and body, somewhere different from your working self.

9. Feeling Connected

Maintain and grow your friendships and contacts outside of your work environment. Do not allow your work to push friendships into a tiny space of your life, or out of it altogether.

  • Keeping connected with people and maintaining the companionship and love of friends are very important for our well-being.
  • With friends we laugh and play, we affirm ourselves as people, we help others. Friends offer shoulders to cry on and sounding boards by which to reflect our thoughts and ideas. We in turn offer this support to our friends, which enriches us even more.

Friendship and social interaction help us to stay in the real world, keep problems and successes in perspective, and to recharge emotionally.

Humankind has evolved over tens of thousands of years to be sociable. Friendships are crucial for our well-being in all sorts of ways, so protect and maintain your social circles and activities.

See stress and stress management for additional specific detail about stress and ideas to prevent and reduce it.

The Five Ways to Well-Being

Here is a brief summary of an impressive and useful study report - The Five Ways to Wellbeing - produced by the UK New Economics Foundation in 2011.

Here is NEF's own executive summary introduction for the report and related study:

"In 2008 The New Economics Foundation (NEF) was commissioned by the UK Government's Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Well-being to review the inter-disciplinary work of over 400 scientists from across the world. The aim was to identify a set of evidence-based actions to improve well-being, which individuals would be encouraged to build into their daily lives. As an illustration of how Government action [and by implication employers too] can be explicitly directed towards improving well-being, the report briefly sets out the five evidence-based ways to well-being and the sorts of policy interventions which could help to enable them.."

Download the full report free - Five Ways to Wellbeing (pdf)

  • Acknowledgements to The New Economics Foundation. The report is copyrighted by The New Economics Foundation and available for sharing under the Creative Commons licence. NEF's explanation of these terms is that you may quote, copy and share the Five Ways to Wellbeing summary and publication, provided you attribute it to NEF and do not use it for commercial purposes. For further clarification contact NEF.)

The Five Ways to Well-Being Summary

A review of the most up-to-date evidence suggests that building the following five actions into our day-to-day lives is important for well-being:

  1. Connect
    • With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
  2. Be active
    • Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  3. Take notice
    • Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. Keep learning
    • Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as be fun.
  5. Give
    • Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

Download the full report free - Five Ways to Wellbeing (pdf)

Glossary - Workplace Well-Being Terms and Definitions

Here are a few key terms relating to workplace wellbeing. Some are very formal, others are newer informal terms. 

A lot more terminology relating more generally to workplace wellbeing and stress is in the larger business glossary.

  • Absenteeism - Voluntary non-attendance at work. This is different from sickness absence but may easily include sickness absence resulting from stress. Absenteeism is a wider pattern of absence from work which might instead be seen as 'work avoidance', and which frequently includes a conscious decision of the employee(s) to stay away from work, when physically and mentally work may be possible. Absenteeism is usually a strong contra-indicator of workplace wellbeing, i.e., the higher the rates of absenteeism, then the lower the workplace wellbeing, and this correlation exists on an individual and employee-wide basis.
  • Burnout - Mental exhaustion, often accompanied by feelings of lack of hope, disillusionment, powerlessness and/or emotional collapse. Burnout is particularly difficult to predict when experienced by staff who normally work very hard and conscientiously, up to a certain breaking point. There is a strong duty of care for employers in this area because sufferers commonly do not anticipate the risks of burnout - and may also be highly valued members of staff.
  • EAPs – Employee Assistance Programmes. Support packages for employees can include counselling, health screening, and financial advice. These can apply to employees and in some cases even extend to family members.
  • HSE - Health and Safety Executive. A very powerful UK Government-funded organisation whose purpose is to protect people against risks to health and safety arising from workplace and business activities. The HSE has powers to inspect, enforce rules, and prosecute organisations and directors with respect to a very wide range of health and safety responsibilities in workplaces and organisations of all sorts.
  • Positive Work Culture - A work culture with a big idea or vision that all staff are working towards, staff are involved, supported, and good communication and support networks. Staff are valued and potential fulfilled through training and development opportunities.
  • Presenteeism - Present at work but underperforming or not performing at all due to physical or mental health problems. This is an informal ironic and very meaningful term. It is not the opposite of absenteeism. Presenteeism might instead be interpreted to mean being wholly or partially absent from the job while (apparently) at work. In many cases of presenteeism, it would be much better for the staff member to actually be absent from work, to remove the negative effects on team members, and to clarify the situation for employee and employer so as to enable a remedial plan to be developed.
  • Pressure Profile - A type of risk assessment for departments or individuals, to identify, assess and prioritise risks. A profile can then be used as a basis to evaluate more effective working practices.
  • Productivity - In the context of workplace well-being, this typically refers to the amount of output (what is produced by the team or organisation) per unit of labour. In a wider context, there are many ways to measure productivity which extend beyond the efforts of staff members, including for example the use of equipment, logistics, transport, quality systems, etc. In terms of workplace well-being, the term and assessment of productivity should focus on the productivity of people alone.
  • Stress - The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as, " ...The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them." Stress normally arises when people worry that they can't cope. A person may in theory or in all reasonable estimation under normal circumstances be able to cope, but if he/she feels a sense of not being able to cope, then stress can easily build. There is no absolute universal measurement of stress in people. It is a product of individual personality, emotion, the human condition, and external factors at work and outside of work. Consequently, there is a huge duty of care upon the employer to identify risks and signs of stress, and especially actual stress among staff when it has reached a serious level because so many staff members are unable to make such judgments about themselves. See stress and stress management.
  • Wellbeing - Being well, in good health physically, mentally and emotionally, with a balanced state of mind. See the more detailed wellbeing definitions above.
  • Zero discretionary dollars - In the context of workplace wellbeing, this recent informal term refers to an employee providing minimum effort, doing what they have to do, and no more. The expression is an apt reminder for employers and corporations that workplace wellbeing has a vast impact on organisational performance, productivity and profit. Short-sighted (typically  X-Theory) executives and employers tend to regard workplace wellbeing as an irrelevance; they take the view that workers can be forced or told to be productive, and they can and will be productive, regardless of how they feel. This is quite wrong. People are far less productive when they feel bad about themselves and their work than when they feel good.

Author Acknowledgement Sian Young - Biography

I am grateful to Sian Young for their contribution to the technical content of this well-being article.

Sian Young HND, BA(Hons), BSc (Open) has a formal academic background in business and finance, economics and psychology. With twelve years of experience working in the public sector, and five years in a high-profile area dealing directly with high-risk and vulnerable people, Sian has an understanding of how to work successfully and persistently in a stressful and challenging environment. During this time Sian also took the role of Vice-Chair and then subsequently Chair of the north-western branch of a National Charity working with professionals who manage and treat people who pose a risk to the public. Sian's interest in understanding people at the deepest level led her to explore mind and body connections. Through direct experience and study, she went on to become a fully qualified yoga and meditation instructor and obtained qualifications in a wide range of complementary therapies. Based in the northwest of England, Sian has provided specialist stress reduction and wellbeing training and advice to companies and organisations in the UK, and in more recent times has focused on writing. Sian can be contacted via email or by phone, (UK) 0800 3345781, or (international) +44 800 3345781.

References and Further Reading

  • Ashour, A. (1982). A framework of a cognitive-behaviour theory of leader influence and effectiveness. Organisational Behaviour and Human Performance, 30, 407-430
  • Seltzer, J.Numerof, R. (1988). Supervisory leadership and subordinate burnout. Academy of Management Journal, 31, 439-446.
  • Historical information, statistics, stress definition, HSE references -

Related Materials


Five Ways to Wellbeing is copyrighted New Economics Foundation and available for sharing under the Creative Commons licence. NEF's explanation of these terms is that is free to quote, copy and share the Five Ways to Wellbeing summary and full publication, provided you attribute it to NEF and do not use it for commercial purposes. For further clarification contact  NEF.

© Sian Young main technical content; Alan Chapman edit and contextual material, 2010-12.