Guest Blog: Workplace Wellbeing – Is it another thing to add to the list?

8 Sep 2022 Susan Glass    Last updated: 4 Oct 2022

Catherine Murnin from The Wellbeing Pathway outlines the importance of wellbeing in the workplace, why we should be talking about it, some of the barriers and enablers, and the actions organisations can take.

Workplace Wellbeing – is it another thing to add to the list?

The World Health Organisation tells us that “Wellbeing is a positive state experienced by individuals and societies. Similar to health, it is a resource for daily life and is determined by social, economic and environmental conditions. Wellbeing encompasses quality of life and the ability of people and societies to contribute to the world with a sense of meaning and purpose. Focusing on wellbeing supports the tracking of the equitable distribution of resources, overall thriving and sustainability. A society’s wellbeing can be determined by the extent to which they are resilient, build capacity for action, and are prepared to transcend challenges”

Why Workplace Wellbeing?

Organisations in the third sector are largely about making a difference in society, meeting the needs of beneficiaries, using community development approaches to improve outcomes for individuals and groups across Northern Ireland.  To do that effectively it’s important to have staff teams that are motivated, supported and valued. Research shows that healthy workplaces, where the wellbeing of staff is embedded across the culture of the organisation will benefit all stakeholders involved and create opportunities for growth, development and sustainability.  True investment in workplace wellbeing can improve employee engagement, creativity and performance. It can reduce absenteeism and increase staff loyalty. It can create the conditions for having the difficult conversations and challenging stigma and behaviours that are out of sync with organisational culture.

Psychological Safety

Dr Timothy R Clark talks a lot of psychological safety and how that relates to our workplace environments. It is invaluable to consider this approach when we are thinking about a culture of wellbeing, engagement and outcomes where everyone can thrive.  Timothy describes psychological safety as a way tocreate and build a culture where people can take chances without fear and with sufficient protection. It enables you to feel included, learn, contribute and challenge the status quo.  He also outlines that it is not “a shield from accountability. It’s not niceness, coddling, consensus decision making, or unearned autonomy. It is not an excuse for poor behaviours, performance or avoiding the difficult conversations”.

Why should we be talking about it?

As we emerge from the impact of Covid 19, there a range of complex challenges facing individuals that can affect how they perform and connect in the workplace. Many business experts are talking about mental health challenges:

  • “…protecting and improving staff health and wellbeing is not a fluffy, cuddly thing to do, but rather a key enabler to support improvements in high quality care, patient satisfaction and improved efficiency” Boorman, NHS Workforce Wellbeing Report
  • “As business leaders we have a responsibility to break down the stigma associated with mental health issues like stress and anxiety to ensure everyone can thrive at work” Rengen, Deloitte Wellbeing at the Heart of Employee Experience Report
  • “The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to elevate mental health… positioning wellbeing at the heart of business planning and job design will promote long term benefits” Aston, Wellbeing Director BITC

And the World Health Organisation is building an evidence base around burnout, stating that “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

What are some of the barriers?

  • Competing priorities for time and other resources
  • Funding structures and deadlines to complete projects leading to inflexibility
  • Lack of leadership and/or vision
  • Lack of training and awareness
  • Fear of starting something that you aren’t sure how to move on with  
  • Using a tick-box approach
  • Not engaging fully and openly with staff

What are some of the enablers?

  • A culture of wellbeing from the top down and bottom up
  • Leadership across the organisation in different roles
  • Training opportunities
  • Meaningful staff engagement
  • Collaboration and partnerships with other organisations
  • Collecting data and measuring impact
  • Celebrating successes and learning from what didn’t go well/as planned

Where can we start?

Investing in workplace wellbeing can lead to improvements across all parts of the organisation. Stand alone, tick box initiatives won’t have a lasting impact. It might seem overwhelming at first but start by having the conversations. Ask the questions. Listen. Work together to take actions, one step at a time:

  • What matters to you?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What do we need to learn/change?
  • Who can help?
  • How will we know we’re making a difference?
  • What happens if we don’t do anything?

Useful links:

Business in the Community – An Introduction to Wellbeing

CIPD: Workplace Wellbeing and Culture

Inspire Support Hub: Wellbeing at Work

NICHS | Workplace Health and Wellbeing Services

Catherine Murnin: The Wellbeing Pathway

Catherine Murnin recently facilitated the first in a series of learning events - Wellness and Connection in the Workplace  - as part of the Capacity Building Accelerator and Mentoring Programme. This workshop focused on reflecting, sharing, and learning about workplace wellbeing in practice and enabling participants to feel more confident about developing a meaningful wellbeing approach for their organisations and staff teams. Catherine has over 20 years’ experience in health and wellbeing practice from her work with patients, carers, communities and businesses, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK, Cancer Research UK, NI Chest Heart and Stroke, Health & Social Care Trusts, Community Development & Health Network, the Public Health Agency, Carers groups, Sports clubs and Community Organisations.

Capacity Building Accelerator and Mentoring Programme

The Capacity Building Accelerator and Mentoring Programme is funded by the Community Foundation NI through the Department of Health’s Cancer, Carers and Mental Health Funds, and delivered by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA).'s picture
by Susan Glass

Capacity Building Programme Coordinator

[email protected]