In an interview with the CIPD, Professor Lord Richard Layard of the LSE asks why wellbeing matters – for individuals and society.

According to CIPD, work should do more than meet our basic financial needs and contribute to economic growth; it should also improve the quality of our lives by giving us meaning and purpose and contributing to our overall well-being.
Fostering employee wellbeing is good for people and their employers. Promoting wellbeing can prevent problems from escalating and help create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive.
It can be a core enabler of employee engagement and productivity, and there’s growing evidence that employee wellness programmes can have a positive impact on key organisational performance indicators.
  • Investing in wellbeing can lead to greater resilience, innovation and productivity.
  • HR professionals are pivotal to steering the health and wellbeing agenda.
  • Good leadership and management practices are required to successfully implement a well-being strategy.
  • Wellbeing strategies need to be tailored to the organisation’s unique needs and characteristics.
  • Different stakeholders are responsible for cultivating well-being in different ways.
  • The UK Government has recognised the importance of the workplace in promoting health and well-being.


A workplace wellbeing programme can deliver mutual benefit to people, businesses, economies and wider society.

The fast-changing world of work and the fluctuating demands it places on employers and employees means that our grasp of health and wellbeing needs can never stand still. It needs to evolve constantly to mitigate and optimise the impact on people’s health and well-being.


When people are happy and well, businesses thrive and societies flourish.


CMI Case study: Creating a culture shift

Leyla Okhai when she joined Imperial’s Organisation Development department in 2012 initially to support disabled members in the 8,000-strong workforce.

The aim was to change the culture to a more open culture in which there is space to talk about issues that might stand in the way of healthy and happy personnel that are satisfied in their job.

“The first step was to start the conversation with staff – making them comfortable talking about things that were affecting them,” Okhai said.

Three years on she says the change is striking: “A culture shift has started to take place, driven by the message sent out by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team to managers and leaders: staff health, happiness and job satisfaction matter.


It’s empowering for staff to know they have a support network to fall back on, and they can play an active role in encouraging colleagues to use it.

“Culture change doesn’t happen overnight. But the fact that the senior leadership team has recognised the importance of it has caused a shift,” Okhai said.

There are now 150 mental health first aiders who give advice and support to colleagues. They are trained on an ongoing basis to talk to people who are experiencing stress or mental ill health in the workplace – they signpost, guide and advise.

Okhai has also set up Conversation Cafés, where staff come together to listen to a colleague’s mental health journey, and set up a high level mental health steering group to drive awareness and uptake of the support available to academic staff.

Imperial also has a wide range of systems and initiatives in place to promote staff wellbeing.

“There are a lot of examples, from an in-house occupational health team to healthy living courses that include nutritional and weight loss advice,” Okhai said. “We also have a helpline for managers, maternity and paternity workshops and an in-house mediation service to resolve conflicts before they reach a crisis point.”

Imperial also host a number of events, such as National Stress Awareness Day, Mental Health Awareness Day and an ongoing Reclaim Your Lunch Break campaign.

Staff feedback on the initiatives has been very positive. The latest staff survey showed that 80% of staff are proud to work for Imperial.

Okhai is confident that a positive shift in attitudes toward health and wellbeing is occurring – and that it is here to stay.

Focus on mental health in the workplace

Despite the greater awareness about the need to pay attention to the psychological, as well as the physical, aspects of people’s health and well-being at work, a CIPD ‘Employee Outlook: Focus on mental health in the workplace survey’ shows that there is some way to go before the majority of employers develop a robust framework in this area.

If people have good mental health, and feel supported during times of poor mental health, they will feel more motivated, engaged and productive at work.

Employers cannot afford to ignore people’s mental health in the workplace.

The survey found that more than three people in ten (31%) have experienced mental health problems while in employment.

This figure is higher for female employees at 36% and 46% in respect of people working in the voluntary sector.

Find out more about employee attitudes to mental health at work, and the areas where employers can improve their support.


CMI Case study: Building a caring company

Arup is a global, employee-owned firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists (creators of Sydney Opera House and the London Aquatics Centre) with over 4,000 employees across the UK, is  making sure Arup’s employees are in the best position possible, both mentally and physically, to do their job and enjoy doing it.

Evan Davidge, head of reward at Arup, said this was all part of the ‘psychological contract’ between an employer and its staff.

“Employees put an awful lot of psychological and intellectual effort into the success of their business, and a good business should be able to reciprocate in kind,” he said. “That’s what constitutes the modern-day psychological contract.”

A study by the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) quotes: There is a sense that employee engagement is something the employee chooses to give to the organisation to a greater or lesser degree – a level of commitment, buy-in to values and citizenship towards colleagues; but like the psychological contract, effort is required on behalf of two parties, the organisation and the employee. The organisation must set the scene for these behaviours and partake in activities that will engage, whilst the employee has to make a decision about the extent to which they are engaged.

Arup’s health and wellbeing approach was triggered by the realisation that large parts of its workforce were very hard-working and dedicated – but at the same time lacked understanding about the impact of their working life on their health. There was a culture of excessive working and poor life balance.

Having a sustainable and integrated health and wellbeing strategy makes business sense. Not only does it have an impact on the bottom line, it also improves engagement and productivity, reduces risks and costs, targets presenteeism and absenteeism and attracts and retains talent.

Arup’s ‘Total Reward’ proposition, employees’ quality of life sits alongside the quality of their work environment, and there was a strong focus on people and personal development, and real recognition for their work.

“Our sustainable health and wellbeing strategy empowers them to harness this spirit for the benefit of shaping a better world together,” Davidge said.

Health and wellbeing is positioned not purely as an HR initiative, but as an integrated part of the organisation, aligned to the business values of shaping a better world and being a humane organisation.

According to Julie Gordon, organisations who behave appropriately towards employees, showing mutual respect and care for the well-being of employees; , those who ensure that communication is clear and two-way and those who organise and define work effectively, will find they are on the right path to creating the conditions where employee engagement can flourish.

Find out more about CMI’s Quality of Working Life research here