Guest blog by Martin Short, Head of Wellbeing, Diversity and Inclusion. MoD Business Unit
In July 2018, following an 18-month secondment to the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, I returned to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to design a wellbeing programme for a large MoD business unit of some 5000 staff spread over a number of different locations.
The organisation had never had a centrally coordinated wellbeing programme so, while I had considerable freedom of action, there were three big challenges to overcome before we could move forward.
The first challenge was that, as an organisation, we had no common understanding of what ‘wellbeing’ actually meant - or why it was important to both individuals and organisations. The second was that our wellbeing-related data was low grade and unsuitable for taking an evidence-based approach. Finally, while many staff were doing great work at local level, they worked in isolation and we had no joined up wellbeing community.
To tackle these challenges I designed a ‘start-up’ phase made up of three core activities which we called - Educate, Measure and Connect.
It is impossible to hold meaningful conversations about any topic if it means different things to different people, so I spent four months visiting every site and delivering over thirty ‘Wellbeing Awareness Briefs’. It didn’t matter so much what our wellbeing concept was, but it was important that we shared the same one. These one-hour presentations covered:
- Wellbeing: What it is and why it matters to both individuals AND organisations.
- What we know about Wellbeing across the life course and the factors that exert influence.
- Wellbeing in the Workplace - the role of individuals, managers and leaders. This general approach is illustrated well in the ACAS Mental Health at Work Framework.
The annual Civil Service People Survey gives some insights into wellbeing but lacks detail, so we augmented it with data from another survey tool - a workplace wellbeing diagnostic tool developed by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. This higher resolution data allowed us to diagnose where our main workplace wellbeing issues lay and also created a benchmark from which we could measure our progress as we started to take action.
One of the most interesting findings came from a graphic that we called the ‘Heatmap’. This plotted how far our different sites were from the organisational average for each of the five ‘drivers’ of workplace wellbeing measured by the tool. As can be seen from the heatmap below, not one of our sites has the same wellbeing experience - and the military and civilian experience is often profoundly different - even at the same site. This suggested that, for our organisation at least, a ‘one size fits all’ strategy would probably be ineffective. It also led us to the conclusion that the best model for our needs involved a light central structure which measures, monitors and advises, with evidence-informed action being delegated to local leadership and wellbeing networks.
The final preparatory activity was termed ‘Connect’. While I knew there were many staff doing great work at local level (Mental Health First Aiders, Mindfulness groups, Peer Support Groups, Sports Clubs etc.) we had no central visibility of what was actually happening locally. The Connect activity was simply a gathering together of information about what wellbeing and mental health related initiatives were happening and where.
What did we achieve?
Our three preliminary activities have allowed us to do a number of things:
- Develop a shared understanding of what wellbeing means to us as an organisation - so our future conversations are better informed and make sense to staff.
- Diagnose our main wellbeing challenges and establish a data benchmark from which we can measure progress when we run the survey again.
- Complete an audit of the wellbeing-related resources we already have and identify and connect our pan-organisation wellbeing network.
- Helped us understand the significant impact of local issues on staff wellbeing, thus guiding us towards appropriate governance structures.
The next phase will be the analysis of those issues that we wish to address at organisation level, followed by the generation of local action plans to address the needs identified at our different sites. At present we are planning to re-run the survey in late 2020 to check our progress.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Civil Service or the Ministry of Defence.
The SOM has a wellbeing special interest group. To view the slides from the most recent meeting, please click on the links below: An Evidence-based Approach to Understanding Workplace Wellbeing Challenges Supporting healthy high performance