Why it’s time to stop trying to measure wellbeing programmes

Understandably anyone who talks to us about what we do is keen to know how they can measure the impact it will have, largely so they can understand how to justify expenditure of time and money.

Up until recently we suggested all sorts of options; surveys, feedback, getting everyone to use an app, measuring reduced days of absence, increased or decreased uptake of the Employee Assistance Programme (we still haven’t worked out which is better).

To be honest none of our suggestions seemed to be authentic.

We are a culture obsessed with measurement; we are constantly told that if you measure it, it will improve.

I don’t buy it, and here’s why

We can spend huge amounts of time, energy and money trying to track the impact of whatever we do in life. Sometimes, that can be really quite straightforward and worthwhile; the smart meter in our home definitely encourages me to turn the heating down even further.

Those in the know will confidentially acknowledge that measuring wellbeing is extremely difficult. There are numerous barriers to achieving genuine clarity around people’s mental state in the workplace:

  • people taking the time to complete surveys – we tend to see either the very happy or unhappy fill these in.
  • fear of the outcome of opening up.
  • low uptake of mental health apps that are designed to capture measurements.

I have never seen any measurement that has been remotely accurate, largely because it depends on too many divergent factors; people filling in that survey, using that app or finding time to think about things that aren’t urgent but are definitely important.

How about spending that time, energy and money on encouraging people to explore together what is likely to improve their mental health and ultimately their wellbeing.

Although part of the solution, our mental health challenges are not something that we can solve alone by using an app or going through traditional, solitary e-learning. Without a doubt there’s an element of taking more responsibility for our mental health but that denies the importance of connection, particularly with those that we spend most of our time with.

It’s not something that can be tackled overnight but requires months if not years of hard work and constant attention.

Burnout – a phenomenon high on the agenda due to COVID – is about relationships; our relationship with work, with those that we work with and the values of our organisation. We can constantly try to patch up the damage done by it, push the responsibility onto the individual and try to measure its reduction.  Or we can give our people the encouragement to re-evaluate those relationships honestly.

If we can do that, we can justifiably expect progress.

Where can you start?

Work out how you want your people to feel and then ask them how to make that happen. At the same time, don’t put all the pressure on the Line Managers to deliver; this is a team sport and we all need to play our part.

As leaders, if we give people the time, space and permission to explore the fundamental challenges they face together – rather than expect measurable impact overnight – we are more likely to move in the direction that we want.

If you want to know what impact measures are having, ask your people in a real human way. It’s an unfashionable and non-scientific perspective but maybe notice the changes in what people are saying (or not saying) and what they are doing when they are allowed to explore these difficult subjects together.

This is about culture and we believe – if we obsess on statistics, maybe we miss the bigger picture.

This is about planting a seed that needs to be nurtured – not churning people through one-off training courses and expecting to be able to record a certain percentage return on income.

Why not test the hypothesis – for free?  

We’ve developed a new team-led approach to collective wellbeing learning called Genesis, which we believe will: –

  • normalise positive wellbeing conversation
  • cascade knowledge across the organisation; at every level
  • improve engagement with existing wellbeing initiatives and deliver obvious impact

We have a number of no-cost Genesis pilot opportunities for forward-thinking organisations who want to help us shape the future of the mental wellbeing narrative.

This video gives a bit more detail on how Genesis achieves this and if you’d like to test the hypothesis with your teams, please get in touch using the contact form below.

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