Wellbeing & culture

The link between wellbeing and culture…

Not only is there a link, but a sustainable, practical wellbeing strategy will help create and carry your culture.

Healthy employees = healthy company

There is an inextricable link between high-performing organisational culture and the health and happiness of a workforce (or its wellbeing).  It can be hard to measure the ROI of a good wellbeing strategy, but instinctively we, as leaders, know that happy and engaged employees make for happy and engaged customers, which will ultimately drive the performance of your businesses.  But, what is a good wellbeing strategy and how do you execute it to best effect? Why is it such a key part of your organisational culture? (Tip: It is more than just having a fruit bowl in the office and yoga at lunchtime!)


Let’s talk culture first – what is culture anyway?  The most common definition is that, “it’s the way we do things around here.”  Pixar define it as, “The set of tacit understandings and beliefs that form the foundation of how an organisation works.”  Nanoheal say that culture is “what happens when the boss is not around.”  Ultimately it is something that can be hard to see or measure and, as a result, can be allowed to develop naturally by an organisation’s leaders, sometimes positively, other times less so.  Organisational culture is like the wind; you can’t see it, but when it’s blowing in the right direction everything feels easier, when it’s blowing in the wrong direction everything feels much more difficult. Many studies have shown that business leaders believe that culture can be a core driver of organisational success, however the same surveys also show that very few of those leaders believe that they have the “right culture”.

So how does culture show up? It is carried or crashed by your leaders and it shows up through every aspect of your employee’s experience. How you hire, fire, develop, reward, recognise, manage, support and engage your people all create experiences, organisational stories, practices and realities about “how things are done around here”.

Ensuring the health and wellbeing of your employees is a key part of this story. If you proactively support the health and wellbeing of your people, it shows them that you care, by valuing and supporting them. This in turn increases their engagement and therefore the likelihood of them outperforming. If they continually and systematically outperform, so should your business and thus you have created a high performing culture – success!

So how do you do this effectively?

The key to creating and embedding a successful wellbeing culture is that it should not only be well-intentioned, but well-received.  The reality is that many employees never buy-in to the wellbeing programmes run within their businesses.  This was evidenced in a recent IBM report, Closing the Chasm, where 80% of executives believed they were supporting the physical and emotional health of employees, but only 46% of employees believed that they were being supported!

The message here is that, for many organisations, wellbeing plans are underdeveloped or just plain ineffective.  If you think you’re providing a benefit, and the recipient of that benefit doesn’t see it the same way, you’ve failed. The evolution of wellbeing over the last 50 + years, including moving from health & safety to offering healthcare provisions to fruit bowls and yoga, means today many wellbeing offerings continue to be sticky plasters over the social concerns faced by employers.  

Wellbeing programmes often feel like one of the softer elements of a coherent business strategy, but the truth is, this soft stuff is hard to do (and often harder to measure).

COVID has undoubtedly brought this situation into stark focus and presented additional challenges of its own, such as how to engage employees remotely, how to support the health and wellbeing of employees who are juggling childcare / elderly care or care for vulnerable relatives? How to ensure the wellbeing of employees who are stuck on video calls for most of the day etc?. How to check in on employees who live on their own and may be feeling isolated?

In short, employees who are physically thriving, financially secure, emotionally balanced and socially connected are more engaged and productive.

Top tips to improving employee wellbeing
  1. Assess your current organisational culture and attitudes towards wellbeing in the workplace. Get a clear sense of where you are now (from all of your employees not just the most senior ones). There are various different ways to do this including employee engagement surveys, focus groups, exit interview data, high performer profiling, customer and market feedback to name a few.

  2. Engage all your employees to help clarify the culture your organisation is moving towards and create a story and implementation plan that ensures your new culture is carried through all of your employee lifecycle. Ensure everyone understands the deliberate positive development that is underway.  This has to be driven from the very top of your company down to be successful. Leaders have to walk the walk not just talk the talk.

  3. Obsessively assess and develop your managers and leaders against this culture. People “look up” and the people in your company who manage and lead others will crash or carry your culture. If you’re not going to do this then don’t bother with the rest – just put your values and mission statement on a wall in the office and forget about the rest.

  4. Put employee wellbeing at the heart of your culture. Ask your employees what they would value most, and why. Prioritise the areas that are common trends across your business.

  5. Don’t sweat the big stuff, just start doing some things that are priority for your business. These can often be as simple as reminding leaders to say thank you and meaning it, agreeing to consider best times for meetings for all team members, having a clear flex working policy that the most senior people in the business live and breath – it’s of then the “small” stuff that matters most to employees. Lots of small things can create big impact.

In truth, a culture of well-being is not so much an “initiative” as it is a permanent change in how work is conducted. 

Culture is not just an HR responsibility. It’s the way you do business and requires constant and thoughtful monitoring as a standing C-suite priority to safeguard and protect an organisation’s most critical asset: its workforce and intellectual capital.


Remember healthy employees = healthy company.


Our thanks to Gillian Fox of Optimal People for this article.

Gillian is a senior HR professional with over 25 years’ experience in global HR and Talent roles. She founded Optimal People, a coaching and consulting company focussed on the human capital element of business transformation and much of her work is supporting organisations to create and embed a sustainable high performance culture.

Optimal People collaborates with Your Employee Wellbeing to provide sustainable wellbeing solutions for business.

Additional thanks to Mandy Bisson from Sorrel Consulting.

Your Employee Wellbeing works with businesses to support the wellbeing of their employees. Focusing on dealing with life’s challenges we are here to help your employees

We do this through our bespoke programmes for larger businesses and through our new service PC Employee Care for smaller businesses with up to 100 employees.

Get in touch to see how we can help.

info@youremployeewellbeing.co.uk  |  020 8979 6453

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