If we decide to actively improve employee wellbeing, where should we draw the line?

What is fair and reasonable?  Should all employers be setting aside business resource to help people improve their lives?  And if so, how can we balance an interest in looking after people with an interest in staying competitively strong?

I stand in awe of companies like Timpsons

The Timpson family have put employee wellbeing at the very heart of their business model.  Timpsons recruit around half of their workforce from prisons.  The other half from friends of existing employees.  Timpsons are so committed to this recruitment strategy that they have set up branded training facilities in prisons such as HMP Wandsworth.  Before trainees leave prison they know they have a job to come out to.  Funnily enough, re-offend rates are very low.

CSR is dead.  Are employee wellbeing programmes?

Lord Browne, ex CEO of BP was recently quoted as saying that Corporate Social Responsibility is dead.  In his view, a company’s conscience cannot realistically be consigned to a bottom-line draining internal department.  Either live and breathe the ethics you talk about, or leave well alone.

Perhaps employee welfare is the same deal and we should all be revising our business models to reflect that.

For the majority of companies this is unlikely to be a realistic option.  Most of us are juggling time and money across multiple business goals, of which this is only one.  So how do we do something that doesn’t break the bank, but does more good for employees than the odd sticking-plaster away day of enforced fun?

A middle way.

I have always made it my business to crack on and work towards what I wanted in life.  Undoubtedly this colours my thinking about employee wellbeing.  I’m a big fan of bringing about positive change in the lives of people I employ.  But I’m not that keen on the idea of our company becoming a nanny state.

Like anything worth doing, happiness and life balance generally take a little effort to achieve.  Quality of life shouldn’t be something we can only start to think about as an additional task, once we have completed 8+ hours of work every day.  But each of us needs to take some level of personal responsibility.  So for me, employee wellbeing initiatives shouldn’t be about doing everything ‘for’ people, but about making it easier for people to ‘help themselves’ to a happy balance.

Give people permission.  Make it easy. 

This is why we created 121Hours.  As a social media platform designed to be used in work time, 121Hours www.121hours.com gives us the chance to demonstrate that our employees have permission to improve their wellbeing whilst at work.  By presenting small personal challenges every day, 121Hours makes it much easier for people to improve things for themselves.

Everyone can do something, however small.  Whilst we developed this idea to help people achieve personal goals, the implications for employee engagement are clear.  If people feel enabled and empowered about what they can tackle in their own lives, chances are they will feel pretty positive about what they can tackle on behalf of the company too.