Measuring the impact of employee wellbeing and inclusion strategies is as challenging as it is essential. Four wellbeing experts offer tips for HR to measure what matters.
The outcomes of wellbeing and inclusion initiatives, such as improved morale and psychosocial safety, often seem like nebulous, intangible concepts that are difficult for HR to quantify.
However, as HR practitioners adjust to new challenges to wellbeing at work and new responsibilities to address them, they would be wise to adopt the mantra of management guru Peter Drucker: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
“The measurement issue is a real challenge for all of us,” said Simon Brown-Greaves, Chief Mental Health Officer at Australia Post, during a panel session at AHRI’s virtual diversity, equity and inclusion conference last week.
“We’ve got to focus on honing our measurements so we’re measuring the right things in the right way – so that people feel they’re able to provide meaningful feedback about the things we’re trying to support them with.”
Those who signed up for AHRI’s DEI event can watch this session on demand.
Current trends in reporting wellbeing at work
During the panel discussion, Jono Nicholas, Managing Director of The Wellbeing Outfit and Chief Mental Health Advisor for EY Oceania, highlighted a number of recent trends influencing the way we should be measuring and reporting on wellbeing at work.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, flexible work has increased the need for a more strategic approach to measuring wellbeing, he says, given that it is harder to gauge the overall mental health of employees who are working offsite.
2023 has also been a busy year for industrial relations changes, many of which relate to mental health. One of the most significant updates in this space was the recent introduction of a Code of Practice to manage psychosocial hazards in the workplace.
Formal legal frameworks like this are putting increasing pressure on employers to measure and report on the wellbeing of their people in a compliant manner.
“This is particularly challenging if you run a national organisation, because the states aren’t necessarily all moving at the same speed,” says Nicholas.
Interestingly, he’s noted that organisations in blue-collar industries, who had OHS teams and infrastructure in place long before mental health codes of practice came into play, have adjusted better to their new responsibilities than employers of white-collar workforces. With this in mind, white-collar employers may well benefit from adopting measures used by the blue-collar industry, such as safety checks at the start of every meeting.
4 ways to measure wellbeing at work
To aid organisations in overcoming the challenge of effectively measuring employee wellness and inclusion, the panellists offered a number of useful insights.
1. Consider both tangible and intangible factors
Naturally, the easiest metrics to measure and assess in gathering wellness and inclusion data will be tangible factors such as employees’ ranking of their wellbeing provided via engagement surveys.
However, according to Brown-Greaves, the best mental health and DEI strategies take a holistic approach, meaning some of their outcomes will manifest in indirect, less obvious ways.
“An example of an intangible indicator for us at Australian Post might be measuring our people’s pride in the brand and in the organisation that they work for,” he says.
“Pride is correlated with meaning, which in turn is correlated with good mental health and diversity and inclusion outcomes.”
“A long, once-a-year survey that tries to do everything is not the way forward. That type of survey [sometimes] becomes a bit gamified, and we’re not really getting the data we need to make good, sound decisions about mental health and wellbeing.” – Simon Brown-Greaves, Chief Mental Health Officer, Australia Post
2. Tackle hazards with both reactive and preventive strategies
Particularly when reporting to leaders and executives on the levels of wellness and inclusion among the workforce, Brown-Greaves stresses the importance of balancing a reactive approach based on past and existing trends and a preventive approach based on projected trends.
“Thinking about indicators that are both current [lag] as well as indicators that might be predictive of where you’re trending [lead], and finding a blend of lagging and leading indicators is really quite important,” he says.
A dual reactive and preventive strategy is especially useful in handling distress, says Nicholas.
“Distress is often caused [either] by external factors or factors that are baked into the nature of the work,” he says.
“[For example], in my work with KFC group, we continue to see that customer misbehaviour, or customer abuse, is very high across a range of industries – airline industries, customer service industries, quick-service restaurants – and that’s a factor built into the business [which] can cause a lot of distress.”
Instances like this require a preventive approach that aims to tackle the issue at hand – in this case, this might look like more detailed guidance on responding to customer abuse. Meanwhile, external factors that are outside the employer’s control can be dealt with only via a reactive strategy.
3. Gather the right information in the right way
While generic and infrequent surveys were once the extent of many organisations’ efforts to measure wellness and inclusion, our growing understanding of the multifaceted nature of these concepts calls for a more targeted approach.
Australia Post’s strategy centres around short, sharp and regular pulse surveys to gather feedback from specific groups about specific issues facing their teams, says Brown-Greaves.
“A long, once-a-year survey that tries to do everything is not the way forward. That type of survey [sometimes] becomes a bit gamified, and we’re not really getting the data we need to make good, sound decisions about mental health and wellbeing.
“[You need to] ask your people and ask them in a range of ways, so they’re able to share what they really think about how you’re going on diversity and inclusion.”
4. Balance consistency with individuality
Panellist Dr Ruth Vine, Australia’s first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, explored some of the recent and upcoming government initiatives to ensure a consistent approach to workplace mental health – most significantly, the National Workplace Initiative, an $11.5 million strategy to create an evidence-based framework for workplace mental health and direct employers and workers to find suitable initiatives and resources.
While the goal of the initiative is consistency, this does not mean the initiative is a one-size-fits-all approach, she says.
“It’s important that there are different resources for different groups of people. [For example], we know the health industry is one where there’s particularly high levels of psychological distress and psychological harm, so there have been some specific resources developed for that, one of those being the essential network developed by Black Dog [Institute].”
For the same reason, organisational wellness and inclusion strategies must also acknowledge the unique needs of different cohorts within workforces.
This was a sentiment that came up again and again throughout the session; the newfound focus on psychosocial hazards has strengthened the link between diversity and inclusion and wellbeing, since psychosocial safety is a key objective in both these areas.
By ensuring wellbeing is looked at through the lens of DEI, and vice versa, organisations can craft a well-rounded approach that allows wellness and inclusion to be accurately measured and strategically enhanced.
Want to measure your company’s inclusion level? AHRI’s Diversity and Inclusion Maturity Model is a great place to start. Benchmark your efforts and drive lasting change in your workplace.