Measure stress levels as well as employee engagement, say experts

Jo Swinson MP by David Spender.bmpThe recent annual conference of business psychologists Robertson Cooper was a useful heads up on forthcoming research on the mental health of employees and the UK population in general. Delegates heard that in 2012 there will be a new report on employee engagement, a large scale survey of the wellbeing of the UK population and new research on resilience in the workplace.

Among the speakers was Jo Swinson, MP, pictured, photo by David Spender) chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics who outlined a big new survey of wellbeing to be launched in July 2012. You can watch an excerpt of Swinson’s speech on youtube.

In July 2012 the Office will publish the first results of the subjective wellbeing survey following a consultation on wellbeing indicators which closes in January 2012. The data set will be large with 200,000 people will be surveyed every year, the world’s most comprehensive wellbeing survey.

Swinson told delegates that the wellbeing indicators and trends will be used alongside GDP to measure the prosperity of the UK:

“This isn’t about throwing GDP out the window as if it has no relevance whatever to our day to day lives or the wealth of our country. This wellbeing set of indicators will be a complementary measure to be analysed alongside GDP. It will help us to properly evaluate government policy on the basis of what people really want. Is this improving our wellbeing or is it having a negative impact?

“And because the data set is large it will help us to really identify certain groups within society. Drilling down to the figures is going to be really important and exciting to find whether it is geographical groups, different genders, different ages, different socio-economic groups having low levels of wellbeing, and what perhaps can be done to improve their situation. And it will also help us to understand the drivers of wellbeing and of course this has important implications for policy makers and could prove good for business.

In other words the move is not revolutionary as GDP will still remain the major measure and the success of efforts to improve wellbeing will be measured in terms of how they help grow GDP.

Professor Cary Cooper, director of Robertson Cooper, told delegates, “The only way you’re going to engage your top people is to show the impact of the bottom line.”

Cooper warned about putting too much emphasis on employee engagement scores in employee opinion surveys:

“Engagement is not the only answer. Sometimes people aren’t functioning not because they’re not engaged but because something else is going on.”

He cited problems with line managers, relationships and overwork “If you consistently work long hours, you will get ill. That’s what the evidence shows,” he warned.

David Mcleod, author of Engaging for Success, the independent review of employee engagement published in 2009, had a warning about employee opinion surveys which led to no action. 

“The problem is measuring is becoming synonymous in some organisations with ‘We do employee engagement’… It’s helpful to measure it but that should be the start of the conversation, not an end in itself.”

A new report from a Taskforce on employee engagement set up the government in March 2011 will be published in April 2012, written by HR director of Marks & Spencer, Tanith Dodge. 

Steven Bevan, director of the Work Foundation, said, “I’d like to see organisations measure psychological wellbeing in the same way they measure engagement.”

Some answers on how to support employee resilience in the workplace in our challenging times should emerge in new research by Robertson Cooper and the Work Foundation starting in February 2012.

Bevan told delegates, “It’s not enough to say keep calm and carry on, resilience is a business issue we all have to address.”

He warned about sickness absence records being used as a criterion for redundancy which he said was “putting a lot of pressure on people to come to work when perhaps they’re not well enough to do so”.

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