There is an increasing recognition among companies, local authorities and the government that health and wellbeing in the workplace is important.1 Against this background, in June 2014, Public Health England (PHE) published a set of national standards for workplace health for the first time. The Workplace Wellbeing Charter (WWC or Charter), designed by Liverpool Primary Care Trust in partnership with Liverpool City Council and supported by PHE through the national standards as a model for other local authorities to use, provides local authorities and employers across England with a comprehensive, systematic and universal framework for workplace health improvement.
Commissioned and funded by PHE, RAND Europe undertook an analysis of the take-up and impact of the Workplace Wellbeing Charter. The analysis was conducted at two levels. Firstly, we analysed data provided by local authorities, via PHE, on organisations participating in the Charter scheme (or an equivalent). However, the analysis was limited by data availability and, although the data present in the data set appears to be broadly reliable, using data missing from one area as evidence that there has been no take-up of the scheme there is inadvisable, and therefore we have not done this. Secondly, we carried out a set of case studies and carried out 37 interviews in 13 organisations to provide additional insights into the evidence that underpins the Charter.
It is important to note that this study is not an impact evaluation, and did not attempt to draw robust conclusions about the overall impact of the WWC, or the likelihood or type of positive impact in any organisation. Rather, it uncovers areas in which the WWC has been particularly well-received and explores the potential impact of the WWC in a variety of contexts as a basis to allow organisations to make more informed decisions about the relevance of the WWC to their own needs and potential ways to implement it in their workplaces.
The accreditation process required a lot of effort and it was considered as long and time-consuming, particularly by micro and small organisations, unless organisations used collaborative software, dedicated tools and electronic data submission, which help to simplify the process.
The most common motivation to undergo the accreditation process was a desire to reduce sickness absence and demonstrate commitment to workplace wellbeing to staff. Organisations also wished to improve motivation, satisfaction and staff engagement, and sought external validation and feedback on their pre-existing initiatives.
When exploring how organisations implemented staff health and wellbeing interventions, we found that information on resources invested was partial. We did, however, find that there were various forms of collaboration and partnership between the accredited organisations and local institutions, charities, healthcare and specialist providers, which brought expertise, advice, services and products directly to the case study organisations.
The study found a wide range of health and wellbeing activities implemented by the accredited organisations—from facilitating healthy choices, introducing new policies, and providing health screenings, through to workshops, training and team building activities.
However, the information on outputs (the overall number of wellbeing events and initiatives) and outcomes (staff participation data) was scarce. This lack of data made the link between the activities and impacts more difficult to capture – both for the organisations themselves and for the researchers.
While the study identified a number of improvements in policies, infrastructure and the provision of wellbeing programmes—sickness absence, job satisfaction and staff morale, to name but a few—these changes could not be unambiguously attributed to the WWC accreditation and the wellbeing activities. However, we found a number of areas where the WWC contributed to making a positive difference to the accredited organisations and their staff:
- The WWC provides organisations with an all-inclusive framework for identifying gaps and areas for improvements, while allowing them the flexibility to prioritise certain areas and pace changes according to their determination, resources and abilities. Of the 13 organisations featured in case studies, eight reported that they had been motivated to improve their workplace health and that the WWC had given them specific ideas or added structure to what they were doing.
- The WWC inspires novel approaches to achieve sustainable results in times of austerity and limited resources. Seven organisations explicitly mentioned partnerships with local organisations that provided services free of charge, and all said that the main investment was time rather than money.
- The WWC helps organisations capture results and realise how much they already do. It also demonstrates the benefits that organisations gain from wellbeing initiatives and encourages organisations to maximise the results. Ten organisations reported an improvement to a quantitative outcome measure that they believed the WWC had contributed to.
Although the case studies were self-selected and likely to be biased towards creating a favourable impression of the Charter, the reported results broadly point in a direction which suggests that the Charter can, in the right circumstances, make a positive contribution to workplace wellbeing. For similar organisations, the issues, activities and consequences reported here might be indicative of what they can expect to experience by undergoing WWC accreditation and investing in staff health and wellbeing.
Based on these findings we arrived at the following suggestions for PHE:
- Introduce a system to monitor the nationwide use of the WWC national standards as soon as possible.
- Further develop and implement reporting guidance and tools for consistent reporting on WWC accreditation.
- Create a toolbox with tried and tested solutions to simplify and aid the process for organisations applying for WWC accreditation for the first time.
- Simplify the accreditation process for micro and small organisations by increasing flexibility, thereby making it less difficult for them to undergo the accreditation without compromising the national standards.
- Specifically include examples of effective collaboration between accredited organisations and local providers in the aforementioned toolbox.
- Embed the logic model approach in the WWC accreditation process to help organisations prioritise or introduce wellbeing interventions more likely to lead to intended or desired outcomes.
And for local providers:
- Augment existing successful partnerships and continue working with organisations to build partnerships with local services, and to facilitate the links with relevant institutions and organisations.