Masterclass: How to measure employee wellbeing

Asking the right questions and spotting trends enables employers to make decisions for the future, says Andrea Vogel

For organisations wishing to move forward, especially in the pandemic, good decisions need to be made on employee wellbeing. But those decisions – whether they are on the return to work or a continuation of home working – need to be evidence based and arise from proper data. 

Wellbeing is an intangible area of people management and therefore it seems very difficult to measure. So, when attempting to collect data on employee wellbeing, there is a tendency to reduce the measures to just sickness absence and mental health. However, the data that yields has limitations because it doesn’t tell a story about the factors affecting wellbeing. Measuring mental health doesn’t tell firms what they can do to prevent mental ill-health or how they can improve the support mechanisms put in place. Wellbeing in the workspace is very different to wellbeing in your private life, and HR has an influence on all the factors at work that affect wellbeing, such as ethical leadership, culture, inclusion and line management. 

If you’re not sure where to start with measuring wellbeing, the CIPD offers a holistic framework that highlights the different aspects that make up an employee’s wellbeing at work. It helps to break wellbeing down into manageable areas, and enables you to create the right questions, surveys and metrics around them. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with data, so try starting small with one or two open-ended questions. Once you have identified a few common themes from the responses, you can ask more focused questions around the topics that impact staff the most. 

You need someone to analyse the data to identify any trends or commonalities. Often you will find patterns among groups of people that share a particular challenge. For example, we have identified that people living in shared accommodation have struggled with home working during the pandemic, and we are now considering what we can do better to support them. There will be some things you can do to address individual challenges, and others that will form a more collective decision to change policies and practices, but you need to sift through the data.

It’s not wellbeing and mental health that you should be looking for when it comes to analysing wellbeing data, but the factors that have impacted on mental health and employee wellbeing. If your data doesn’t tell a story then it is useless, and you won’t be able to make decisions for the future. 

Andrea Vogel is head of people at the Royal National Institute for Deaf people