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Mindfulness training and massages at lunch ‘won’t improve work culture’

22 Jan 2019 By Maggie Baska

CIPD president says environmental changes are not enough and calls for a focus on management to improve employee wellbeing

Mindfulness training at lunchtime and massages at your desk are seen as easy fixes for employee wellbeing – but they are not effective in changing work culture and addressing underlying issues, experts told delegates at a pop-up wellbeing event yesterday.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, CIPD president and professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School, said companies with the best wellbeing outcomes take a strategic approach and “look at the totality of their work and culture and ask what is causing the harm” in their organisation.

Cooper said that although many companies look to improve wellbeing through changes to the workplace environment, it’s usually the culture within the office that’s primarily to blame. “Even if you design the workplace, you had better also redesign the culture you’ve got,” he said.



Cooper called on businesses to perform wellbeing audits to find out what employees think of their line managers, the hours they work, their work-life balance and other issues they encounter during their working life.

“Every HR department in the country should be doing an audit of the EQ [emotional quotient] and social skills of all their staff from shop floor to top floor,” Cooper said. He advised such an audit should look at what “what proportion of workers are good at people management” and the social-interpersonal skills of managers. 

He added managers or workers who do not show such skills should be trained or “moved” to another role which would better suit them. 

Cooper was speaking at the launch of a report, In Pursuit of Office Happiness, which found businesses were failing to keep their workers happy. 

The research, conducted by office supplier Staples, revealed four in five (81 per cent) out of 2,000 UK workers polled said their physical work environment had an impact on their mental health.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) said they would feel more valued at work if their organisation invested in their workspaces, and a majority (77 per cent) agreed a “well-functioning, attractive and happy workplace” would help them achieve their goals at work.

Jeanette Bresitz, head of merchandising UK at Staples, said workplace happiness was about “striking a balance” between providing employees with the right physical space to promote mental health, while also creating a “nurturing culture in which they can grow”. 

Bresitz urged businesses to “make changes so staff feel more valued, productive and loyal to their employers”. According to the research, almost half (46 per cent) of those polled believed they would be happier in another job altogether rather than their current role.

The research highlighted some perks UK employees believed would make them happier in their office workspaces, include having an office dog (27 per cent), free healthy snacks (23 per cent) and punching bags (20 per cent).

However Bresitz added “gimmicks” like these were only a starting point. “It’s important to note that boosting the workspace with free snacks and office puppies isn’t the long term answer,” she said.

A British Safety Council (BSC) report released late last year revealed the “laudable” intentions behind initiatives aimed at improving employee wellbeing may actually play a part in their ineffectiveness.

Lawrence Waterman, chair of the BSC’s board of trustees, said despite genuine enthusiasm and commitment, wellbeing efforts often had a “woeful ignorance of what will, sustainably and effectively, make a difference”.

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