HSL's new interactive tool helps organisations get to
grips with wellbeing at work.
Wellbeing at work is important: its neglect in the UK costs an
estimated £60 billion annually. This isn't simply the cost of
absence from work: 'presenteeism' (attending work but being
unproductive when unwell, possibly through fear of losing your job)
is becoming more common. Presenteeism alone is thought to cost UK
employers over £15 billion a year. [i]
Unsurprisingly, in recent years the Government has sought to
reduce costs associated with a lack of wellbeing in the working-age
population. Dame Carole Black's 2008 review of the health of
Britain's working age population [ii] has elicited
a series of national wellbeing initiatives, including the
introduction of the 'fit note', the provision of occupational
health advice services for small businesses and GPs, and the
development of the Workplace Wellbeing
At the same time, further evidence demonstrates the benefits to
business of managing wellbeing at work more effectively. For
example, a recent meta-analysis of 'wellness' initiatives (focusing
on health promotion) found a return on investment of over three to
one [iv], with an average of 1.7 days'
absence saved per employee per year.
According to Heron [v] , employers who take a
positive approach to wellbeing are more likely to have "engaged
employees [who are] aligned with business goals"; further evidence
that managing wellbeing at work is worth the investment.
In light of this, a new tool has been developed by the Health
and Safety Laboratory (HSL) and our European colleagues to promote
the message to employers that a proactive approach to wellbeing at
work is good for business.
What is wellbeing, and how can it be
[vi], [vii] recognise that
wellbeing depends upon the interaction between an individual's
social, physical and psychological resources and their context. An
individual experiencing wellbeing feels good; is functioning at an
optimal level psychologically, socially and physically; can fulfil
their potential and flourish; work productively; and generally have
a positive impact on their surroundings, whether at work, home or
in the community.
As wellbeing at work arises from the interaction between the
worker and their workplace, employers must consider the context in
which their workforces can flourish and be productive. How an
organisation is run, its culture and values, and how wellbeing is
perceived as a priority relative to productivity, quality standards
or customer satisfaction, matter as much as whether workers take
physical exercise, or eat a healthy diet. To keep an ageing
workforce productive, managing workforce wellbeing also means
tackling the health challenges that growing older inevitably
Positive approaches to health and wellbeing are increasing in
popularity [ix]. Thinking has moved on from a
preoccupation with preventing harm - as embodied by conventional
risk management and research on stress prevention - towards
harnessing physical and psychological health 'assets' or resources
that can create the ideal environment for workers to excel and
innovate. Examples of such assets might be positive working
relationships, meaningful work, mastery and morale. While low
morale isn't necessarily harmful, having high morale is considered
to be good for wellbeing.[x]
In short, effectively managing wellbeing at work means taking a
holistic approach - one that takes into account systems, culture
and leadership, and engineers positive outcomes that go beyond the
prevention of harm. To date, wellbeing at work programmes have
often been concerned with health promotion, giving employees
healthy food options, gym vouchers and support to give up smoking,
or private medical insurance and access to counselling.[xi] These can have a legitimate role in
enhancing the wellbeing of individual workers, but they don't
tackle the underlying influences on wellbeing at work, such as
leadership styles, attitudes to health, and management systems. How
can we prevent this apparent default to solutions that target just
the worker, and not the workplace environment?
The Wellbeing Tree and how it can help
One solution might be to find more innovative ways of
communicating to employers what wellbeing at work really
encompasses, where they should target their efforts, and why it
should matter to them. With this in mind, the HSL worked with other
wellbeing experts from the Partnership for European Research into
Occupational Safety and Health (PEROSH) to develop the 'Wellbeing
Tree', an interactive tool that helps employers visualise the
different factors that feed into workplace wellbeing.
The image of the tree - in particular a fruit tree - provided a
powerful metaphor for the holistic approach to wellbeing at work
that we're trying to communicate. The many different factors that
contribute to workplace wellbeing are the roots of the tree,
implying a clear relationship between investing in workforce
wellbeing, and the benefits of doing so - the 'growth' of the tree,
and the fruit it produces.
The tree image also helps to show the interdependence between
the worker and the context of their work, in relation to wellbeing.
The interaction of the individual and wider society can be made
clear; general economic austerity, for example, can be understood
as poorer environmental conditions, giving rise to an impoverished
We have developed two versions of the tree tool - one aimed at
employers, and another aimed at occupational health and safety
experts, which uses more specialist language. As well as general
explanations of the tree's purpose and how it can be used, each
tool has labels attached to different elements, which are revealed
by dragging the mouse over them, and which explain what the tree's
various roots, branches and fruit represent.
The Tree's roots
The Wellbeing Tree is not intended to be an empirical, testable
model - rather, it shows in an intuitive way the great variety of
factors that can affect wellbeing. Its intended purpose is to
provide a compelling conceptual tool, to help increase employers'
and employees' understanding of a widely misconstrued topic, and to
help guide improvements.
Nevertheless, the development of the Wellbeing Tree has been a
rigorous process, based on consensus among experts. Definitions of
wellbeing, influences upon it and potential ways of improving it
were identified through surveys of PEROSH members. The basic
concept of the interactive tool, as well as its content and the
labels that go with it, were then similarly arrived at through
expert discussions. The Wellbeing Tree can therefore be seen as
representing the current evidence base for wellbeing at work.
If current trends towards an increased intensification of work,
demands for more flexible working and a blurring of boundaries
between work and home continue, then getting across messages about
wellbeing in the workplace will become ever more important. The
Wellbeing Tree helps employers understand the importance of
wellbeing in the workplace, and the value of investing in it.
To see the Wellbeing Tree, visit:
Dr Jennifer Lunt, Professor David Fishwick and Professor Andrew
The Health and Safety Laboratory
[i] Newcombe, T. (2013). Stress and
presenteeism 'sapping UK productivity' says research.
[ii] Black, C. (2008). Working for
a Healthier Tomorrow: Government Report for the Department of Work
[iii] Department of Work and Pensions
(2014). Helping People to Find and Stay in Work
[iv] Rouse, M., Hurst, C., Sarma, S.,
Zaric, G. (2012). Meta-analysis. Workplace Wellness Programmes
[v] Heron, R.J.L. (2013).
Editorial, Occupational Medicine, 314-319
[vi] Foresight Mental Capital and
Well-being Project (2008). Final Project Report. The Government
Office for Science. London
[vii] Waddell, G. & Burton, A. K.
(2006). Is work good for your health and wellbeing?
London: The Stationary Office
[viii] Kendall, N., Burton, K., Lunt.
J., Daniels, K. and Mellor, N. (2012). Common Health Problems: The
Chasm of Lost Opportunity. Symposium at the Second International
Wellbeing at Work Conference.
[ix] Seligman, M.E.P. (2008). Positive
Health. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57,
[x] Lunt, J., Fox, D., Bowen, J. et al
(2007). Applying the Biopsychosocial Approach to Managing the Risks
of Contemporary Occupational Health Conditions; Scoping Review. HSL
Report HSL/2007/24. Retrieved from
[xi] Business in the Community (2009).
Healthy People = Healthy Profits