Well-being in the workplace: Should more firms adopt the Google model?

05 June 2017

Well-being in the workplace: Should more firms adopt the Google model? image

While some firms already boast an on-site gym for employees, Google is going the extra mile (as revealed in its plans for its eye-wateringly expensive London HQ announced this week). 

Rather than a simple gym - with cross trainer and treadmill if you’re lucky – Google is offering an entire “wellness centre” containing gyms, massage rooms, a 25m Olympic sized swimming pool and multi-use indoor sports pitch. It also has a rooftop garden and running track split over multiple storeys and themed around three areas: a “plateau”, “gardens” and “fields”, planted with strawberries, gooseberries and sage (jealous yet?)

But is this just a gimmick, or could it genuinely improve workforce productivity?

A new study conducted by Henley Business School looks at wellbeing and resilience in the workplace, and suggests that there's a strong link between wellbeing and performance. And more fundamentally, focusing on wellbeing is the antidote and cure for the mental health epidemic (and I don't exaggerate) being caused by stress and work overload. The study shows a series of stages and phases that organisations move through, as they address the issue of wellbeing and make it part of their culture. And that's the point here - organisations need a wellbeing CULTURE. It's not enough to play around with buying that treadmill, hiring a pool table or even creating that "wellness zone" (real examples I've seen recently). Google are making their HQ reflect their culture. And if your culture doesn’t support or prioritise wellbeing, then gimmicks won't make the slightest difference.

So in the absence of a cool £1bn for a new HQ, what can you do instead?

You could follow the fad for buying individual wellbeing services like telephone helplines, stress counselling and inbox management. But they always seem to me like applying a plaster to fix a broken leg. Instead, organisations need to start tackling the work/life balance issues that are causing many of the stresses and strains that damage the mental and physical health of their workers. But granted, installing a pool table is a heck of a lot easier than persuading senior leaders and the board to invest time and money into improving the wellbeing of the workforce.

But persuade them you must, and here's my top tip from the research. Forget about having a philosophical debate about the importance of being healthy. Instead start articulating the business case for wellbeing, and improving on under-developed metrics. For example, in the research we found that several organisations were packaging groups of relevant engagement survey questions to give an indication of general well-being. One had even termed such a package a "well-being index", comprising a composite of questions around support availability, teamwork, management of change, support from managers, advocacy and job satisfaction. Better metrics are a great way to start; encouraging acceptance and accountability at board level, and gaining greater buy-in to the cultural changes needed to improve productivity and performance.

For further information about the "Wellbeing and resilience" research, please contact Mark Swain at thp@henley.ac.uk.