Comment: well-being is for life, not just January

The global pandemic put mental health and well-being firmly in the spotlight, but we are not as far advanced as we might think, says Alice Willett, senior human resources partner, Air Products.


Whether it’s top tips for beating the January blues, or the foods that offer a guaranteed pathway to positivity, the headlines at this time of year can be more than a little overwhelming.

In the face of this media onslaught, it seems timely to remind ourselves that well-being is for life, not just for January. But while the global pandemic has put mental health and well-being firmly in the spotlight, it seems that we are, after all, not as far advanced as we might think.

Recent research commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) paints a picture of a UK workforce that is existing rather than thriving. Four in ten of those surveyed don’t agree that their work is supportive of their physical and mental health, and only just over half (51 per cent) said they felt appreciated by people within their organisation for who they were and the work they did.

The engineering sector is certainly not immune. In fact, a report titled ‘Masculinity in Engineering’ from Equal Engineers found that 37 per cent of engineers would describe their mental health as fair or poor, and over a fifth have had to take time off work to focus on their mental health.  

So, what can we do about it?

For me, the answer rests with a more holistic approach. We need to start focusing on what our workforces need to support a consistent feeling of well-being.

Those needs can be neatly summed up by four key areas: harmony, community, security, and health. Get the first three right and - more often than not - good health, mentally and physically, will follow.

‘Harmony’ is all about considering our work priorities in conjunction with the things outside of work that we care about and value. We often refer to this as work-life balance but this term can suggest that each facet of our life receives equal attention every day, which, in reality, can be extremely challenging.

Instead, we should encourage our teams to adopt a more flexible mindset, addressing needs – whether personal or professional – as they arise. Understanding that compartmentalising work and wider life, with clear divides of time and energy, is difficult is an important first step in taking a more blended approach that is gentler on us all.


‘Community’ acknowledges that none of us can function in isolation. We all need relationships and connection with others. In fact, where the impact of a strong community has been measured, it has revealed a direct impact on leading a longer and more fulfilled life, and achieving stronger mental health and overall wellbeing.

In the workplace, this feeling of community can be fostered by the creation of special interest groups and networks, diversity and inclusion councils, and volunteering opportunities, all of which can help to support a feeling of belonging.

The third part of the well-being jigsaw puzzle is all about a feeling of financial security – in other words, being prepared both for future goals but also unexpected life events. After all, one major life event can lead to mounting debt problems and major stress, severely effecting overall wellbeing.

Equipping the workforce with the tools they need to assess and improve their financial security is fundamental to helping them navigate life’s difficult events when they inevitably arise. It also sets our teams up to succeed, ensuring they are well-placed to achieve their personal and professional goals – whether that’s sending a child to university, or studying for additional professional qualifications.

And then, of course, there’s health itself. In its broadest sense, this refers to physical fitness, but also mental and social fitness too. Regular breaks, a healthy diet, exercise and connecting with others all contribute. Our workforce might be physically fit, but do they have a sense of well-being? Without it, it’s only a matter of time before productivity drops, and sickness and absence rates increase.

As employers we can support better well-being by checking in regularly, asking how individuals are really doing, and listening carefully to the response. We can also encourage holiday to be taken at regular intervals, signpost support that is available – whether that’s mental, financial, or physical, and schedule meetings considerately. And – of course – those who are leading teams need to put their own oxygen mask on first. We can only help others and set the tone for well-being if we apply the approach to ourselves.

At Air Products we are prioritising well-being through our ‘Breathe Freely’ programme that brings the four pillars of harmony, community, security, and health together, consolidating activity across the business into an approach that works for everyone. As part of this, we are training our leaders in promoting work-life harmony. Critically, we’re also ensuring that support is easily accessible for anyone that needs it as part of a well-being toolkit. This provides webinars, relevant apps such as ‘Calm’, and feel good opportunities to improve health and contribute to charity at the same time.

Are we finished? Of course not, but we are very much on the journey to a more robust approach that puts well-being at its centre. The likely impact: less absence, even lower staff turnover, improved productivity and ultimately a more motivated, and contented team.  

Alice Willett, senior human resources partner, Air Products