Humanisation concept to boost employee wellbeing

Focusing on the human aspects of employees is key to making them feel valued, say Dr Paul Stevens and Dr Ann Hemingway. Their new consultancy package can help businesses to achieve this goal.

The importance of taking health and wellbeing into account when developing public policy has been internationally recognised over the last decade (Diener and Suh 1997; Helliwell 2006; Kahneman and Krueger 2006). The UK Government has prioritised wellbeing in the policy agenda, illustrated in reports by the Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group, the DEFRA Committee on Wellbeing and the Sustainable Development Commission, among others (Dolan and White 2007).

Later this year a programme will be launched by Birmingham University that draws together the evidence and expertise of a wide range of professionals to improve wellbeing at work by promoting the concept of “humanisation”.

Prioritising wellbeing in the policy agenda has been supported by extensive research showing that promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace improves the working environment and is beneficial for companies and employees alike (European Network for Workplace Health Promotion 2010). Since wellbeing has been addressed in different academic and policy fields (for example, medical science, psychology, economics, sociology, social policy, management science, human resource management, organisational behaviour and environmental science), it is important to draw upon a range of expertise in developing robust models for public policy and consultancy.

“Wellbeing and humanisation in the workplace” refers to two inter-related ideas. Promoting wellbeing in the workplace is a well-established concept internationally, while the humanisation agenda has been developed at Bournemouth University’s Centre for Qualitative Research (CQR) to inform public policy in areas such as the health service, where the centre is examining the personalisation of care (person-centred care/service to enhance the quality of services).

Humanisation focuses on the importance of person-centred processes that support wellbeing and a concern with helping people feel human. People are starting to question interactions with organisations that leave them feeling that they are treated as numbers and statistics rather than valued individuals (Patients’ Association, 2009).

Fundamental factors

Several important dimensions of humanisation have been identified (Todres, Galvin et al, 2009), which include:

  • Agency: finding ways in which to enhance people’s sense of being active in an organisation.
  • Insiderness: connecting with people’s “inward sense” of how they are: avoiding interactions and strategies that make people feel excessively like “objects”.
  • Uniqueness: finding ways in which a person is able to feel that they are being seen for themselves and not just how they fit into a category.
  • Togetherness: finding ways that can enhance our need for belonging; to find familiar interpersonal connections so that our sense of isolation is reduced.
  • Personal journey: finding ways to help people to connect with a sense of historical continuity.
  • Sense-making and loss of meaning: exploring ways to communicate so that people do not feel like a “cog in a wheel”; rather, that what is being offered makes sense and is fair to them.
  • Sense of place: providing a sense of security and belonging in the places we inhabit, which adds to our wellbeing.
  • Embodiment: helping people to connect to “wellbeing resources” beyond themselves, a quality that makes life and work worthwhile and meaningful. Embodiment means reaching out and connecting meaningfully to what is “out there”.

Wellbeing and humanisation underpin a consultancy package from Bournemouth University CQR that helps organisations across the public, private and charitable sectors to focus on wellbeing for their staff and customers or clients in a holistic manner. It helps employers in considering the ways in which employees work and where they work, putting wellbeing at the heart of what they do. The evidence base for workforce health and wellbeing offers an understanding that includes physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing and the social determinants of health.

quotemarksHumanisation focuses on the importance of person-centred processes that support wellbeing and a concern with helping people feel human.”

Some key ways in which the evidence shows how organisations can improve the wellbeing of their employees are:

Recognising that employees are people Humanisation builds on the work of Professors Kathleen Galvin and Les Todres and focuses on finding ways to enhance people’s sense of being active in their organisation, avoiding interactions and strategies that make people feel excessively like “objects”, and providing them with a sense of control, security and belonging. The work of Professor Yannis Georgellis has shown that an individual who is satisfied with their job is likely to be more motivated and productive.

Provide an appropriate physical working environment Certain physical features can induce a stress response: a lack of natural lighting and non-opening windows; close-packed uncomfortable seating that invades personal space; or bland, monochrome colour schemes and harsh linear features to name but a few. Once stressed, the individual is primed to respond badly to any subsequent events, making increased errors or reacting with irritability to situations normally well within their capabilities. Simple changes to the workplace can help alleviate the stress. Studies show that natural views through the window have a beneficial effect on health, reducing illness and increasing positive mood; even plants on desks can improve concentration on a task, reducing errors and fatigue, as well as improving air quality.

Provide an appropriate social working environment People with supportive friends, both in and out of work, deal better with stress, so the organisational structure of the workplace needs to be carefully considered. Whether in person, ie talking to a colleague, or symbolic, ie the perceived level of responsibility and control within your role, how we are treated has a direct effect on wellbeing. Strict adherence to timetables or procedures that in reality rely on factors that are out of staff control, or feeling that you are not being listened to when you have concerns, can result in high levels of sustained stress and, in the long term, can predispose us to physical illnesses such as coronary heart disease.

Encourage environmentally friendly behaviour Most measures designed to improve behaviour in relation to the environment also have a positive impact on wellbeing. These include self-organised work structures; more flexible working hours allowing for avoidance of inefficient rush-hour traffic; using carbon-neutral, natural materials that decrease levels of harmful chemicals, both in the manufacturing process and in the office; natural lighting and ventilation that reduce energy bills and pollutants used in the operation and manufacture of air-conditioning and lighting units; and naturalistic planting schemes to improve air quality. Organisations can reduce their carbon footprint while using local products in their buildings and furnishings and within food-and-drink provision.

quotemarksThis initiative will help businesses to rethink how everyone in the workplace can join together to promote their own and others’ wellbeing.”

Simple strategies for building a healthier work community Many companies provide employees with information on healthy lifestyles. Companies can also integrate healthy messages into communications such as employee magazines or the intranet. Seminars can provide information on healthy nutrition and physical activity, healthy dietary options offered at the canteen and free fruit and vegetable distribution. Organisations can encourage/incentivise employees to be more active by providing subsidised gym memberships and creating fitness facilities such as on-site showers and cycle sheds, for example. Another strategy could be to organise lunchtime walking or running groups.

The whole package

This initiative is bringing together disciplines across many aspects of health and wellbeing in a new way that will help businesses to rethink how everyone in the workplace can join together to promote their own and others’ wellbeing.

This new consultancy package will be launched in October 2011 at an international conference hosted by Bournemouth University’s Centre for Wellbeing and Quality of Life entitled “Resources, capital or personnel? Perspectives on wellbeing at work”.

Dr Ann Hemingway and Dr Paul Stevens, from Bournemouth University’s Centre for Wellbeing and Quality of Life, are managing the development of a new wellbeing and humanisation consultancy package for commercial and public sector businesses and organisations. Contact Dr Ann Hemingway for more information.


Diener E and Suh E. “Measuring quality of life: economic, social, and subjective indicators”. Social Indicators Research, (1997), 40, 189-216.

Helliwell John F. “Well-being, social capital and public policy: what’s new?”, The Economic Journal, (2006), vol.116, Issue 510, C34-C45.

Kahneman D, Krueger A. “Developments in the measurement of subjective well-being”. Journal of Economic Perspectives, (2006), vol.20, 3-24.

Dolan P, White MP. “How can measures of subjective well-being be used to inform public policy?”, Perspectives on Psychological Science, (2007), vol.2, 71-85.

“Patients not numbers, people not statistics”, The Patients Association, Aug 2009.

Todres L, Galvin KT & Holloway I. “The humanization of healthcare: a value framework for qualitative research”, International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Wellbeing, (2009), 1-10.

XpertHR provides a model policy for managing staff helath and employee wellbeing.

XpertHR also details a case study explaining how the University of Huddersfield improved employee wellbeing.

Comments are closed.