How data is helping track workplace wellbeing in the Ministry of Justice
The justice system can be a tough and tense environment. If you’re an employee working for the UK Ministry of Justice, you’re likely one of 80,000 people working within units such as the prison service, probation service, or the courts – to name but a few.
Employers are increasingly taking more accountability for how their employees feel at work, and at the MoJ it’s just as, if not more, important to acknowledge how they can help workers’ wellbeing.
Not only are the roles a heavy emotional load, but Ministry of Justice employees do not all work in a simple office environment.
“It’s fair to say it’s a very diverse group of employees,” says Becky Thoseby, head of workplace wellbeing at the Ministry of Justice (or MoJ).
Speaking at DTX Europe, Thoseby talked about how data has helped her team at MoJ help with improving and tracking their employees wellbeing.
Challenges in measuring wellbeing
“I will make no bones about it, in the UK wellbeing community it is generally recognised that measuring wellbeing and the impact of what we do is one of our biggest challenges,” stresses Thoseby.
This is because realising and measuring employee wellbeing is still relatively new, and for businesses to first look into how to measure wellbeing, there’s not many places of reference to look for.
“This area is so new, it’s not like some other areas of HR,” says Thoseby.
Traditional HR insights such as keeping track of employee sick days and use of support services, do not provide a great view of employee wellbeing.
“The problem with these is they don’t really tell us about the organisations state of wellbeing,” says Thoseby. “They tell us about the reasons people say they’re all sick and how many people are using their services, but it’s also difficult to pin down what’s driving the numbers.”
For example, if there’s an increasing number of people taking mental health day, it doesn’t truly give an insight into whether there’s an issue.
“Am I saying that’s a good thing because people are being more honest about the reasons for their absence?” ponders Thoseby, “or am I saying it’s a bad thing because more people are absent due to mental health issues?”
Surveys are a popular option to enable employees to offer feedback on how they feel at work and to allow employers to keep track on wellbeing through data. However, avoiding subjective questions is important as they can offer only a limited idea.
For instance, if a questions asks: ‘How anxious did you feel yesterday?’ Or: ‘how would you rate your help now?’ There’s too many factors influencing how someone could answer that, according to Thoseby.
“What is driving the way people answer questions?” she asks.
How to measure with data
“Before you decide how to measure employee wellbeing, you need to know what it means in your organisation,” says Thoseby.
Organisations needs to determine their goals – whether that’s higher productivity, more employee engagement, or less sick days.
“These will be the things that you’re looking to measure,” says Thoseby. “So that over time you are able to demonstrate the impact of what you’re actually doing.”
Then, it’s acknowledging what data collection and analysis the organisation has at its disposal.
In Thoseby’s previous organisation, which was much smaller, the level of data work that she could act on was not possible as she only had another person volunteering to help at hand.
“Where I am now, we’ve got a whole team of analysts that are assigned to my wider team who can actually put together a survey, run the analysis and identify wellbeing,” she explains.
Finally, it’s focusing on how the audience of your data wants the data to be presented.
At MoJ, the senior team “like to see the trends,” explains Thoseby, “So we have a few graphs in there, and they also like to see the hot spots and what they need to be worried about.”
Acting on the data
At MoJ, Thoseby says that it prefers to take on a ‘data-informed’ approach over a ‘data-driven’ approach.
More specifically, this means taking on, what it calls a ‘person-centred’ approach that encourages three things.
One, it encourages individuals to take responsibility for their own well-being. Two, it encourages senior leaders to create a culture of well-being through their behaviour. And three, it encourages the organisation to create an inclusive environment for people to grow.
This inclusive environment means recognising each employee may have a separate set of circumstances outside of the workplace that can have a negative impact on their mental health.
For example, just under 70% of employees with financial problems have issues with their mental health, and 1 in 5 people with physical problems have trouble as well with their mental wellness.
So, being aware of external issues can also help employers target causes of poor wellbeing, according to MoJ.
Conclusively, Thoseby explains that her and her team realised annual ‘pulse surveys’ with questions that hit the right spot were the best answer to finding out employee wellness en masse.
These questions include: Does my manager have the capability to support me with my wellbeing?, In the past 12 months, have I gone into work despite feeling unwell?, Am I treated fairly at work, and do I have the tools to do my job effectively?, And do I feel able to challenge inappropriate behaviour at work?
Whilst these questions are the most insightful to Thoseby, she says the killer question is the free text question.
“I found that people gave some fantastic quotes that I could then use to tell our senior team how people were feeling, and it was much better to use the staffs words than to use mine.”
Subscribe to our Editor's weekly newsletter