Using data to assess well-being
To create a thriving workplace, it is helpful to understand where your organisation is currently placed in terms of mental health and well-being.
Knowing in what areas your organisation excels, and where there is room for improvement can help you make more strategic decisions when addressing mental health and well-being in your organisation. Start by looking at the Thrive at Work assessment tool and then use the Future of Work Institute’s data collection guide to learn more.
This guide will assist you in establishing a baseline and help you choose methods of data collection and analysis that will allow you to review your organisations performance. Your organisation will probably already have data around a number of topics (such as turnover), which will help you establish a baseline and starting point for further data collection.
We first examine the types of data you can collect (or may already have) and then ways of gathering more data. At the end of this guide we also discuss how to analyse and use data, as well as monitor trends over time.
This guide will cover the following sections:
- gathering employee perception data,
- gathering organisational data,
- interpreting data, and
- privacy and confidentiality.
Collecting and analysing data is important as it can help you:
- Provide information about the effectiveness of your well-being activities
- Identify well-being activities that may need improving or removing.
- Help make more strategic decisions about resource allocation and activity choice i.e. identify specific areas of concerns
- Understand how your employees are doing in terms of well-being
- Data can also play a role in helping guide policy development in organisations. For example, if gathered data showed a lack of awareness or acceptance of cultural diversity you may choose implement or update organisational policies that promote greater awareness and acceptance
Types of Data
Employee perception data
Employee perception data involves asking employees for their thoughts regarding a certain topic of interest and reflects their thoughts or behaviours. Employee perception data is gathered through methods such as surveys, interviews and focus groups and will help you make informed strategic decisions.
Conducting a survey involves creating a set of questions on any given topic and distributing the survey to a group of individuals (e.g. the Human Resources team, or the whole of organisation). You can use surveys to get a general overview of trends and perceptions in the organisations as a whole. You can use surveys to collect a variety of different types of information in your organisation. For example surveys can be used:
- after training programs to get feedback on the training program for use to improve future training,
- to examine employee engagement levels,
- to examine employee awareness on certain topics or initiatives,
- to examine whether employees think well-being interventions have been successful, and,
- to understand behaviour changes following the implementation of a program or initiative.
Survey questions can ask employees to answer from a pre-determined set of responses (e.g. yes or no) or the questions can be opened ended and require a written answer. Surveys that use a set of pre-determined answers are easier to analyse, interpret and look at over time, compared to open-ended data. However, open-ended data usually gives more detailed answers.
If you wish to conduct a survey, the way questions are written, responded to and scored should be considered. Harvard University have a tip sheet on writing and designing surveys which can be downloaded for free.
Interviews involve selecting a number of individuals and creating a set of questions or topics to be covered in an individual setting. Interviews usually involve one or two interviewers and one interviewee. Due to the conversational nature of interviews, you can use them to probe topics in detail and help add depth to existing numerical data. For example, you can use interviews to:
- Explore what type of emotions, assumptions or attitudes may be influencing a behaviour.
- Explore in-depth perceptions which can’t be obtained in surveys.
- Follow-up on unexpected results (e.g. poor participation rates in a training program, or poor feedback ratings).
- Confirm your interpretations of data collected via other methods (e.g. surveys).
Interviews can be used to understand the effectiveness of activities as well as inform decision making and future changes. For example:
- Interviews with employees reveal their workload is causing stress, so
- you may decide to try and redistribute workloads.
- Interviews with employees reveal they feel left out of decision-making processes, so
- you may decide to implement better communication around organisational changes.
- Interviews with employees reveal their workload is causing stress, so
There are different types of questions that can be useful for different types of discussions.
- Structured interview: highly structured interview format that involves asking all interviewees the same questions in the same order. Generally, follow up or probing questions are not used.
- Semi-structured interviews: the interviewer will generally prepare some guiding, open ended questions and probe for further information where an answer requires further elaboration or exploration. These types of interviews can provide a good depth in responses.
- Unstructured interview: most like a conversation, the interviewer approaches the interview with general topics in mind but no defined questions. This type of interview allows the interviewee to guide the conversation and can generate deep insight into the topic. There is a risk that without guiding questions, unstructured interviews can easily lose focus or relevance.
Due to their one-on-one set up, interviews can be useful for discussing sensitive issues with employees. As an interviewer, in these situations, it can be particularly important to establish a safe and comfortable environment for your interviewee. Pay attention to your body language and engage in active listening when conducting interviews to create a safe environment for the interviewee.
If you wish to conduct interviews, the way questions are worded, asked, as well as how much an interview is allowed to deviate from the drafted questions must all be considered. The following link offers useful information regarding how to create an effective interview.
Focus groups bring a small group of employees (usually around 6-12 people) together to discuss a topic of interest. They typically operate as a group conversation, with a facilitator guiding the group. Similar to interviews, focus groups can be used to probe topics in a more in-depth way; adding understanding to existing numerical data. . Focus groups are useful when:
- trying to understand how a group sees a particular problem/issue/topic and why a group behaves in a certain way,
- you want to identify common themes which may help you plan future changes, or
- you wish to see what a group of employees thinks about a particular issue and how they discuss topics as a group.
Focus groups are particularly useful when you are covering complex topics that may need responses to be clarified and in-depth data (e.g. how to improve a training program). In addition, focus groups are excellent for gaining a sense of how group members interact as they allow participants to be guided by each other’s points and opinions.
If you wish to conduct focus groups, where, when, how and who partakes in a focus group must be carefully considered in order to get the best results. The following link offers useful information regarding how to construct effective focus groups.
Choosing the type of employee perception data to collect
With any data collection method it is important to consider the content of your questions to make sure it you get appropriate and useful responses. It is best to plan the questions beforehand with a particular purpose in mind. The best way to test your questions is to put yourself in the employee’s shoes and think about how they would respond, or ask someone to ‘test’ your questions for you.
When collecting employee perception data, there are two main types of questions you can ask:
- How do they feel about the activity (affect), or
- Impact of activity: has the activity altered the way they think or behave (behavioural).
Asking employees for their feelings regarding a particular activity can provide you with information about how well the activity was received. Types of affect related questions may include:
- Did you find the activity engaging? Why?
- Did you enjoy the activity? Why?
- Did you find the activity useful? In what way?
- Would you participate in the activity again?
One way to see if your activities are having their desired effect is to ask your employees if they have benefited from them. Types of behaviour related questions may include:
- How has the activity altered the way you think in the workplace?
- How has the activity altered the way you behaviour in the workplace?
- Did the activity improve your work or mental health?
Organisational data reflects general measures of the organisation and how it is functioning. Organisational data is broad and does not include employee perception input.
Usually organisational data is embedded within existing organisational processes. For example, demographic data is collected during recruitment and on boarding. Organisational data is particularly useful in identifying areas of concern and deciding where to allocate resources. For example organisational data can be used when:
- Considering where to target future well-being activities
- Working out whether further safety training is required
- Examining employee diversity in the organisation
Organisational data can be particularly useful for examining broad-organisation wide trends over time. For example, by collecting absenteeism data over a number of years (or examining existing data) you will be able to examine how the organisation is tracking compared to previous years and make strategic decisions about where resources are best allocated to improve organisational functioning. In the ‘Analysis’ section below we look at a specific example of how organisational data can be used to assess trends over time.
Your organisation is likely to already have some organisational level data available. Examining this data is a good way to establish a starting point by getting an idea of where your organisation currently sits on a range of measures. Types of organisational data that you may already have include:
- incident / hazard reports, or
- demographic data.