Magazine excerpt: Are you OK?

Andy Rhodes argues that the key to influencing wellbeing is engaging your staff and creating the right culture and behaviour.

Wellbeing done badly is worse than not doing wellbeing at all, in my view. It wastes effort and can actually make people trust you less and feel less valued if the rhetoric isn’t backed up by reality. 

This is why having properly researched wellbeing provision, trained and supported line managers and good staff engagement is vital – we need to understand the personal context and the wider organisational issues affecting our wellbeing at work.

The challenge for emergency services

Within the emergency/public services, we face a further, more unique, challenge. Many of our staff are dealing with traumatic incidents, exposure to indecent imagery and abusive behaviour on a daily basis, as well as ever-increasing workloads, so it is absolutely critical that we, as leaders, acknowledge this.

So how do we do this? As part of my role as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for wellbeing and staff engagement, and organisational development, I have initiated the development of a ‘sector-specific’ wellbeing framework and management resource called Oscar Kilo to help challenge and drive the wellbeing agenda across the emergency services.

It is important that wellbeing is not ‘medicalised’ because it is much more about the culture and our behaviours towards each other.

To do this, we have worked with the College of Policing, various police and mental health charities and Public Health England to understand the problem and come up with something that will support emergency services management by providing them with research, resources and guidance on how to improve their response to wellbeing.

Oscar Kilo aims to be the home of the evidence-base and best practice for emergency services wellbeing. It provides us with a platform to pull in all the research and resources, and to build a network that engages everyone in wellbeing – from the frontline, to the office, to academia.

This is not something that is ‘fluffy’ or just ‘nice-to-have’. It is crucial for the service to deal with an issue which has been like a huge iceberg with the tip showing just above the water. 

Value for money

We know that wellbeing is a huge cost issue for organisations – they can end up spending a lot of money on things that don’t make as much difference to people’s wellbeing as anticipated. For example, some rather expensive employee assistance programmes provide counselling services.

However, if the trigger to access those services is the employee’s line manager, this may obscure the real source of the problem. Potentially, that line manager may not be the right person to make the assessment because they do not have the knowledge or personal skills.


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Even more serious, that line manager may be the cause of the staff member’s stress and unhappiness in the first place. This can be a real problem, and not just for the employee concerned. What happens in these circumstances is that you end up paying a lot of money for a service that, effectively, you never use.

It is important that wellbeing is not ‘medicalised’ because it is much more about the culture and our behaviours towards each other. If we are serious about prevention, we must invest in changing these areas, and Oscar Kilo’s self-assessment sets us all a legitimate challenge.

For example, I often see dedicated people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way (physically and emotionally) tipping over into stress and anxiety because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly or feel they haven’t been listened to.

Remarkably, 50% of your wellbeing at work is determined by how you get on with your line manager. Quite frankly, it boils down to whether you think that line manager actually cares about you at all. Positive progress has been made to reduce the stigma attached to talking about stress, anxiety and depression, which means that more people are now coming forward.

As a result, emergency services are identifying a huge unmet need. We must respond.


About the author

Alongside his role with the NPCC, Chief Constable Andy Rhodes is the College of Policing professional community chair for OD and international. Find out more at


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