What the wellbeing guardian function involves

A successful wellbeing guardian will be values-driven, people-focused and willing to challenge the status quo to empower a wellbeing culture within their organisation. Sometimes this can involve asking difficult questions and seeking assurance that health and wellbeing is an organisational priority.

To hold the organisation to account in this way, it is suggested that the function of a wellbeing guardian sits best with a non-executive director or equivalent in the context of your healthcare organisation. If your healthcare organisation does not have a non-executive director, individuals in equivalent roles, such as a lay member or clinical director may be considered.

The organisational contexts in which wellbeing guardians sit will flex across healthcare settings, whilst the fundamental intention of the function should remain consistent. The overarching commonalities for this function are that a wellbeing guardian:

  • Seeks assurance only – they do not ‘do’ the role of health and wellbeing for the organisation.
  • Independently challenges the organisation as a ‘critical friend’.
  • Holds to account the senior leadership team/board, who all maintain responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their workforce.
  • Is a senior healthcare leadership function; well positioned to take on these duties.
  • Does not need to be a health and wellbeing specialist.
  • Does not need to personally collect, analyse or present data on wellbeing.
  • Is supported to discharge their assurance duties by appropriate leaders within the organisation, for example by a human resource director, human resources and organisational development team/health and wellbeing team, or a practice manager or members of the specific primary care network.

Read the following reflections from key wellbeing guardian stakeholders for further insight around the intentions of the wellbeing guardian function across NHS health care organisations.

 “This is an assurance role at board level, in which the wellbeing guardian looks at the organisation’s activities through a health and wellbeing lense. It’s about the health of the organisation not just the individual. The individual, if they have a problem, is more likely to go to the freedom to speak up guardian or other health and wellbeing managers in the organisation rather than to the wellbeing guardian. The wellbeing guardian needs to have the ability to check and challenge the executive team on behalf of the board. No executive should be marking their own homework in this space so to have someone who is the wellbeing guardian and is a non-executive director is that ideal position”. Dame Carol Black, Chair – Health and Wellbeing Advisory Board, NHS England

“The wellbeing guardians have a critical and key role to play at board level in our NHS trusts and organisations. By drawing on the relevant data in their organisations they have important insights to challenge the executive leaders who are truly accountable for staff wellbeing. Ensuring they are aware of their accountability and are equipped with what they need to see to measure the impact of those interventions they make. It’s important that senior leaders also look after themselves, because if we are going to care about others, we have to start by caring about ourselves and wellbeing guardians can make sure our leaders are doing just that too”. Dr Richard Heron, Vice President Health and Wellbeing, Chief Medical Officer, BP

“My background is as an occupational physician, and I lead the development of the specification of what a wellbeing guardian role might look like. The key thing to understand is that this is an assurance function, it’s not an executive role. The responsibility for safeguarding the health and wellbeing of staff lies squarely with the chief executive and the executive team, it’s their legal responsibility. The point of putting a wellbeing guardian on a board is to:

  • make sure there is somebody there to look at what the organisation is doing through a wellbeing lense
  • ask questions even if they are difficult questions
  • remind others on the board that wellbeing is important
  • make sure that when considering the activities of the trust you don’t just look at the finances or the activities in terms of patient journeys, but you’re also thinking about the impact of what people are doing on the wellbeing of staff”.

Dr Paul Litchfield, Chair, What Works Well for Wellbeing Centre