Wellbeing is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. And that’s a problem. We get excited about buzzwords, but tend to overlook that a proper integrated approach to something that’s currently trending means moving as far away as possible from the ‘buzz’ and focusing on clear, unbiased, objective analysis. So let’s take a closer look…
Does my business really need wellbeing?
Let’s begin by looking at why you should be bothered about wellbeing in the first place. As an employer, recognise that your employees’ happiness will affect their productivity and efficiency, in turn contributing to the overall success of the business. It also leads to greater loyalty and a lower staff turn-around. On the other hand, ignore wellbeing at your own risk, because it has been proven that low employee engagement leads to lost productivity, increased absences, illness and other problems.
Where to start?
Once you’ve committed to wellbeing, consider the overarching goal: supporting and respecting employees as individuals. Their health, happiness and job satisfaction need to be a priority. Consider activities and processes that encourage inclusion and make employees feel empowered. While doing so, recognise that everybody has different needs and motivations. Talk to them. Talk to consultants. Choose people to champion it. Consider wellbeing as an investment – not just for the next year or two, but the entire lifespan of your employees.
Key areas to look at:
Consider temperature, light, air quality, sustainability, comfort – all these things contribute to an environment that is healthy and pleasant to work in. Think outside-the-box. For example, the use of sit-stand desks has been scientifically proven to improve, not only posture, but productivity and focus, due to increased blood flow to the brain.
Make sure your employees take time out. This means regular breaks during the day. It also means fair and plentiful annual leave, which can also be a perk or incentive. As most of the modern workforce is constantly sitting in front of computer screens, regular breaks are not only essential for physical health (eyes, headaches, postural problems, etc.) but also mental health. The Pomodoro Technique, which involves taking regular, timed, 5 minute breaks followed by a longer 20-30 minute break is known to significantly reduce mental fatigue, improve focus, manage distractions and even improve accountability.
What happens outside the workplace travels into the workplace. Recognise that when we talk about workplace mental health, we are not just talking about depression, we are talking about the mental energy of your employees to do their best work. Trained mental health “first aiders” can offer a vital supporting ear to colleagues, as well as spot early warning signs. Are your employees managing their hours or workload badly? Are they getting enough sleep or exercise? Are they eating well? The biggest problem in the UK is the inability to ‘switch off’, whereas in France, workers have the legal ‘right to disconnect’, which gives them the right to ignore their smartphones and not check email when not at work. Making sure your employees are able to say, “actually, I am not working now”, is key to mental wellbeing.
Financial troubles are one of the biggest causes of stress, lack of sleep, even depression, in people’s lives. Over 30% of employees are “just getting by” with their finances, and over 500,000 private sector workers took time off in the last year due to finance-related issues. Financial wellbeing in the workplace is foremost about creating an empathetic approach to people’s control over their finances. Offering support in the form of counselling and advice (consider an external consultant if no in-house option) will go a long way to helping your employees manage this aspect of their lives. Again, this means communicating clearly and regularly with them about things like staff benefits, and access to financial education.
One final thing to bear in mind: if you’re implementing a wellbeing strategy, your employees need to feel that it’s really supporting them, and isn’t just box-ticking. So how do you ensure that? Well, know that it isn’t all about creating policies – it’s about creating (and nurturing) a culture. Changing company culture is one of the hardest things to do. It means defining goals and creating systems to support it, but most of all it means making sure that the new culture informs each step in the decision making process. This also means constant communication (with all your employees), and needs people to champion it (usually managers and senior leaders). It is, unfortunately, a slow process, but ultimately one that will impact the long-term success of your business.
For an extensive range of wellbeing resources and how to implement them in the workplace, check out UK mental health charity Mind’s website, here.