With the cost of sickness absence in the billions and the average number of sick days being taken per annum in the UK at 6.4 in the private sector and 8.1 in the public sector, more organizations, as well as the government, are introducing wellbeing or wellness initiatives in the workplace. A recent YouGov poll identified the clear correlation between staff wellbeing and engagement, productivity, quality and overall individual, team and business performance, and ultimately profit.
Some wellbeing initiatives simply include the provision of free fruit and break out or games areas. However, an employee’s wellbeing is complex and involves their physical, physiological and emotional wellbeing and self-esteem. The American WELL Building Standard® addresses the old issue of sick building syndrome by considering the effect on employees of air, water, nourishment, light, comfort, as well as looking at levels of employee fitness and state and attitude of mind. This is similar to the SMART Working initiatives embraced by companies such as Plantronics, who introduced different work areas for concentration, collaboration, contemplation and communication in their UK head office, encouraged remote working and healthy living, and as a result saw sickness absence levels fall to below 3%.
In order to ensure your wellbeing strategy and policies are relevant and will be welcomed by the workforce it is recommended that current workplace wellbeing is assessed utilizing staff surveys, pressure profiles and risk assessments to identify pressure points. Companies have been criticized for being seen to ‘tick the wellness box’ by introducing simple policies such as not allowing workers to eat at their desks, but these ideas have often backfired as there is no buy-in from the management or team members and no alternatives offered.
Wellbeing strategies need to originate from the leadership team, as well as HR, and be role-modelled by line managers and embedded in to the organization’s culture, from selection to onboarding, to performance management, to exit interviews. Strategies should also be tailored to individuals, for example a recent survey found that 19% of Millennials were interested in flexiworking and 14% in cash bonuses; they certainly weren’t interested in pension advice or vouchers for high street stores.
A holistic and preventative approach to wellbeing may include alternative therapies such as on site meditation, massage, mindfulness, yoga, reflexology and reiki, as well as encouragement to make healthy lifestyle choices including food, drink and exercise. But again employers need to be ‘mindful’ that many individuals will not be comfortable with some of these holistic practices and generational differences should also be considered; simple initiatives such as book clubs and foosball are generally more popular as a break from the desk. Of course the Baby Boomers in particular may still consider that the workplace is for work and that playtime should be limited to after working hours. However, with some individuals binge working and spending more than 60 hours a week working, break out areas and health initiatives are regarded as being positive.
Overall the guidelines for Wellbeing strategies and policies include the following criteria:
- A clear, communicated vision/mission so that employees can recognize how their work responsibilities, tasks and objectives contribute to the company’s purpose, such as the janitor at NASA saying ‘I help put men on the moon’
- A Competency Framework with clearly identified acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, which are understood and measured at regular review meetings
- Leaders who walk the talk and live the company’s values, competencies and behaviours: a leader or manager who swears, huffs and puffs, slams down the phone, bangs the desk, or rolls his eyes can have a major negative impact on the morale and wellbeing of his team members
- Emotions are infectious and aggressive behaviours are proven to result in a disengaged workforce, who will limit opportunities for communication, feel undervalued, and actively start looking to move jobs. Whereas open and honest leaders and managers with high Emotional Intelligence and adaptable leadership styles, who act as role models, can maximize the potential of their teams
- A clear understanding by all stakeholders of the demands being made of employees and their individual ability to prioritize and manage their workload
- The level of autonomy and empowerment employees and managers have for making decisions
- A swift and documented approach to Conflict Management and the handling of interpersonal disputes, with red flags to identify those who may be experiencing high stress levels
- The level and means of support the line manager, team and organization offer, including access to EAPs which provide confidential counselling services as well as financial and legal advice
- Change Management and Resilience Programmes to proactively communicate and manage change and pressure
- The encouragement of true collaboration and teamwork, where employees set their own objectives, are rewarded for achieving team targets, and a Coaching and Mentoring culture is encouraged
- Training and Development: Coaching and Training interventions are mostly regarded as positive and motivational, therefore they help to promote feelings of well-being. By 2020 over half the workforce will comprise of Millennials who apparently have more of a need to feel valued and respected. 22% of Millennials recently surveyed said that the amount or lack of Training and Development they received was the most important factor in them leaving or staying with a company
- An opportunity to progress in the company with a structured approach to Talent Management and Succession Planning
- Consistency in pay, conditions, and benefits, where inequality can lead to resentment and ultimately resignation
- A positive work culture, led from the top, which may be initiated by professionally delivered 360 Feedback Reviews for senior managers in order to encourage a more open and trust based culture
- The promotion of the need for a work/life balance
With the war on talent escalating, the existence of 5 generations in the workplace, and over 33% of women now choosing self-employment, (between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for 80% of the new self-employed in the UK), workplace wellbeing will continue to feature in the top 10 priorities for HR.