Creating Healthy Workplaces

Not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business

wbwI was recently invited to join a podcast panel to discuss wellbeing in the workplace.  The participants were in full agreement that wellbeing is important, and that when health and wellbeing is a priority, the workplace becomes more productive.  It was most telling, though that when asked to debate on the question of what is employee wellbeing, we all felt that this could, and indeed, is interpreted in a host of different ways by different organisations.

Some see it as the feel good factor, perhaps interventions on a Friday after a hard week, or other equally beneficial support to help ease tension and stress; others see it as something far more fundamental.  Our collective view was that employee wellbeing is about the culture of the organisation, starting at the very top and permeating throughout the business.

It undoubtedly involves open and trusted – two-way – communications; actively getting people invested in the business; recognising that they have lives outside of work involving competing commitments and accepting that these need to be respected; investing in the development of all employees; and challenging them to do a great job.  Give and take, if you like.

There is no point whatsoever in pushing people to breaking point, fixing them with wellness interventions, and then putting them back in exactly the same position as they were before.  Forward thinking businesses take an holistic approach to the mental, physical, and financial wellbeing of their people.  They see everything as connected, which of course it is.

At the heart of it, a wellbeing strategy has to embrace the whole human being – their physical state, mental health and emotional stability, their financial needs, and their feeling of purpose.  It’s all about integration to enable us to co-ordinate and blend our lives, bringing elements of work and life into a unified whole.

But why, should employers spend money on wellbeing programmes?  Clearly, an investment in wellbeing will support a more energetic, productive workforce.  Figures vary but stats suggest that every investment of £1 will return between £2.47 and £6.

Does it have to be expensive, and is it only for large employers?  No, and especially not so, if it is embedded into the culture of the organisation.  It is certainly not only applicable to large employers.

On one level it is to do with the culture of the business, so for example, if people are struggling to cope with family commitments and working 9am to 5pm, an employer may agree to look at the possibility of flexible working (and now, following new legislation, will need to show that this the case); on another level it is about providing employees with the information and resources for them to take the responsibility to manage their own health and wellbeing.  It’s about encouraging them and celebrating their successes.  It is also everything in between.

Should the onus to create employee satisfaction rest with the employer alone? Not at all.  Research suggests that there are simple ways employees can boost their own happiness, like helping out co-workers, meditating for at least two minutes every day, and reflecting on three great things to be grateful for at work.  Of course, it would be counter-productive to MAKE people do this, it is important to simply show them the way and let them make their own decisions.

Certainly, happy employees are more productive, or so the research suggests.  We work more effectively, creatively, and collaboratively when we’re happy at work.  Conventional wisdom may say that if only we pay workers enough, they’ll be more productive, but there’s more to it. Research suggests that there is a greater link between employees’ happiness and their productivity at work, than with the size of their salary cheque.  Some companies are taking note, and already seeing the payoff.

A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. As the research team put it, “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

Professor Andrew Oswald, one of three researchers who led the study, said companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction tend to succeed in generating happier workers. At Google, employee satisfaction rose 37% as a result of these initiatives, suggesting that financial incentives aren’t enough alone to make for highly productive employees.

Above all, relationships matter; as does mindfulness, a topic we cover regularly in WellBeing World, highlighting its value in terms of reduced stress, greater clarity of mind, improved focus, creativity, enhanced productivity, and more meaningful connections with others.  Harvard researchers Phil Stone and Tal Ben-Shahar have found that students with strong social support, both at school and at home, tended to be happier and better at dealing with stress. And as those students become adults, they take those skills with them into the workplace. Workers with strong relationships with co-workers are likewise better at staying engaged and performing under stress.  They also make better decisions, excel at managing their time, and possess other crucial leadership skills.  This is why it is so important to teach these skills in schools.

Certainly, there is still room for improvement on the happiness scale.   A recent Gallup survey found that only 13% of employees are engaged at work, costing companies billions annually in the USA alone (one measure hints at $450-$550 billion per annum).  If this is the case, there is great scope for companies to boost their productivity by investing in employee wellbeing and workplace happiness.  It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.  It all starts with good leadership … and a robust employee wellbeing strategy.

Beverley Le Cuirot, WellBeing At Work

More info: www.wellbeingworld.je/wellbeing-at-work