What is it with wellbeing?
Wellbeing in the workplace is rightly a hot topic, what it actually means or how it is being positioned can be different things to different organisations? A quick search on the World Wide Web produced the following definition of wellbeing “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”. But how is this being interpreted and managed in the context of the workplace?
When considering your workplace wellbeing here are some considerations you may want to reflect on.
1. What is wellbeing?
In an article on “Wellbeing and workplace performance” ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) describe it as:
“The term "wellbeing" covers several aspects of the way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them. Of course, a person's wellbeing is to do with their own character and home or social life along with the workplace, but research shows that employers can have an influence on an individual's sense of wellbeing in the way they run a workplace.”
This description captures the need for “work/life balance” (or blend as it is sometimes termed) as well as the various work related impacts that can affect wellbeing either positively or negatively. They won’t be the same for all organisations but be it physical, emotional or mental wellbeing it can have a significant benefit if properly considered.
Equally there is no one person or department that can solve all the potential issues, although it is true to say that line managers, Human Resources and Facilities play key roles, be it workforce, workplace or workstyle.
2. Workforce wellbeing
It has been fashioned in many different ways but it is widely accepted that a healthy workforce is a happy workforce and a happy workforce is a productive workforce – good for the person and good for the organisation. How this translates for employers and what effect it has in motivating the organisational promotion of health and wellbeing strategies is another question though.
Platinum Business Magazine (Issue 55 2019) ran a feature on “health and wellbeing” quoting a number of statistics, including:
The combined cost to UK plc of, sickness, absence and lost productivity (through worklessness and health related losses) are estimated to be over £100 billion annually;
- 12.5 million workdays were lost to work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2017;
- Only 2 in 5 employees are working at peak performance;
- Mental ill-health costs each employer £1,035 per employee per year
- Just 28% of employees surveyed say their employer has a wellbeing strategy (this drops to 13% for SMEs).
Of the 26.8 million working days lost due to work-related ill health in 2017/18 – according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):
- 57% were due to stress, anxiety and depression;
- 25% were musculoskeletal disorders; and
- 18% due to other types of illness (occupational cancers, noise induced hearing loss, hand arm vibration, etc.).
Yet, mental health first aiders are still in a minority – if provided at all – for many organisations when compared to traditional first aiders – but this looks likely to change with First Aid guidance from HSE being amended in 2018 to include mental health. Following a debate in Parliament in January 2019, mental health training is set to become legislation, they have certainly looked at the business case/need – have you?
Issues such as obesity, exercise, nutrition and goodness are all also relevant factors. True the gym on the lower ground floor and free staff restaurant (serving three courses for lunch) are largely things of the past. But have they been replaced by subsidised/free gym memberships, free fruit, healthy eating options, bike racks and lunchtime running clubs in your organisation?
A Goodness Engagement Study by Benevity Labs report found that employees involved in “goodness-related activities” – typically volunteering time or donating money – showed lower staff turnover rates (a staggering 57% lower than those who did neither). Promoting and encouraging this type of activity seems to be not only good for the person, but the CSR and organisation too.
Two other thoughts from the Platinum Business Magazine feature:
- Employees who work for an organisation that has a wellbeing strategy are twice as likely to believe their employer genuinely cares about their wellbeing.
- The London School of Economics (LSE) analysed data from the Royal Mail, where an investment of £45 Million in the wellbeing of their staff generated a £225 million return on investment from 2004 to 2007.
3. Workplace wellbeing
Our workplaces are often a manifestation of our brand. They can influence how people think and feel whether employee or customer.
Our workplaces have also had a long relationship with health and wellbeing, albeit not always a positive one. Their initial association with asbestos and Legionella, sick building syndrome, the “air conditioning” being the cause of all ills or lack of “fresh” air just some of the negatives. Conversely we can too often forget, how they should be designed and operated in relation to fire safety, managed in terms of Legionella, asbestos and general health and safety, or indeed benefitted from other initiatives, for example the ban on smoking in our places of work, are to the good of all.
The workplace environment can be contentious and whether it is too hot, too cold, noisy or stuffy people who are complaining are neither satisfied nor productive. Air quality is another emerging issue and while much of the focus is on the external environment, it will not be long before it is brought into the workplace by staff or even potentially management.
What value could a proactively and independently produced assessment of the air and water quality and occupancy comfort (temperatures, relative humidity, noise and light) be in terms of business as well as departmental benefit? As an example:
A study published in 2016 by Harvard and Syracuse Universities tested staff performance against different levels of air quality, undertaking regular duties in either “typical office conditions” or “green condition” where ventilation was improved, and levels of carbon dioxide and emissions were reduced. Results showed that employees in the green condition environment performed 61% better on cognitive tasks than in the standard office conditions.
A workplace that provides a sense of security, physically and emotionally is also important for wellbeing – our physical security is a base need. Knowing you are physically safe in your place of work (security) and in the job you are doing (health and safety) provides reassurance as well as promotes the level/duty of care shown by the employer.
Equally ensuring our workplace is fair and equitable, in terms of how employees, co-workers and support staff are treated. This can range from effective HR provision, bullying and grievance procedures for example, to the layout of the workplace, facility availability and even desk size for some. All can promote a better feeling of wellbeing for the individual and organisation.
Finally, a 2014 report from the then Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) titled “Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance?”
“These findings (of the report) are consistent with the proposition that employers who are able to raise employees' job satisfaction may see improvements in the performance of their workplace. These improvements are apparent in profitability (financial performance), labour productivity and the quality of output or service.”
4. Workstyle wellbeing
Technology has radially shaped our workstyle, from the time and ability to access information to the locations that could now be called a workplace. Often people are seen in cafés working away on their laptops/tablets or holding conference call business meeting with colleagues.
In terms of how we now deliver our work for the wellbeing of staff, the HSE stress management standards provide a very good structure for considering this through their six key areas of work design. These are:
- Demands – including issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment;
- Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work;
- Support – including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues;
- Relationships – including promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour;
- Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles;
- Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
Translating these to workstyle wellbeing you could ask/answer the following questions:
- Do your employees have a level of autonomy over their role/work and how is this supported by the organisation? For some, every day is different, for others it can be stood/sat in the same place doing the same thing every day. What can you do to give your employees more autonomy over their role/work?
- How is variety in work activities provided and to what level of engagement? Think about involvement in team/department initiatives and decision-making, design of job, innovations and creative thinking that your team members have.
- How is training delivered to the teams? For tool box talks to change of role training it is all important. Investing in the individual helps establish the actual and perceived value of the job role.
- Is each job role clearly defined and is the management structure/support available known to your employees? From inductions to location of work and work environment, the tone is set. People like to know what is expected of them and the wider support and management infrastructure around them they can call on. What and how is this delivered within your organisation and what does it say to them about your department as well you about their role?
- What are your communications processes like? People for the most part, like interpersonal contact, it builds teams and organisations. Again some staff will be immersed in the organisation everyday and others may ‘not be in the office’ for weeks. They provide different challenges as do support staff, maintenance, cleaning, catering, etc. whose visibility can be different, but are still part of the bigger picture.
How we utilise our work space has also changed and flexible working requires flexible facilities. How are you engaging with the business – your expectation of them and their expectation of you – do remember your own wellbeing too!
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