Ignoring staff wellbeing will be at your peril

If organisations are to get the best out of their workers, reduce sick days, cut stress and heighten engagement, they must put a renewed focus on their health and wellbeing strategy. Ignoring it is no longer an option.

Ignoring staff wellbeing will be at your peril

The government issued guidelines via NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) in 2015 on promoting a workplace culture that improves the health and wellbeing of staff.

However, few organisations seem to be following these guidelines with many still viewing staff wellbeing as “not their responsibility” or simply “a fluffy HR initiative” rather than of key importance. 

But staff wellbeing can no longer be ignored or dealt with half-heartedly. With lost working days in 2016/17 costing UK employers £2.9bn and employees increasingly expecting organisations to address their physical, social, emotional and financial needs, it’s time for staff wellbeing to become a top business priority.

Why take staff wellbeing seriously?

Stress is a serious workplace issue. 45% of UK workers admit their jobs are creating a great deal of negative stress in their lives, according to latest research by The O.C. Tanner Institute which surveyed 1,102 UK employees. It revealed the UK is also the third most stressed nation behind India at 51% and Germany at 48%.

Achieving a good work-life balance is proving elusive for many, with only 53% of UK workers saying their job allows them to balance their work and personal life. A worrying 37% of workers confess that their situation at work is hurting their ability to be happy in other aspects of their lives. 

And poor workplace cultures aren’t just impacting people socially and emotionally, they are also having a physical impact with 38% of UK employees saying that their job is having a negative effect on their physical health.

The impacts to the employer are immense. Of the 31.2 million working days lost in 2016/17, 25.7 million of these were due to work-related ill health. Cost to the UK economy was approximately £15bn of which £2.9bn were costs borne by the employer. 

It’s also probable that organisations suffering with high levels of staff stress and sickness will be underperforming with low morale and high staff turnover, so surely it’s time business leaders moved health and wellbeing to the top of their agendas?

Nurturing a healthy culture 

In a half-hearted effort to address wellbeing, it’s all too common for organisations to spend money on “perks” such as massage chairs, gym membership and pool tables. Such initiatives aren’t wrong but in isolation, they’ll do little to improve health and wellbeing. There’s little point investing in a massage chair, for example, if staff feel as though using it will be frowned upon by their colleagues.

Health and wellbeing needs to be tackled at the very heart of a company and regarded as equally as important as financial performance. In fact, global research from The O.C. Tanner Institute concluded that wellbeing is one of the six pillars of a highly successful organisational culture, sitting alongside the other five pillars of purpose, leadership, opportunity, success and appreciation.

Its key role in shaping a successful company culture means that wellbeing simply can’t be “thrown over the fence” for HR to “deal with” but must be championed and nurtured throughout the organisation, from the top-down, bottom-up and sideways. In fact, there’s now increasing expectation on employers to address the physical, emotional, social and financial needs of their employees, making it harder for them to “turn a blind eye”. And the rewards for effectively addressing these needs are immense – content, engaged and highly motivated employees with stronger connections to both the organisation and their co-workers.

Steps to creating a healthy workplace

Creating a strong wellbeing culture does not happen overnight. It takes time, effort and commitment but with a well-planned strategy and buy-in from the top, success is far more likely. Here are some practical steps to effectively addressing health and wellbeing:

(1) Promote a partnership approach between the organisation and staff to ensure that  wellbeing initiatives are positively received and not regarded as an ‘interference’.

(2) Champion a culture of appreciation.  By recognising people in a sincere and authentic way for ‘a job well done’, whether in the form of verbal “thank yous”, hand written notes, electronic e-cards or more formal ceremonies in front of managers and colleagues, they will feel valued and respected and therefore, far more content in their job roles and subsequently their lives.

(3) Instil into the organisation’s leaders the importance of mentorship, trust, shared responsibility, collaboration, giving credit, comradery and advocacy. Allowing a leadership culture that is about being ‘the boss’, giving orders and taking credit will result in anxiety, distrust and low morale

(4) Encourage a good work-life balance which discourages long working hours and permits staff to ‘switch off’ when away from the office. Having all-important ‘down time’ will help to reduce stress levels.

(5) Provide staff with stress management advice. 

(6) Train managers on how to spot employees that are becoming overwhelmed and how they can be understanding and supportive.

(7) Provide wellbeing programmes that promote best practice behaviours. Staff could also be supplied with wearable technology to allow them to track their day-to-day habits, from levels of exercise through to sleep patterns.

(8) Deliver wellbeing incentives and reward schemes to encourage workers to make healthier choices, such as rewards for hitting exercise targets or choosing to cycle to work instead of travelling by car.

Ignore wellbeing? It’s no longer an option

Only 50% of employees think that wellbeing is a strong part of their organisation’s culture (The O.C. Tanner Institute). This means that half of workers don’t feel their employer sufficiently cares about their health and wellbeing, which will do little to engender loyalty and motivate them to do their best work. If organisations are to get the best out of their workers, reduce sick days, cut stress and heighten engagement, they must put a renewed focus on their health and wellbeing strategy. Ignoring it is no longer an option.

Robert Ordever
Robert Ordever

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