How to make sure workplace wellbeing is more than just ‘lip service’

Workplace wellbeing

After the initial increase in awareness of workplace wellbeing, some commentators are now dismissing the idea of looking after employees’ mental and physical health as being something of a craze.

The concept of workplace wellbeing has been widely discussed over the last year or so, with countless articles giving advice on how to gain a happier workforce. An entire industry has become established too; research published in 2018 from IBISWorld stated that industry revenue was at £519.9m.

However, this greater visibility has left some people feeling cynical. If every article claims to have the answer, then it’s easy to see why ‘wellbeing’ can be written off as an industry buzzword.

Avoiding a ‘quick fix’

The problem is that many individuals are promoting short-term perks and benefits as being at the root of what motivates people at work. This can give people the idea that wellbeing is a quick fix, when in reality it is the exact opposite.

A 2019 study from Harvard Medical School in the US that showed that simply providing schemes such as ‘Free Fruit Friday’ and discounted gym membership doesn’t reduce stress in the long term.

Although there were health benefits in some areas such as weight loss, there were no improvements in 80 other areas such as employee absence, productivity and quality of sleep.

What needs to be in place is an overall workplace culture relating to employee wellbeing.

It can be tempting to look at the offices of Google, or one of the many start-ups aiming to emulate them, and think that quirky décor, pool tables and slides to get from one floor to another are what talented employees are looking for.

However, in most cases, these additions to the office are simply gimmicks. If your employees are overloaded with work and can’t sleep at night due to stress, then a ping pong table will not solve their problems.

Perks and benefits do have their place and can boost morale on a short-term basis. However, they should not mask a lack of employee wellbeing in other areas.

A good workplace culture involves having a clear mission and company identity that is integrated into all areas of the organisation.

How do you build a workplace wellbeing culture?

A successful culture dedicated to employee wellbeing needs to be built on trust and communication, with everyone in the organisation pulling in the same direction.

By integrating wellbeing into all work activities and practices, a positive environment can be created that boosts employee engagement, business performance, and individual achievement.

The mission statement needs to come from senior management, who also need to practice what they preach. After all, if a top manager pledges to promote flexible working, but is then never seen leaving her desk, it can undermine the whole policy.

Building trust

Regular, confidential conversations between managers and employees will build trust within a workforce. This environment will allow difficult subjects to be broached and discussed, including mental health.

Performance reviews are the ideal opportunity to make this happen. However, managers will need to be trained to how to deal with such issues in a sensitive, non-judgmental way. Any concerns must be acted upon; revealing personal problems requires bravery, so a lack of action will lead to an employee deciding not to bother in future.

Training in workplace wellbeing and mental health can also bring the topic out into the open. This will further demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to wellbeing, and help end the stigma surrounding mental health by showing that it isn’t a taboo subject.

Flexible working

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks, but employers are not legally obligated to grant it. However, giving staff the flexibility to work around family and other personal commitments can make a positive difference to morale and productivity.

Stanford University surveyed 16,000 workers from a Chinese firm and found that those allowed work flexibly from home increased their productivity by 13%. The flexible workers also reported higher work satisfaction and took less sick leave than their office-bound counterparts.

Showing a commitment to flexible working also helps build trust and reduces presenteeism – the outdated attitude of someone only being considered productive if they are visible in the office.

Developing skills

Employees will feel more engaged with their work when they know that they can progress. Professionally, there’s not a lot worse than feeling stuck in a ‘dead-end job’, so managers should take the time to find out employees’ ambitions and aspirations.

Employees should be asked what their personal goals are within their career, and the manager should be willing to help them progress through appropriate training. These goals should be established and monitored through regular performance reviews. This will help with employee retention and keep the valuable skills they’ve learned in the company.

An employee with 26 weeks continuous service at an organisation with 250 or more employees has the right to request time off for training if they believe this will make them more productive. This comes under the Apprentices, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

Employers have a duty to seriously consider any valid request, although they do not necessarily have to agree to it or agree to pay the employee for the time taken.

Listening to feedback

Giving employees a voice is the primary way in which managers can measure the level of employee engagement within their organisation. They can see what members of staff feel positively about, and more importantly, what can be changed for the better.

This can be done either face-to-face during performance reviews, or through an engagement survey. The latter may be the better option if the organisation wants complete honesty from employees.

Once employees have shared how they feel, it’s important for managers to act on that information and acknowledge what’s been said. Otherwise, there’s always the risk of staff becoming disillusioned with the process and deciding not to fully participate in future.


Learn more

Find out more about the new course on our Wellbeing Course page.

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