The importance of wellbeing at work
Published by Jenny Winspear,
28 February 2023
Some might think that after living through the pandemic, the business case on wellbeing has been made. Surely organisations and individuals alike understand why wellbeing should be an essential business priority?
The reality is that businesses that are successfully implementing wellbeing into their practices are still in the minority in the Channel Islands. Good news for them is that they will quickly gain a competitive advantage in terms of recruitment, retention, productivity, and engagement. In a post-pandemic world, where almost 40% of employees are thinking about leaving their jobs[i], this is now of paramount importance.
Challenge 1: “Wellbeing is different for everyone”
It is true that drilling down into what wellbeing means to different people day to day is almost an impossible task, and there is never going to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. That does not mean though that it is something that should be shied away from. There are different approaches to leadership and different ways to manage a crisis for example, but that does not stop businesses investing in strategies and training that are known to help optimise efforts in these areas. It should be the same for wellbeing.
The New Economics Foundation provides an accessible and evidence-based framework, ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’[ii], that aims to improve population mental health and wellbeing. It has been adopted and promoted by many organisations across the world, including the NHS and mental health charity Mind. Even if success looks slightly different for everyone, organisations that provide an environment that creates opportunities for the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ are likely to see positive results whilst accounting for individual differences. The Five Ways are:
Connect: Connecting and socialising with other people. Relationships are important and individuals should spend time developing them and be given the opportunity to do so;
Be Active: Keeping mind and body alive. Exercising feels good and helps clear the mind;
Keep Learning: Trying something new or rediscovering a past interest. This goes for personal hobbies as well as professional development. Learning gives a sense of achievement and builds confidence;
Be Aware: Taking note of feelings and reactions. Being aware of the world and working environment. Being aware of the ‘here and now’ helps produce feelings of calm and reduces stress;
Help others: Doing something kind for a friend or stranger or giving time to a community group can help build a sense of purpose and belonging.
Challenge 2: “It’s hard to see and hard to measure results (fluffy)”
Some people think of wellbeing as moment-to-moment happiness, but it is important to realise that wellbeing is much more complex than this. It also includes things like how satisfied people are with their life, whether they have a sense of purpose, whether they have healthy relationships, and how in control they feel. The factors that are subjective to the person experiencing them (e.g. happiness, stress) can still be measured, and are deemed so important that they are included alongside health and the economy in measures of national wellbeing[iii].
Organisations and individuals that increase their awareness of mental health and wellbeing find it easier to recognise warning signs. This helps to create an alertness to some of the risk factors, making it ‘easier to see’. A culture that encourages open conversations also increases the likelihood that the ‘hard to see’ problems are talked about, so that people can get the right support. Additionally, organisations that measure wellbeing through a targeted survey can understand what is working, and what could be improved. Wellbeing directly impacts productivity, turnover and retention and once an organisation takes the steps to measure it, they can start to see the correlations between initiatives they put in place and scores on wellbeing.
Challenge 3: “It’s up to the individual to look after themselves”
It is important for individuals to invest in their own wellbeing, however there are many factors that are also out of the control of the individual. For example, the way people speak to one another; the impact of an unmanageable amount of work; getting ignored after doing a great job; not being able to afford a gym membership or better quality of life. It is true that the individual chooses whether to exercise, eat healthy, or seek support when struggling, but it is also up to both teams and organisations to facilitate a wellbeing culture.
Challenge 4: “We have too many other business priorities”
Organisations often feel oversubscribed already, what with trying to innovate and achieve strategic goals whilst delivering good quality service to customers and retaining top talent… people sometimes think that adding wellbeing to the agenda is one step too far.
Achieving all of the above priorities is only possible, however, if the workforce of the organisation is ‘well’. This propels wellbeing to the top of the strategic agenda.
The returns of having wellbeing as a priority include:
- increased brand reputation that attracts talent;
- increased employee loyalty and commitment;
- increased overall productivity;
- better customer service records.
The costs of not focusing on wellbeing:
- workers are less productive;
- they make lower quality decisions;
- they are more prone to be absent from work;
- they are more likely to leave the organisation.
Challenge 5: “As an employer, it is out of our control”
If you are an employer and are of the opinion as a business that wellbeing is none of your business, you would now be part of only 2% of UK employers that think this way[iv]. Workplaces do have a responsibility over employee health and creating an environment that helps employees to flourish is absolutely within the employer’s control. Below are some examples and quick wins that the employer should consider:
Offer benefits to support wellbeing. This could include discounted gym memberships, health insurance, cycle to work schemes, mental health assessments, healthy snacks or food discounts, the list goes on. If you already offer some of these, think about how to ensure employees know how to access them by making them easily available and communicating well.
Provide support on mental health. Individual 1-1s, offer counselling support, remove taboos around using the Employee Assistance Programme, offer mental health check days, provide education around mental health and supporting others… these are all opportunities to increase support.
Ensure staff have a suitable desk set up and office environment. Examples include supplying ergonomic chairs, stand up desks, dual screens, offering equipment when working from home. If employers are to encourage people back into the office as well, start thinking about reinventing shared workspaces for collaboration; hosting office get-togethers; increasing natural light and plants in the office (NB. if increasing greenery at work sounds like a silly suggestion to you, see research from CIPHR[v] on its benefits on stress, productivity, sickness and creativity – quick win!).
Create a culture that celebrates and values the individual. Encourage managers to have open conversations, use reward schemes to enhance wellbeing behaviours, celebrate physical fitness, be mindful of your environment and others, offer professional development and career pathways, use communication strategies to celebrate individual successes.
I hope this article has helped to dispel some of the uncertainty about prioritising wellbeing in the workplace. Quick wins are a good start when introducing wellbeing, but if organisations want to really reap the benefits of having wellbeing as a strategic goal and cultural value, it is important to find the root cause of wellbeing issues and deal with them as part of a long-term programme. Giving lip service to wellbeing or putting a ‘band-aid’ solution in place without trying to understand and measure wellbeing first, is often why the impact of wellbeing initiatives are not fully realised.
Marbral Advisory delivers Wellbeing Consultancy for teams and organisations. Visit: www.marbraladvisory.com/wellbeing-consultancy to find out more or get in contact with Jenny Winspear to discuss your options: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Redmond, W. (2021, March 21). Microsoft releases findings and considerations from one year of remote work in Work Trend Index. Microsoft News Center. https://news.microsoft.com/2021/03/22/microsoft-releases-findings-and-considerations-from-one-year-of-remote-work-in-work-trend-index/
[ii] New Economics Foundation (2008, October 22). Five Ways to Wellbeing: Communicating the evidence. https://neweconomics.org/2008/10/five-ways-to-wellbeing
[iii] Mental Health Foundation (2015, July 20). What is wellbeing, how can we measure it and how can we support people to improve it? https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
[iv] Aon (2021). UK Benefits and Trends Survey 2021. https://www.aon.com/unitedkingdom/employee-benefits/resources/benefits-and-trends/default.jsp?utm_source=Aon&utm_medium=Collateral&utm_campaign=EB-Covid19-20&utm_content=10wayswellbeingwillchange
[v] Chignell, B. (2018, February 19). Seven benefits of having plants in your office. CIPHR. https://www.ciphr.com/advice/plants-in-the-office/