Why it’s Time to Invest in Wellbeing Initiatives

Why it’s Time to Invest in Wellbeing Initiatives

Why it’s Time to Invest in Wellbeing Initiatives

As organizations look to cut costs, unfortunately some company wellbeing initiatives are being discarded at a time when arguably they are most needed.  With the cost of living crisis, the negative effects of the war in Ukraine, Brexit, and the mini budget hitting hard in the UK, many employees are feeling anxious and are struggling to pay their bills and stay warm and healthy.  Add to the economic worries, the anxiety caused by restructures, mergers and acquisitions, redundancies, and ongoing Change, and it’s no surprise that the mental health crisis is worsening.

According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2020 -2021 work related stress, depression, and anxiety accounted for 50% of cases of ill health in the UK.  In the first six months of 2022 figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that approximately 454,300 cases of sickness absence can be attributed to the same mental health conditions.  Deloitte reports that the annual costs to UK employers of poor mental health have increased by 25% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  In addition, research from Gartner confirms that this year 58% of employees reported high levels of stress. In the first six months of 2022 data from the ONS also show that there was an increase in 217,000 employees who are unable to work due to suffering from Long Covid. Clearly these figures are worrying and are now being associated with poor economic growth.

Pre-pandemic many company wellbeing initiatives included the offer of free fruit or gym memberships, but these became obsolete overnight on 23rd March 2020 when almost half the UK workforce was asked to work from home.  With the reluctance of many employees to return to full-time office working (between 75% - 90% according to some surveys), new and innovative ways to look after and retain staff have become necessary, taking into consideration the increasing demands from workers for more home and flexible working. Ensuring that your people are mentally and physically healthy has never been so important, and yet wellbeing is slipping down some corporate agendas.

Many surveys identify the clear correlation between staff wellbeing and engagement, productivity, quality of work, and overall individual, team and business performance, and of course - ultimately profit.  Including a fussball or table tennis table in the office doesn’t cut it any more in a largely hybrid working environment and a more creative and holistic approach is required.  An employee’s wellbeing is complex and involves their physical, physiological, and emotional wellbeing, and self-esteem.  The American WELL Building Standard® addresses the old issue of sick building syndrome by considering the effect on employees of air, water, nourishment, light, comfort, as well as looking at levels of employee fitness and state and attitude of mind.  This is similar to the SMART Working initiatives embraced many years ago by companies such as Plantronics, who introduced different work areas for concentration, collaboration, contemplation, and communication in their UK head office, encouraged remote working and healthy living, and as a result saw sickness absence levels fall to below 3%.

To ensure your wellbeing strategy and policies are relevant and will be welcomed by the workforce, it is recommended that workplace wellbeing is assessed utilizing staff surveys, pressure profiles, and risk assessments to identify any additional and new pressure points.  Many companies have been criticized by being seen to ‘tick the wellness box’ by introducing simple agreements, such as not responding to emails after 8pm or before 8am or not sending emails at the weekend, but these ideas have often backfired as there is no buy-in or role-modelling from management.

Wellbeing strategies need to originate from the suggestions of team members and be endorsed by the leadership team, as well as HR; then they need to be role-modelled by line managers and embedded into the organization’s culture, from selection to onboarding, to performance management, to exit interviews.  As some employees are fearful of losing their jobs, they may not be taking their annual leave. It is pointless for a company to insist employees take their allocated four or five weeks annual leave each year, if the senior management team may only manage a week in August and one at Christmas and during both times continue to respond to emails around the clock.

Well-being strategies should also be tailored to individuals, for example Millennials are more likely to be interested in cash bonuses than in pension advice or vouchers for high street stores.  It’s quite shocking to hear that even some well-known companies are having to provide food parcels for their staff, vouchers for online shopping, and loans to assist with heating costs. 

A holistic and preventative approach to health and wellbeing may be more of a challenge with alternative therapies such as meditation, massage, mindfulness, yoga, reflexology, and reiki being seen as slightly risky as Covid cases increase over the Winter months.  However, online courses are beneficial and encouragement to ensure staff make healthy lifestyle choices including food, drink, and exercise, especially when working from home, should also be considered. 

Overall, the guidelines for Workplace Wellbeing strategies and policies include the following criteria: 

1. A clear, communicated vision/mission so that employees can recognise how their work responsibilities, tasks and objectives contribute to the company’s purpose, such as the janitor at NASA saying, ‘I help put men on the moon.

2. A Competency Framework with clearly identified acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, which are understood and measured at regular review meetings.

3. Leaders who walk the talk and live the company’s values, competencies, and behaviours.

4. In the ‘new normal’ honest authentic leaders and managers with high emotional intelligence demonstrating Compassionate Leadership, who act as role models, can maximise the potential of their teams.

5. A clear understanding by all stakeholders of the demands being made of employees and their individual ability to prioritize and manage their workload.

6. The level of autonomy and empowerment employees and managers have for making decisions.

7. A swift and documented approach to Conflict Management and the handling of interpersonal disputes, with red flags to identify those who may be experiencing high stress levels.

8. The level and means of support the line manager, team and organization offer, including access to confidential EAPs which provide counselling services, as well as financial and legal advice.

9. Change Management and Resilience Programmes to proactively communicate and manage change and pressure are proven to reduce levels of sickness absence.

10. The encouragement of true collaboration and teamwork, where employees set their own objectives, are rewarded for achieving team targets, and a Coaching and Mentoring culture is encouraged.

11. Coaching and Training interventions are mostly regarded as positive and motivational, therefore they help to promote feelings of well-being.  22% of Millennials recently surveyed said that the amount or lack of Training and Development was the most important factor in them leaving or staying with a company.

12. An opportunity to progress in the company with a structured approach to Talent Management and Succession Planning.

13. Consistency in pay, conditions, and benefits, where inequality can lead to resentment and ultimately resignation.

15. A positive work culture, led from the top, which may be initiated by professionally delivered 360 Feedback Reviews for senior managers in order to encourage more openness and trust.

15. The promotion and role modelling of a work/life balance.

It’s more important than ever for workplace wellbeing to feature high in the top 10 priorities for HR.

‘The Resilience Coaching not only helped us to overcome the effects of Covid, it has also provided such helpful techniques to cope better with the upcoming challenges the Winter is bringing. Thank you.’  Head of HR, Healthcare

You can listen to my audiobook on this subject here.

About Jill Maidment

If you would like to book any of the following, please contact me.  You can read my eBooks and listen to audiobooks on key leadership topics here.

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Executive Assessment, 360 Feedback, Face to Face 360 Feedback, Talent Management and Succession Planning