Employee wellbeing: it’s time to take this seriously

Gethin Nadin

12/10/2018
Categories: Wellbeing

From what prevents employees turning up in the morning, to what keeps them awake at night; the wellbeing of our staff has never been more important.

An important aspect of the overall employee experience is shedding light on, and improving, the lives of employees – both in and outside of work. There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t speak to an organisation that is struggling to tackle this problem. We have been carefully watching the market, collating research and speaking to clients. At Benefex, we believe the time is right to begin investing in solving these issues, and the world of work agrees: CIPD’s Charter to champion better work emphasises the importance of supporting employees, the Government’s Labour Market Reform Strategy features wellbeing as a target of the policy, and ACAS labelled workplace wellbeing as one of the key components for the future of work.

Wellbeing is a wide spectrum of physical, mental, psychological and environmental issues. Some companies are already challenging this – Google offer nap pods at work, British Airways give staff allotment plots, Heineken train mental health first aiders. With hundreds of providers and proclaimed solutions for employee wellbeing, naturally employers are struggling to choose between them. After all, how can you support such a diverse and ever-changing workforce of individuals?

Un-normalise stress

Stress is part of modern-day life now. Research showed that employees in the UK were working harder than ever, but productivity has flatlined. In the UK, our productivity is around 16% less than our G7 counterparts. It has become the norm for employees to leave work stressed and exhausted at the end of the day, but this shouldn’t be normalised. Work should be bringing out the best in our employees and people shouldn’t have to work hard just to stand still.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence in the UK can be attributed to poor mental health. One in six adults suffer with a common mental illness, and one in four will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. With such a high statistic, why are we not doing more? If one in six of your employees called in sick with a physical illness, you’d start thinking about closing the office and declaring it an epidemic. So with only 41% of adults with mental illnesses receiving help, it’s time for employers to step up and take wellbeing seriously.

I recently spoke at the ICCO Conference in Dublin about how we cannot expect employees to be innovative, creative people if they are dealing with poor mental health. Similarly, I spoke at the Customer Experience Insight Leaders’ Forum on the connection between looking after employees’ mental health and receiving excellent customer service.

Even beyond mental health, in wider wellbeing, things such as money worries, relationship or family issues will plague employees’ thoughts at work. Try as we might, in the current day and age – with technology at our fingertips and more involved jobs with longer hours – the lines between home and work will continue to inevitably blur. Trends similar to employees voluntarily checking work emails on their commute will equally lead to employees bringing their personal problems to work. The ‘leave work at work and home at home’ argument is not only outdated, it is simply unrealistic.

Wellbeing is good for employers, too

It is critical that employers realise the importance of not only preventing poor wellbeing, but of promoting positive wellbeing and the role of workplaces within that. It has been well-documented that an improvement in employee wellbeing results in improved performance. Profitability, productivity and even job satisfaction all increase with good wellbeing.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 82% of employers are now actively working on the wellbeing of their staff. Workplace support for wellbeing and mental health has stopped being a ‘nice to have’ and is becoming an essential employer brand differentiator. Aside from the benefits of increasing productivity, reducing absence and reducing healthcare costs, employees want to see this kind of support.

Too often, wellbeing is seen as a cost; rather than an investment. The tension between an investment in employee wellbeing and the need to cut costs is a constant battle I see with organisations, and one we can all relate to. But looking after employee wellbeing gives employers a significant advantage. Countless amounts of academic and business research shows a positive correlation between employer-sponsored wellbeing initiatives and a reduction in absence, staff turnover, higher productivity and innovation. As demonstrated by economist Noreena Hertz’s research into post-millennials, employees in 2018 are actively seeking out brands that are doing the right thing. From being involved with politics to giving back to the community, doing right by your people is now a strategic business decision.

The future of wellbeing

The key here is to realise that wellbeing and happiness are different things to different people. Additionally, wellbeing and mental health are different things which require different approaches. Any wellbeing strategy needs to be personalised. Wellbeing is a vast, complex spectrum, so it is important for us to first realise this. This starts with asking employees what they need.

What you shouldn’t be doing is just ticking a box. Wellbeing isn’t part of the employee checklist along with payroll, staff passes and sturdy office chairs. Offering one simple solution, like an EAP, isn’t enough. A wellbeing project never ends.

Even where workplace wellbeing has shown no difference to employees’ physical health, studies have shown that people who perceive their employer as caring about their wellbeing feel better about themselves and their work life, which naturally results in better performance.  

The future will likely see a lot of pressure from the Government for employers to invest in employee wellbeing; similar to what we saw with pension auto-enrolment. Employers will need to step up more and, seeing as most stress is caused by work or money, why shouldn’t they?

Finally…

Understand that what you see of your employees is just a few waves in a very large ocean. They are entire people with full lives outside of the workplace, just as you are. They are trying to exist, survive, thrive and fit in; just like everyone else. As employers, we must remember this when working on wellbeing initiatives.

The irony of caring for other people is that it also improves our own wellbeing – it is good for all of us to care about our employees. Try to be the kind of employer that people want to, not have to, work for.

Taking Employee Wellbeing Seriously:
At Benefex, I recently moved into the newly-created position of Director of Employee Wellbeing, a role that I am excited to take on. Now is the time for us to take wellbeing seriously. We are incredibly passionate employee wellbeing and from our research, it is clear that there’s a real opportunity for something new in the market: something better for employees, and something which has a meaningful social impact. We are already working on a wellbeing solution and some significant new research, so keep an eye out for our updates! We will have some very exciting things to show you soon... 
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