Claremont’s Head of Future Workplace Sarah-Jane Osborne looks at why wellbeing at work is increasingly becoming an imperative for leading businesses.
Workplace wellbeing is now a familiar business phrase, but how many businesses are truly investing in the emotional, mental and physical health of their employees? With mounting evidence showing a direct link between poor health and low productivity, employers need to act now.
Statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that 1.4 million workers suffered from work-related ill health during 2017/18, resulting in the loss of 30.1 million working days and costing the UK economy £14.9 billion. In addition, 64% of employees have poor or below average mental wellbeing and 55% of senior managers have mental health struggles due to their organisation’s financial concerns. UK businesses are in the midst of an epidemic.
However, before businesses take a tactical view of wellbeing and start implementing new initiatives, it is important to give it the more strategic and senior level attention it deserves and that starts with understanding what wellbeing really comprises.
At a strategic level, wellbeing is about understanding the relationship between how people feel, the expectations placed on them, the support on offer and the contribution they make to the business. It spans physical health, which can be supported with easy access to doctors’ appointments, healthcare, gym provision and ergonomic furniture in the workplace as well as emotional and mental health, which includes how employees are supported in their work and with managing stress and other aspects of their mental health.
The workplace has a very clear role to play in improving wellbeing and the HSE’s findings show that employees expect to see improvements. Their 2017/18 research included a plea from employees for bosses to take a more radical approach. Almost half of workers want access to yoga/meditation (49%) and exercise facilities (50%) within the office, as well as extra consideration given to office heating and ventilation (44%), areas for quiet working (42%) and breakout spaces (3%).
Interestingly by building flexibility into workplace design it is possible to cater for most of these workplace wants without requiring additional space or dedicated ‘wellbeing’ areas. Activity-based workplace design reflects the changing nature of work and reduces the reliance on desks in favour of offering different work settings in one environment. Here, employees choose the setting that best suits the task or how they feel, meaning they can seek out variety and are empowered to actively manage their own wellbeing. Quiet contemplative spaces are as accessible as collaborative team spaces or social settings. While a dedicated space for yoga is unlikely in most offices, a flexible workplace will be able to accommodate it with meeting rooms, collaboration spaces or canteen areas that can be reconfigured to suit wellbeing needs throughout the day.
Before devising a wellbeing policy or implementing workplace change, there are three key considerations:
- Consult – Start by consulting with employees about their wellbeing priorities and needs. What would they like to see? Is the company falling short in certain areas? Involve HR in the process to understand how sickness and poor wellbeing is currently impacting the business. This will help to clarify the size of the challenge and prioritise efforts where they will deliver the best returns.
- Consistency – For wellbeing to be addressed properly it must be consistent – that means putting the policies and training in place to show the company’s commitment to a healthy and effective workforce. Consistency comes from clarity, so a policy must be widely communicated, line managers should be trained and available facilities, resources and rights should be clearly sign-posted.
- Culture – Workplace cultures that embody flexibility, sociability, openness, trust and camaraderie provide an excellent foundation for wellbeing. Take a closer look at the organisation’s culture and consider what changes might be needed to make wellbeing thrive. Consider employee engagement and if it’s as good as it could be. Identify whether teams are supportive or fiercely individualistic. Understanding workplace culture will help to identify any wider changes that may be required first.
Wellbeing is a strategic business concern. It reflects a step change in the way that companies value and nurture their people and how employees choose their future employers. Progressive employers will have already taken their first steps on the wellbeing journey and will recognise that a happy, health workforce is the most productive and loyal of all. Addressing workplace wellbeing is not about gimmicks; it is a very solid investment in the workforce of tomorrow.
To find out more, download Claremont’s whitepaper, “Workplace wellbeing: The clear business benefits of taking good care of your staff.”