Fri 14 Feb 2020
Engaged conversation around workplace wellbeing is growing, and for good reason. Ultimately, an organisation which safeguards and promotes wellbeing looks after its staff as well as its performance. The National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work -- which engages 35 major employers, such as CIPD, EY and the NHS – emphasises that placing your people at the heart of business strategy and decision-making is vital to enhance productivity and employee engagement, and tackle workplace stress, absenteeism and presenteeism.
Since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been a steady decrease in UK workplace productivity. This has been linked to a decline in investment from businesses and increased insecurity for organisations and employees alike. The Office for National Statistics have declared a UK ‘productivity puzzle’, as UK productivity has been lower for the past decade than at any time in the previous century. The latest release of statistics from the ONS, from April-June 2019, outlined a 0.5% drop in productivity, following two quarters of stagnancy.
The case for change and action is therefore compelling, especially when there are clear actions, related to addressing and advancing wellbeing, which businesses can take to counteract this trend. Happy workers are not only good for society and a moral objective, but also boost organisational effectiveness. Research from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, entitled ‘Does employee happiness have an impact on productivity?’, found that happy workers are 13% more productive.
What exactly do we mean by ‘wellbeing’, however? Wellbeing is a multi-faceted term and concept, encapsulating all aspects of mental and physical health, as well as our relationship to our work, colleagues and working environment. Given that we spend about one-third of our waking adult lives at work, our relationship with our work and workplace has a significant impact on our overall wellbeing. Organisations therefore have vital roles to play in ensuring that employees can contribute their best work. Workplace wellbeing may be roughly broken down into the sub-categories of mental, physical, social, financial and career wellbeing, however there is significant overlap between each categorization. This bears testament to the fact that a holistic approach is required in order for wellbeing to be effectively improved and achieved.
Mental wellbeing includes both our emotional health and state, as well as our capacity to cope with the challenges of everyday life. According to CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey 2019, mental ill-health is the top cause of long-term workplace absence in the UK, at 59%, with stress coming in a close second at 54%. The survey also revealed that the top three causes of workplace-related stress were workloads (62%), management style (43%) and relationships at work (30%), demonstrating the important roles which managers play in ensuring the wellbeing of staff in their charge.
Physical wellbeing relates to our ability to carry out physical activities and social roles unhindered by physical limitations, tiredness or bodily pain. Our workplaces can have an impact on our physical health in two major ways. Musculoskeletal pain and disorders, including back pain, neck or arm strains and diseases of the joints, can be caused or aggravated by workplace environments and practice, from incorrect manual handling or sitting at a desk for extended periods of time. NHS Employers report that MSK conditions account for 40 per cent of all sickness absence, which in many cases become long-term absences. BITC’s ‘Musculoskeletal Health Toolkit for Employers’, published in October 2019, provides support and guidance for organisations in protecting the Musculoskeletal health of employees and helping employees with MSK conditions to remain in work.
Furthermore, it is no secret that physical activity has a significant impact on physical wellbeing. Our work-life balance, as well as competing priorities and responsibilities, can have an impact on our ability to exercise. It is therefore crucial that any workplace wellbeing strategy encourages activity and ensures that the work-life balance of employees is a priority.
Our social wellbeing is connected to the quality of relationships with those around us. Supportive relationships, a sense of connection and belonging are key to social wellbeing, and are thus tied closely to company culture and management style in the workplace. Supporting and training managers must therefore be an organisational priority. A cornerstone of the work of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work has been their emphasis on compassion at work, bolstered by their ‘Compassion at Work toolkit’ which outlines the competitive advantages of empathy and compassion at work, as well as how to foster it.
Recent research by Salary Finance revealed that more than a third (36%) of UK employees have financial worries, and that money worries make it 1.5 times more likely that an employee will consider moving jobs. CIPD’s 2019 survey report into health and wellbeing also demonstrated the impact which financial worries can have on employee wellbeing, with 24% of organisations reporting poor financial well-being is a significant cause of employee stress.
In order to address these difficulties, organisations should prioritise clear communication around rewards and available schemes, as well as provide support in decision-making around financial planning.
Career wellbeing is linked to our connection with and enjoyment of our occupation. Gallup, who have carried out extensive research into wellbeing, argue that career wellbeing has the most significant impact on overall wellbeing, to the extent that it takes longer for our wellbeing to recover from an extended period of unemployment than from the death of a spouse. Our career prospects and personal development are linked with career wellbeing, reinforcing the link once more between management and wellbeing, as well as the overall influence which organisations have in shaping the wellbeing of their staff.
Where to begin?
When it comes to advancing workplace wellbeing, HR and management undoubtedly have key roles to play, both in role-modelling practices to encourage wellbeing from above, and in ensuring that wellbeing is firmly an organisational priority. There are several key areas of focus for organsiations: training managers to be aware of wellbeing and comfortable in having and initiating related conversations; implementing clear policies around mental health and financial planning; and encouraging work-life balance, to name a few. From reducing presenteeism, stress and absenteeism, to increasing productivity and engagement and fostering a constructive culture of support and compassion, there is a clear return on investment in workplace wellbeing. As the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’ is ongoing, the competitive advantages in addressing wellbeing and optimizing organisational outcomes are not to be ignored.
Our 'Wellbeing at Work: Enhancing Employee Engagement and Productivity' event is taking place on 4th November in Central London. Confirmed speakers include Tony Vickers-Byrne, who chaired the ‘Compassion at Work Sub-Group’ for the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work.
Over the course of the event, seasoned experts will address wellbeing in terms of policy, practice and culture, and from the perspectives of mental health, financial wellbeing, physical health, and management style.
Meanwhile, our ‘Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace’ event takes place in Central London on 12th November, in partnership with Mind, and in Manchester on 21st January.
This event will provide delegates with the skills needed to create a mental health at work plan, address men’s mental health and examine the role of workplace practice and culture in safeguarding employees’ mental health.
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