Beyond quick-fixes: 5 steps towards workplace wellbeing

Is anyone else tired of employee wellbeing quick-fixes? We’ve read a gazillion guides on the topic and can report: it’s all about fruit.

Yes, a bowl of fruit, carefully placed in the office, will magically solve our workplace woes.

Despite a fruit tsunami in workplaces across the land, something is wrong. Levels of employee anxiety, stress and depression continue to rise. Employee research from Mind paints a gloomy picture:

  • 21% report calling in sick to avoid work
  • 42% consider resigning due to workplace stress
  • 30% feel they cannot talk openly to their line manager about stress

Add physical health into the mix and figures rise even further. UK Government studies estimate that 28.2 million work days are lost each year due to musculoskeletal problems.

The cost to business is significant. The Centre for Mental Health, reports that annually, mental health issues in the UK workforce cost employers:

  • £10.6 billion in sickness absence
  • £21.2 billion in reduced productivity at work, or ‘presenteeism’
  • £3.1 billion in replacing staff who leave their jobs because of their mental health

Staggering isn’t it? However, there is hope. Mind reports 56% of employers want to improve wellbeing at work.

To achieve this, we advise employers to think beyond quick-fixes and work towards putting employee wellbeing at the heart of business.

Investing in happiness

As recruitment agents, we visit 100s of workplaces across Hitchin, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and beyond. It’s amazing how quickly you sense a ‘happy’ workplace.

In our experience, happy workplaces come in all shapes and sizes – but they all grasp the business value of wellbeing.

Emerging examples of ROI in employee wellbeing are certainly persuasive:

  • A professional services company reduced employee turnover by 10% and saved £464,000 per year as a result of introducing a wellbeing programme.
  • A pharmaceutical firm saved £200,000 per year in health-insurance premiums as a result of new wellbeing initiatives.

Once senior leaders are convinced it is smart to invest in employee wellbeing. The challenge is making it happen.

A culture of wellbeing

Free fruit in the office is not intrinsically bad. It’s a lovely touch. However, creating a culture of wellbeing demands more than ad hoc ‘nice-to-haves’. You need a plan.

For SMEs ready to act, here are 5 steps towards workplace wellbeing to help you formulate your plan:

  1. Ask: what can wellbeing do for us?

Your approach to wellbeing should reflect business and/or HR aims. Start by asking your senior team what success looks like. Does your business need:

  • Reduced sickness and increased productivity?
  • Employees able to work more creatively?
  • Improved morale and ability to work collaboratively?

This will inform a wellbeing plan based on business priorities, which defines:

  • Why wellbeing is important
  • Aims of your policy
  • Suggested actions and how they will impact wellbeing
  • How impact will be measured
  • Implementation responsibilities (senior managers, line managers, employees, HR)

Let’s say your key aim is reducing presenteeism. Research shows complex factors influence employee productivity – ranging from workload, financial worries and inadequate training to physical health limitations and anxiety.

In-depth wellbeing plans would ideally encompass all factors. But, start by exploring what’s achievable in your context. Be focused, but ambitious in what you can change.

  1. Ask: what can wellbeing do for you?

Having listened to managers, it’s time to consult. To succeed, your wellbeing initiatives will rely on employee sign up. So, be collaborative:

  • Invite people to join a working group
  • Communicate clearly from day one requesting feedback/ideas
  • Survey employees to gauge their response to potential initiatives

Based on priorities from Step 1, open up a discussion around the different initiatives you are considering.

  1. Create: a coherent action plan

Many workplace wellbeing actions are low cost, because it’s about a behavioural shift. For example, you might support line managers to:

  • Pro-actively maintain contact with absent team members
  • Facilitate return to work plans with suitable adjustments
  • Allocate diary time to ‘check-in’ on team wellbeing
  • Encourage flexible working and ensure workloads are reasonable
  • Signpost to additional support – helplines, counselling and online information
  • Promote take up of your wellbeing initiatives

If you have funds to invest in wellness initiatives, great. As recruitment agents, we know that employee benefits packages are very effective in attracting and retaining talent.

Remember, a coherent approach to activities, in line with business goals, is wellbeing nirvana. Invest wisely, offering flexibility and choice. As you trawl potential initiatives ask:

  • Will this address my key aims?
  • Will this appeal to my employees?

Here are just a few interesting ways organisations are promoting workplace wellbeing.

Mental health matters

  1. Creating greener offices to harness the stress-busting power of nature
  2. Hosting workshops to open up conversations around common mental health issues
  3. Inviting in waggy tails because office dogs increase productivity
  4. Providing free subscriptions to mindfulness apps like Headspace
  5. Investing in employee education programmes like Helix

Let’s get physical

  1. Introducing walking meetings or lunchtime walks to reduce employee tension
  2. Facilitating movement in the office with standing desks
  3. Dedicating an hour a week to exercise across all employee calendars
  4. Gamifying fitness with office challenges using variety to engage all abilities
  5. Hosting healthy cookery classes to explore nutrition tips
  1. Lead by example

“Changing the corporate mindset on mental health is, I believe, the most fundamental step towards changing things for the better.” António Horta-Osório, CEO, Lloyds Banking Group

Horta-Osório’s personal experience of burnout after the 2008 banking crisis has transformed his approach to mental wellbeing at Lloyds. This includes sparking change at the top through an Optimal Leadership Resilience Scheme which equips senior leaders with coping strategies for workplace stress.

To shift to a culture of wellbeing, senior managers must lead by example. For SMEs, some initial top level training would be a cost-effective way to inspire change across the organisation.

  1. Measure your impact

“Typically … absence has decreased by about 40%, turnover by about 25% … Research indicates that employees in good health are up to 20% more productive than those in poor health.” Source

Use simple indicators such as sickness levels, productivity, uptake of different initiatives and employee surveys to demonstrate any positive impact of wellness initiatives.

Monitor, evolve and expand your plan over time, honing-in on what works well for your people.

In summary …

Moving beyond quick-fixes towards a culture of workplace wellbeing is achievable. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination of initiatives for you and your employees.

Your takeaway to do list

  1. Start at the top – ask how wellbeing could help you achieve key business goals
  2. Collaborate from day 1 – consult widely to ensure employees engage with your ideas
  3. Create a coherent plan – encompassing your aims, actions and roll-out plan
  4. Lead by example – support senior leaders to model behaviours that promote wellbeing
  5. Measure it – identify key indicators, share your successes and evolve your plan

What priority do you place on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees? What are the challenges in shifting to a culture of wellbeing at work?

We’d love to hear more about your experiences.


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