A Strategy To Improve Wellbeing At Work
Work forms a significant part of most peoples lives. In fact, between Monday and Friday, we spend around 50% of our waking hours at work. With the main risk to employee health now being psychological, and mental ill health and stress two of the top three causes of long-term absence from work, the time to prioritise wellbeing at work is now.
After the unprecedented events of the past 18 months, and growing research evidencing the links between productive work behaviours and wellbeing or happiness at work, it is no wonder that business leaders and organisations are now actively exploring how they can improve wellbeing in the workplace.
In fact, increasing awareness of the physical and psychological impact of chronic and cumulative work stress, as well as the exhaustion that accompanies constant higher order thinking, has led many businesses to re-examine their workplace policies and practices and prioritise their greatest resource; their employees.
And, if the individual benefits weren't enough to persuade organisations it's time for a change, the numerous financial and business key performance related indicators that are associated with placing wellbeing at the centre of your business model surely are!
My own literature review of leading organisations concerned with health and wellbeing research led me to develop this definition of workplace wellbeing;
The protection and promotion of physical, mental and psychosocial health, safety and wellbeing of employees; including the organisation of work, the workplace culture and effective leadership and management.
Of course, wellbeing by its very nature is subjective, and a one size fits all approach is not appropriate. Even within organisations there will be departments and teams that have widely different wellbeing needs; both in provision and in communication of information.
However, there are a number of key areas that have been shown to positively impact workplace wellbeing along with essential organisational resources that underpin these areas. As shown in my diagram below:
The 8 Pillars Of Wellbeing At Work
If you work in an office environment, around 75% of your time will be spent sitting down. Research has demonstrated numerous mental and physical health risks associated with sitting, regardless of whether you are generally physically active or not. These include higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes. Sedentary behaviour is also associated with poor mental health, such as depression.
Promoting physical activity at work is therefore essential to protect wellbeing in general, as well as at work.
To achieve this you could encourage employees to; include regular movement breaks (at least every 5 minutes every half an hour), explore desk yoga, or take advantage of discounted gym membership or access to online fitness classes like Les Mills. You could also run regular workshops to try different fitness activities, provide access to occupational health and physiotherapy if needed and consider running personal step challenges (beat your score) or competitions if appropriate.
In addition, ensure that people work in a pleasant physical environment with good lighting, space, fresh air, live greenery, appropriate ergonomic equipment and the opportunity to work quietly if needed.
Such is the forward thinking of some leaders, that one of my clients has even been contracted by a local business to provide regular massages for their employees to improve physical wellbeing. How's that for proactivity?!
Fostering an open, understanding and empathic culture, particularly when it comes to mental health is one of the best ways to promote emotional wellbeing. Training Mental Health First Aiders or encouraging people to take on the mantle of Mental Wellbeing Champions is a great step towards this. They can act as an intermediary and signpost people to relevant support, as well as offering understanding, space to talk and empathy.
In my experience, senior managers, leaders and line managers are critical for promoting emotional wellbeing. This is due to the 'emotional contagion' which refers to people’s tendency to mimic the emotions and expressions of others around them, usually without conscious effort. Leaders who are often in the spotlight play a crucial role in generating positive emotions among staff.
Employees are also more likely to engage with health and wellbeing interventions if they see senior leaders actively participating in them. Line managers in particular play a crucial role in implementing stress management initiatives, spotting early warning signs of stress, making supportive adjustments at work, and nurturing positive relationships.
Policies that demonstrate support and understanding of the various aspects of life that impact emotional wellbeing are also vital. This may include the creating of policies on menopause, menstruation, compassionate bereavement, carer-friendly workplaces and drug & alcohol misuse, among others.
It is worth mentioning that employees also have a responsibility to bring the right mental energy or attitude to work where possible (there will always be situations that make this challenging). A consideration of the impact they have on their colleagues and work friends is helpful and may dissuade the temptation to use work to offload problems. Empathy, understanding and sympathy to their difficulties may be kind, but if the situation doesn't improve, directing them to more appropriate support can be more helpful. This can help prevent resentment, frustration and a toxic work culture from developing.
Research shows that money is not always the motivator people think it is and that actually many people would consider working for an employer for less money if they found the work more emotionally rewarding or felt their role made good use of their strengths and skills.
That being said, ensuring employees receive fair pay (above the statutory National Minimum/Living Wage) and benefits such as flexible working are a minimum expectation in workplaces today.
Having a clear opportunity to progress at work and investment in employees performance through regular access to CPD is also a major factor affecting financial wellbeing and self-confidence at work.
Other financial wellbeing support includes implementing phased retirement schemes, employee financial advice/debt counselling, employee assistance programs for gym memberships or online fitness classes, subsidising healthy snacks and drinks at work and promoting access to schemes such as the cycle to work program.
There is more to social wellbeing than organising social events! This pillar also includes promoting employee voice through regular communication, consultation and involvement in decision making.
It also refers to positive relationships at work, be that leadership style, creating effective and supportive teams, healthy, trusting relationships with peers and managers and being treated with dignity and respect at all times.
Of course relationships can be built by shared experiences and organising regular opportunities to get to know colleagues and make links outside teams and departments can lead to healthier organisations. This is especially true if senior leaders are involved in some of the events too.
Life long learning is another core element of wellbeing and can be supported at work in a number of ways. For employees, open access to training, technical and vocational learning and a strengths-based approach to personal development will build confidence, self-esteem, encourage intrinsic motivation and self-development, and improve aspirations.
Career development through effective performance management, personal plans and coaching and mentoring shows appreciation and investment in employees. In addition, getting to know your employees or direct reports better will allow you to show genuine interest in their strengths and skills use, whether they find their work challenging and rewarding, and even the development of succession planning.
Providing the opportunity to access regular coaching for pro-active personal development, rather than reactive support, will also have a significant impact on intellectual wellbeing and esteem.
Developing an open and collaborative culture can also boost creativity and identify new opportunities and innovations.
Environmental Wellbeing inspires us to live a more sustainable lifestyle that is respectful of our surroundings. At work, this include the development of, and commitment to environmentally sustainable strategies and policies.
Choosing 100% renewable energy sources
Reducing paper, water, energy and plastic usage
Encouraging recycling and more sustainable lunch options
Eating seasonally and altering healthy snack choices to match
Spending time outside appreciating the environment daily
Making public transport the best option by offering season tickets
Using reusable bottle and mugs at work
Only printing if absolutely necessary
Incorporating real plant into your office décor
Buying eco-friendly office supplies
Using non-toxic cleaning products.
For more great ideas click here.
It also includes getting involved in supporting local charities by donating work-hours or days and raising awareness and money. Whatever you decide, showing kindness is at the heart of the action and will benefit both the environment and the people taking positive action.
Rather than religious or faith practices, spiritual wellbeing at work refers to finding purpose and meaning. Research has found that in addition to personal recognition for their contribution, employees want to be involved in something greater than themselves. They want to feel their work is meaningful.
Meaningful work has 4 key attributes:
It has an important positive impact on the wellbeing of human beings.
It is associated with an important virtue or personal value.
It has an impact that extends beyond the immediate time frame or creates a ripple effect.
It builds supportive relationships and a sense of community.
Ultimately, this sense of meaningfulness is derived from the perception that both the work itself, and the context within which the work is performed, is purposeful and significant.
Why care about fostering meaning in work? Well, meaningful work leads directly to higher levels of engagement, raises the levels of employee satisfaction, improves commitment to the organization, and encourages a willingness to go beyond role expectations to serve others.
When employees perceive their work as meaningful, they experience fulfilment and purpose which provides a psychological sense of wellbeing. This then spills over into the other life arenas and contributes to the overall sense of an individual’s life purpose.
Sharing reviews, feedback and actively highlighting the contribution an organisation has to the wellbeing of humanity can greatly contribute to meaning at work. On a more personal level, self-reflection that encourages people to consider how their strengths contribute to the organisation may also be effective.
Acknowledgement of what employees and colleagues do well is a major building block in workplace wellbeing. There doesn't even need to be a financial or physical reward. A verbal recognition, note of appreciation or special mention in a company broadcast is enough to show that leaders pay attention, appreciate your efforts and care enough about you to make sure you know it.
It doesn't need to be someone who goes above and beyond, and it shouldn't be someone who works a ridiculous number of hours. It might just be someone who always has a great attitude, works hard within their work hours or embodies your company values.
Some companies have a communication channel on which to shout out employees who they appreciate, or a thank you board with post-it messages of gratitude. Whatever you choose to show your appreciation, just be mindful of the message you send through your choices.
The Foundations Of Wellbeing At Work
Like the man who built his house on sand, these pillars will not stand up if built on shaky foundations.
To ensure the pillars of workplace wellbeing are effective and stand strong, they need to be supported by solid foundations in the form of Leadership, Vison and Values, Policy, and Culture.
In order to effectively tackle workplace factors that may negatively affect mental wellbeing, and to develop management skills to value mental wellbeing and manage mental health problems effectively, it is necessary to implement and promote a rigorous wellbeing policy.
According to the World Health Organisation, this policy should encourage workers and managers to collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of workers and the sustainability of the workplace.
The policy should cover a wide range of aspects, including:
health and safety concerns in the physical work environment;
health, safety and well-being concerns in the psychosocial work environment, including organization of work and workplace culture;
personal health resources in the workplace; and
ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community.
To meet these needs, CIPD recommend the following;
Physical health - Health promotion, good rehabilitation practices, health checks, wellbeing benefits, health insurance protection, managing disability, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
Physical safety - Safe working practices, safe equipment, personal safety training.
Mental health - Stress management, risk assessments, conflict resolution training, training line managers to have difficult conversations, managing mental ill health, occupational health support, employee assistance programme.
It is imperative that senior leaders are aware of the importance of workplace wellbeing, and that they champion the relevant actions to ensure that it’s taken seriously across the organisation.
Line managers are often key to employee wellbeing by making sure people's workloads are manageable, by providing clear objectives, constructive feedback and by identifying when it is appropriate to offer support and flexibility if a member of their team has health problems or is struggling.
In their 2021 Health and wellbeing at work survey, CIPD reported that nearly one third of respondents blamed management style for work-related stress. This finding shows how harmful the impact can be if managers aren’t equipped with the competence and confidence to go about their people management role in the right way.
Transformational leadership is a positive and impactful approach to authentic leadership style in which the leader serves as a role model to; motivate, inspire and engage their followers; promote creativity and innovation through open-mindedness and non-threatening questioning of ideas, and by treating each follower as a unique individual with unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
Whatever your leadership style, positivity, authenticity, visibility and communication are key to your success.
Vision and Values
A clear vision and values, preferably co-created with all employees or at minimum giving all a platform to voice their opinions, will underpin everything your business does.
Your mission and objectives, strategy, corporate governance and leadership style will be shaped by your company values. They will also link to ethical standards, corporate social responsibility, community investment, volunteering, cultural engagement, workplace behaviour and training and performance review for employees and managers.
It is worthwhile investing time exploring and reviewing your company vision and values. Do they still serve you, your employees and the wider community? Would they benefit from being amended?
Critically, can your employees tell you your vision and values and how they relate to their work? If not, then something needs to change. Whether it is communicating them more clearly or making them more explicit, ensure your values create the change you wish to see.
When advertising for a new role, employers often look for someone who will 'fit' into their company culture. Unfortunately this can result in organisations, departments and teams becoming one dimensional.
This can be amended by looking for cultural 'adds' rather than culture 'fit' when employing new staff. Actively value difference and seek out alternative experience, viewpoints, strengths and personality types.
Ensure that your inclusion and diversity training is up to date for employees and managers and encourage healthy challenge and the sharing of ideas from ALL staff regardless of their position. You never know where the next big idea will come from!
A key priority for HR professionals is to ensure that health and wellbeing continues to receive heightened attention in the boardroom when the continuity issues presented by COVID-19 are no longer a threat.
In truth, health and wellbeing practice can never stand still because it needs to evolve to meet the constantly changing influences of the wider environment and employee needs.
Additionally, a stronger focus on improving the capability of line managers to support people’s mental health, and improving practices for managing people with disabilities and long-term health conditions will be essential to making sure organisations provide adequate support for those suffering from long COVID in the months ahead.
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