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Borne from the realisation that employers have a duty of care for employees and that happy, healthy, motivated workers deliver more, workplace wellbeing is now a strategic concern at board level.
The facts speak for themselves and explain why wellbeing has come into sharp focus. Our sedentary behaviours are cited as the world’s fourth biggest killer according to the World Health Organisation, with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and more. At present, sick days cost the UK economy £18bn in lost productivity each year and, with mental health issues on the rise (71% increase since 2011), it seems the cost of ill-health will keep becoming more onerous until we re-evaluate our priorities and recognise the role of wellbeing at work.
However, these statistics capture only part of the debate, for they fail to mention the importance of employee motivation and engagement in wellbeing. A recent Gallup poll said that a staggering 70% of employees felt disengaged and uninspired in their roles, but given that 75% of organisations don’t have an employee engagement plan or strategy  (despite 90% of businesses understanding it impacts profitability and success ) this is perhaps not surprising. This apathy and disengagement is dangerous to wellbeing for it means reduced effort and productivity, lowered commitment and often a higher propensity for conflict, grievances, poor morale and illness.
Successful workplace wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life including physical, mental and emotional health, levels of employee engagement and happiness at work, the quality and safety of the working environment, the culture and management of an organisation and the workplace’s suitability for the task in hand.
A company’s wellbeing policy, assuming it has one, should be the collective consideration and active management of these points.
Following the economic uncertainty of recent years, and in the face of Brexit, organisations are continually evolving, adapting and critically, trying do more with less. However, this search to unlock greater productivity is not about demanding more, instead it requires business leaders to unlock the benefits of highly engaged and healthy people.
It is proven that happy, engaged and motivated employees have fewer health problems, particularly in relation to anxiety and depression, and are more productive than their dis-engaged counterparts.
Engage for Success’s article:
‘The Evidence’ highlights the link between engagement and wellbeing perfectly: “Organisations that make an effort to improve their employee’s engagement levels will also help their workers improve the quality of their lives, minimizing the costs of decreased productivity resulting from chronic illnesses whilst lowering healthcare and absence costs.
– Gallup 2013
Investors in People adds:
The biggest asset your organisation has is its people; the biggest asset they have is their health and wellbeing – so it makes good business sense to look after it.”
– Investors in People
Larger PLCs and several businesses in the newer creative industries have been among the first to really address wellbeing by using policy to govern their commitment to and management of workplace wellbeing. While policies may not be necessary for all companies, they do help to set out the context and need for wellbeing, how it aligns with a company’s objectives, the company’s vision for its people, the responsibility of all of those contributing to it and the frequency with which it will be reviewed, monitored and reported on.
Responsible people-centric employers use the workplace as a powerful tool for wellbeing differentiation, both in teams of appealing to the brightest and best, unlocking extra discretionary effort from workers and actively designing mental and physical ill health out of their organisations. However, this is more than just creating well designed spaces, it is about creating a culture that embodies, supports and prioritises wellbeing.
We’re all familiar with the idea that the spaces we occupy can affect our emotions, feelings and outlook; that the way we are managed affects our self- esteem, productivity, loyalty and self-worth; and that the tools we are given affect our ability to do our job, be productive, innovate and succeed. Therefore, wellbeing requires the right environment, practices and culture in order to succeed and that can only come from a true understanding of employees’ actual rather than perceived needs.
Wellbeing-orientated environments are typically centred on choice – choice of how and where people work in order to suit a diverse range of work tasks, working styles and even generational needs. This means dedicated areas for collaborative working and team work, quiet areas for lone-working and concentration and well-conceived dedicated areas for break-out and relaxation. Much of the success of these task specific areas is determined by culture. There is little point giving employees choice if a culture of support and empowerment is distinctly lacking.
In addition, these environments also design out the more well-known causes of workplace stress. One of the biggest criticisms of the more modern open plan workspace is how disruptive it can be with the ongoing movement of people and transference of noise. By ensuring that appropriate sound-proofing is in place and that the co-location of workspaces makes sense to both layout and behaviour (eg don’t put quiet work areas next to collaborative spaces, don’t put creative or breakout spaces next to formal client spaces) you can help employees to thrive and mitigate some of the most common causes of stress.
Today’s workforce is multi-generational with Baby Boomers and Generations X Y and Z rubbing shoulders together on a daily basis (at least until 2020 when Generation Z will almost certainly dominate).
Baby Boomers are a reserved generation and the most widely known for working long hours and seeking out stability rather than change, Generation X yearns for work life balance and embraces flexibility and new opportunities, Generation Y demands continual feedback and team working and Generation Z wants independence, stability, camaraderie and ongoing appraisal.
So, while the opportunity for remote and flexible working may not appeal to a Baby Boomer, younger generations would consider this a requisite to successfully manage their work and home lives. Where space and technologies conducive with team working, collaboration and idea sharing will appeal to Generation X, Baby Boomers may shy way and instead choose more quiet, private and independent spaces. While Baby Boomers see access to management as something formal and hierarchical, Generation Z will embrace it as an opportunity for appraisal, mentoring and potential fast-tracking.
These seismic and subtle differences impact these generations’ expectations in the workplace and help to identify the different factors that shape their wellbeing. It is necessary to meet these diverse wellbeing needs through workspaces, tools, culture and technology.
While wellbeing’s introduction to the corporate world may have been billed as little more than a soft perk in the early days (think gym membership and free fruit), it is not a fad. It is a business-critical and strategic consideration, particularly in the face of the UK’s worsening productivity crisis and growing number of mental health challenges for today’s workers.
As a strategic enabler of change, successful workplace wellbeing requires a blended approach that brings HR, facilities, IT and communications together to consider the holistic needs of a workforce. It is only by auditing the needs of employees and identifying what improved health and wellbeing could deliver, that businesses can see both the size of the task and the size of the opportunity too.
Effective wellbeing requires employers to invest in workplaces that support how people want to work, embody a positive culture of choice and empowerment and consider the emotional, mental and physical needs of its people at all times. People-centric employers do all of these things to improve communication, provide stimulation, improve health and wellbeing, boost morale and improve productivity.
The cost of ignoring wellbeing is too onerous – unhealthy and disengaged staff mean heightened costs, reduced productivity, lost skills and knowledge, talent attrition and potential reputational damage too. In an economy where talent is in short supply, businesses must use everything in their power to keep the talent they have healthy, happy, motivated and loyal. Without a continual and committed approach to wellbeing, you are damaging the bottom line and letting your biggest asset walk out of the door.
To find out more about Harmsen Tilney Shanes’ experience auditing employees’ needs and translating them into workplaces which harness wellbeing, visit our research methods section of our website.
Useful reading & references.
For advice and guidance on how to write a Workplace Wellbeing policy visit Fully Focused Solutions free sample policy guide.
To find out how to make your workplace a wellbeing benchmark for other UK organisations, sign up for MIND’s Workplace Wellbeing Index.
For more information on the UK’s first Workplace Wellbeing charter visit: http://www.wellbeingcharter.org.uk/index.html
 Gallup poll: http://www.gallup.com/poll/188144/employee-engagement-stagnant-2015.aspx