A number of years ago, when I started to develop a workplace wellbeing plan, someone asked me ‘why?’ It was a good question, and a fair question, and it is one that many companies may be considering now as the subject of employee wellbeing gains prominence.
Why? What are the benefits of supporting employees to protect and maintain their wellbeing? Some may argue that it’s just a ‘nice to have’ which really doesn’t make a difference nor have a tangible impact. But I would disagree passionately – I believe there is a very powerful case for placing wellbeing at the heart of an organisation.
Not least because it can have a very real impact on sickness absence. Stress and mental health are in the top five causes of long-term absence¹. This costs companies hugely in many ways – in lost time, in productivity, in providing temporary cover, and in individual and team morale. And the longer that someone is absent, the likelihood of them returning diminishes. But what if companies took a proactive approach and tried to mitigate some of this absence by offering counselling, for example? Such an approach could stop someone who might be struggling from going off sick. And the upfront investment is minimal – around £35 – £55 per session which totals a few hundred pounds: long-term absence costs UK business £4.17billion a year². The same could apply for those with back pain or other musculoskeletal problems which prevent them from doing their role. Providing physiotherapy could help people get back to work quicker – which will also have a positive impact on the employee’s mental health.
Embedding wellbeing into an organisation empowers managers to have better conversations. If companies have a culture where it is not only safe but positively encouraged to talk about mental health issues, then managers and their direct reports will be able to chat honestly. So, the phone call coming in saying ‘I’ve got the flu’ because the employee daren’t share the truth will be replaced by pre-emptive conversation that ‘I’m struggling at the moment.’ The latter allows the manager to adjust and offer support which can help the employee at that point when they need it most – and this may stop them going off sick. Managers may need help to have these conversations, through workshops – such as the training we offer with Bamboo Workplace Mental Health – as well as guidance about what tools they can access to support the employee.
Having an effective wellbeing programme in place will also help employees to remain productive. According to the CIPD and Time to Change, people who are struggling with stress or their mental health say they have difficulty concentrating, will take longer to perform tasks, and will find it difficult to make decisions. Ultimately it will impact upon their ability to deliver their role. It may not always be obvious straightaway that a poorly performing employee is suffering and so managers must look out for dips in productivity as it could be a sign of an underlying issue.
And wellbeing helps to retain people. If employees feel that they are working for a caring company where their needs are understood and met, they are more likely to stay. It will help with attracting new employees too – after all, who wouldn’t want to work somewhere that is supportive, caring and where it’s ok to say, ‘I’m not ok?’
Workplace wellbeing is more than a one-off activity. It is a strategic and practical programme which impacts culturally. It needs to be led from the top, and leaders must role model behaviours that promote good wellbeing: it’s not good enough to say, ‘we don’t have an out of hours’ culture’ then email direct reports in the evening. It’s about supporting managers to have conversations around wellbeing, and giving them a practical toolkit they can use. It’s about training and development, such as Mental Health First Aid. It’s about communications, and making wellbeing part of the everyday dialogue. It’s about targeted activities and interventions which make a difference. And it’s about having the right HR policies and practices to truly embed wellbeing into the culture.
So the question isn’t ‘why’ to workplace wellbeing it’s ‘why not?’
For more information about ways to empower workplace wellbeing, I can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org or @engagepeopleco