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Listen and learn

Wellbeing initiatives are all the rage, but imposing them on people without debate may prove to be counter-productive, argues Jan-Hein Hemke, MD of Facilicom UK

The basics of workplace wellbeing are important. Making sure the physical environment is safe, appropriate and attractive is vital. Whether that means offering standing desks, breakout areas, quiet zones or even table football to relieve the stress, the workspace should be as welcoming as possible while still conducive to productive work. The technology sector may be regarded as the pioneer in thinking outside the box, but there’s nothing to stop other industries from taking a more innovative, holistic approach to wellbeing.

Wellbeing initiatives can take many forms, from ensuring fair pay practices to promoting a supportive, anti-bullying culture or organising sustainability campaigns to help people feel good about themselves and the organisation. But it’s not just about what you do – it’s how you do it.

Too often initiatives are done ‘to’ rather than ‘with’ those who are going to be most affected. Plus, what works for another company may not be right for yours. That’s why it’s important to involve employees in wellbeing decisions. People will not only derive satisfaction and a sense of self-worth from being consulted, they are in the best position to judge what will or will not boost morale and contentment. This will also create a sense of engagement with the wider organisation – itself a crucial component of wellbeing.

Creating a culture in which people are actively consulted can reap benefits for the organisation beyond specific wellbeing initiatives. After all, those on the front line are best placed to know if a particular method or machine is working as well as it could be. A cleaner, for example, can see first-hand whether a particular product is working effectively, and there should be procedures in place for opinions, ideas and suggestions to be considered.

This extends to providing opportunities for people to challenge working practices or the rationale behind decisions. In any business, decisions are taken that don’t please everyone, and people will be more accepting if they have been able to ask questions and have their say.

If people feel they are listened to and in a position to influence their working environment, it can make a huge difference to their wellbeing. We run a management trainee scheme across our European businesses, and participants are openly invited to challenge and ask questions as much as possible. This helps them to become fully engaged in the business, committing themselves to its success from the very beginning. It’s also beneficial for the business, as it provides a channel for innovations and improvements to be introduced that might otherwise be overlooked. It’s certainly easier to improve wellbeing in a successful, growing business than one under pressure.

It might appear that much of this falls outside the FM remit. People-friendly policies such as flexible working or introducing the real living wage are obviously matters for HR and senior managers. But facilities managers have a role in managing change within their organisations, and there is nothing to stop them from applying the above principles. By ensuring that employees are consulted on issues that affect them – such as sustainable practices or working towards becoming a carbon-neutral company – FMs can enhance wellbeing by helping to engage the workforce and build support for positive change.

FMs can also help to demonstrate the effectiveness of new approaches and ensure that the business is not caught up in fads or trends with no practical or lasting benefit. There will always be those who don’t see the point of initiatives aimed at improving and maintaining wellbeing in the workplace. But for those focused on the bottom line, it’s often possible to demonstrate a beneficial impact – such as a reduction in sick days or improved productivity.

About Sarah OBeirne

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