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Wellness matters

Angela Love, Director of Active Workplace Solutions, argues that workplace wellbeing is more than a fad – it’s essential to the health of the organisation

Throw out the rulebook. Get rid of the ‘guide to…’ Workplace wellbeing isn’t a checklist of things to get right or a set of trendy initiatives to blindly adopt. It’s about behavioural change and it starts at the top.

As humans we like rules, but this doesn’t mean the same works for every employee and every organisation. Instigating an all-you-can-take approach to holidays, for example, does not constitute a wellbeing strategy. In fact, it can cause even more workplace anxiety. It’s time for the wellbeing of staff to get real support, not just an additional job title for the HR manager.

Staff are an organisation’s biggest asset as well as the biggest cost, and happy, contented, engaged people are more productive than those who feel undervalued. But how is that achieved?

Each organisation is different. Whether your workforce is 30 or 30,000 strong doesn’t affect the need to provide for their wellbeing, but will affect how you approach it. Ensuring that people are able to work at their best takes time, research and careful consideration. Some measures are universal – provision of healthy snacks, free tea and coffee and diverse spaces in which to work are all commonplace. But what’s really needed is a strategy tailored to the needs of the organisation –  one that will make a real difference.

Wellbeing has been discussed endlessly over the last few years, with fruit bowls, barista-style coffee and the occasional beer tap all making an appearance. There has been progress in attitudes towards mental health, flexible working and the creation of support programmes. But there is still no real consensus on what wellbeing actually means and how to get it right.

The Oxford English dictionary definition is vague, noting that wellbeing is the ‘state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. In the world of work this can be hard to achieve, when there are priorities such as dealing with a tough client or meeting a tight deadline. Managers have to find the best way to support their staff to enable them to work to the best of their ability.

This means thinking about how people work, what they face on a daily basis and the obstacles they may come up against. It also means considering external factors that impact on wellbeing.

Different people have different expectations of their workplace. The younger generation tends to be more demanding than older workers. Those entering the workforce now favour employers that look after their staff, have transparent wellbeing schemes in place and can show they care about corporate social responsibility. Supporting varying demographics within one organisation can be difficult, but it’s important that everyone feels cared for and included regardless of age, seniority or gender.

With millennials set to represent 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020 (according to PricewaterhouseCoopers), organisations need to think about how they can match these growing expectations. If they aren’t committed to achieving an inclusive and encouraging work environment, they risk being left behind with an unsatisfied and unproductive workforce. The job market is highly competitive and talented candidates will not be attracted to an environment where staff feel unvalued.

Generally speaking, people are becoming accustomed to having more choice. We’re seeing the death of the one-size-fits-all approach in almost every area of life. This also applies to workplace wellbeing strategies; an approach that works for a specialist catering provider, for example, may not work for a construction company. Similarly, there’s nothing to say that two catering providers with similar wellbeing programmes will end up with the same results.

The key to success is to consider your staff as individuals. Put yourself in their shoes – what makes them anxious? What will make their lives better? Looking at your organisation from the outside in can be difficult, but it’s time well spent. Don’t underestimate the importance of communication – keep in touch with your staff and be aware of their concerns. Sometimes an external consultant can help to add fresh insight.

Implementing a strategy, however well researched, will count for little if it doesn’t produce real culture change. It’s important to review progress and monitor people’s awareness and perceptions of the programme – in effect, conduct a wellbeing audit. Staff reviews can play a part by revealing individual problems and concerns.

Finally, managers must take a lead by practising what they preach. Good intentions are not enough – if nothing changes, people will become cynical and disillusioned, and the organisation will be worse off than before. Workplace wellbeing is not something to tick off a list. It is crucial to the success of the business, and should be treated as such.



About Sarah OBeirne

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