How to improve wellbeing at work

Lack of employee wellbeing is a business risk. If your people are your biggest asset, surely ensuring they are healthy – both physically and mentally – is the best way to ensure the security and productivity of your organisation?

Employee wellbeing is closely tied to engagement, and therefore productivity which ultimately leads to organisational success.

A recent report by health insurance provider Vitality and the Financial Times made for stark reading. It found a clear north-south wellness divide, with employees in Yorkshire and the Humber reporting the highest stress levels.

The report reinforced what HR professionals already know – that there is a strong correlation between participation in workplace programmes and improved health and productivity.

And with a generation of vulnerable younger people more prone to mental health issues – the report found 8.5% of those aged 21-25 indicated they suffer from depression – how can organisations get the balance right?

Unfortunately, it’s not just younger people who are at risk of mental health issues. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. The report found that financial concerns are directly linked to weight and mental health – employees with financial concerns are twice as likely to be obese and seven times more likely to suffer from depression than those without any.

Legal obligations

It’s an employer’s legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees. Organisations have to carry out risk assessments for work-related stress, and take action to prevent staff from experiencing a stress-related illness because of their work.

Leeds-based solicitor Jodie Hill of Thrive Law has started a campaign for every workplace to have a mental health first aider.

“Mental ill health is the biggest reason for sickness absence and by far the largest cost to employers across the UK,” says Jodie.

“I want every business in the UK to treat mental health with the same respect as physical health. Why aren’t employers encouraged to extend the same attitude towards mental health first aid, as they do for physical first aid?”

This guide from Acas covers how to promote positive mental health at work and mental health charity Mind also have a guide to wellbeing in the workplace, but here are a few suggestions for improving employee wellbeing overall.

Digital detox

On 1 January 2017, workers in France acquired the right to disconnect from technology, making it illegal for companies to expect employees to check and respond to emails on mobile phones outside of working hours.

Some companies restrict access to email outside of working hours, others ensure all emails sent to a person on holiday are automatically deleted, to reduce that sinking feeling when your first day back is spent tackling hundreds of two-week old emails.

Having a conversation with your workforce about what will work for them and your organisation is the best way to figure out how you might tackle the health risk posed by our always-on culture.

The importance of sleep

In 2017 a Nobel Prize was awarded to sleep researchers. That’s a fairly big indicator that it’s time to pay attention.

Research by Glassdoor found 6 % of respondents said they would be better employees if they got more sleep, especially those ages 18-44 (73 percent) compared to those ages 45-64 (59 percent).

The Vitality report found that respondents who sleep less than 6 hours per night lose more than twice as many working hours due to absence and presenteeism (being at work but not working at their best) than those who sleep more than 7 hours.

It also found employees with sleep quality difficulties do less physical activity, drink more alcohol, are more likely to be smokers, show higher work-related stress, and are five times more likely to suffer from depression than those without any sleep difficulties.

Setting boundaries for out of hours work will help, but other ideas include:

  • Helping educate employees on the importance of sleep – there’s an NHS guide to improving sleep here
  • Promote flexible working – so if someone has had a bad night, they can start a little later and make up the time separately
  • Open the blinds! According to a study in the journal Sleep, workers in offices with windows slept an average of 46 minutes more each night than those not exposed to natural light

Practical support

There are also many structural and practical steps you can take to support your team’s wellbeing, including:

  • Accurate workforce and succession planning, to ensure recruitment gaps are filled quickly
  • Installing a shower so people can run/cycle to work or at lunch times
  • Organise a lunchtime walking group
  • Offer a meeting room for a lunchtime yoga or pilates session
  • Provide fresh fruit
  • Encourage people to take the stairs
  • Set up a self-help book swap

For support on any aspects of workforce planning and recruitment, give one of the team a call on 01709 717212.

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