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Improving wellness in the workplace - what and why

Chartered FCIPD

 

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2019 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2019 this involves 15 free events, workshops and training sessions taking place between 25 February and 26 March, along with thought leadership videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Sponsors – the University of Birmingham, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all events are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more here.

You may have noticed the growing importance placed upon wellbeing in the workplace and are convinced of the benefits – or you may think it is all the latest ‘fad’. However many people will attest to the value of working in an organisation that considers their wellbeing and many leaders are seeing benefits through increased employee engagement and productivity.

Wellbeing is not a single intervention, it is a term to describe how we feel about ourselves and our lives. Given the amount of time most of us spend at work it is not surprising that wellbeing is affected if the conditions we work in are unpleasant.

Wellbeing may be affected by the level of autonomy we have, our relationships in and out of the workplace; our physical and mental health, our social interactions and our sense of fulfilment. There is little that an employer can do to control or influence our private lives – nor would we want them to – however employers are able to influence how we spend our working day, the environment and purpose.

A little internet research will provide evidence to support the correlation between wellbeing and productivity – should you need convincing. Evidence is there to show that when an individual feels valued and appreciated; has a degree of autonomy or influence in their role that they are more engaged with what they do and as a result, performance and productivity is improved.

Around one-third of or lives is spent working. That is an enormous amount of time, potentially some 25 to 30 years. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the work we do and where we do it and if we are in positions of influence, we owe it to others to use that influence to consider the wellbeing of our people. Think about the following, all of which help contribute to the sense of wellbeing:

Our physical environment

I recently visited amazing offices in Birmingham. These offices go above and beyond what most of us experience. They have created a great workspace, complete with trampolines, a sleep pod, colourful walls, swings and fish tanks! Employees told me that they love coming into the office to work and they work hard. They talked about the creativity in this space and sense of contribution to its success.  What also impressed me was the rule against sending any emails before 7am or after 7pm setting an expectation that you had to “switch off’!  Fines (for charity) are in place for those who break the rules! The rule applies to everyone including partners.

You may not be abe to create such an amazing place however there is no excuse for workplaces that are not clean, where the facilities and equipment are poor. Take a look around you today, what can you do to improve your workplace?

Managing stress

Stress is good for you! It can be key for survival, but too much stress has the opposite effect and may result in long-term physical illness. Whilst we are designed to manage levels of stress, according to the CIPD:

Stress places immense demands on employees' physical and mental health and well-being, impacting their behaviour, performance and relationships with colleagues. It's a major cause of long-term absence from work and knowing how to manage the many different signs of stress is key to managing people effectively. Employers should conduct risk assessments and manage workplace activities to reduce the likelihood of stress developing.

Employers have a responsibility to their employees. Monitoring workload, pressure and how people are managed can either add to stress or help to reduce it. Making sure employees can work in an environment free form bullying or harassment and rewarding people appropriately all have a positive effect on wellbeing.

A CEO told me recently that he likes to work late at night and sends his staff emails. ”I don’t expect them to respond of course, it just suits me”. The problem is that if an employee receives that email late at night they will feel as if they must reply, after all this is the CEO!  When do they have an opportunity to truly switch off, when can they relax? So, please CEO, if you need to write your emails late into the night, put a time delay on it or don’t press send, until the morning!

Listening

Listening to your employees, giving them a voice makes them more than just a number and it shows you value them as individuals. But people are not fooled by empty listening. Listening may be informal as you walk around the office or it may be in a more formal setting. Your people will be the provider of useful information helping you to judge the ‘mood’ of the organisation. They may help you to test out new ideas. Why would you not listen to what they have to say? Something interesting happens when people are heard, they feel valued, when they feel valued by leaders, they are more engaged, and we know what happens when employees are more engaged.

Autonomy

This is not about a free for all. – it’s about giving employees a level of autonomy as to how they work, what decisions they can make and how they set about their job. This requires mutual understanding, being clear about what is expected of your employees and listening to their ideas and input. Leaders need to consider what is that will engage their people to give their best, which may be more flexibility about how they work – after all it’s the output that measures productivity. It’s not being present and disengaged!

Resources

For a workforce to be healthy and happy they also need the right equipment.  I know that there is a saying that a poor workman blames his (or her) tools yet it is true too that if provided with an IT system that simply in inefficient, office space that is cold/dirty/uncomfortable then a persons’ ability to give their best is affected. We have a duty of care to those who work for us to provide decent equipment especially and to consider the needs of those with some form of disability.

Your people also need to manage reasonable workloads. Of course what people think that constitutes might differ! However unreasonable demands do not achieve the rusts you might want. What does achieve good results are health, happy and engaged people. We all need to work harder at times of necessity its true so don’t forget to say thank you for increased effort. Those words go a long way to help people feel valued.

Communication

When I manage a change programme one of the most important areas to get right is communication. Wellbeing is affected hugely when people feel they are being ‘done to’. Not knowing your future is enormously disempowering and stressful. Absence increases, levels of stress can be observed by poor behaviour and mistakes happen. People want to be told the truth and to understand their choices, they need support and if you have effective communication, good support and understanding then we come out the other side of change better equipped. My message is: communicate, communicate and then communicate again.

To feel well, to be happy, to be valued varies from person to person, however if as a leader you really want to see your people grow and work with you to achieve success then consider the thoughts above, and as a responsible and thoughtful leader you will commit to this…. because it is the right thing to do.

Dianne Hughes
Chartered FCIPD

Dianne is a leadership coach and experienced HR director working with leaders to design and deliver people strategies.