GTP20: What if we invested the time to recharge our employees as often as we recharge our mobile phones?

Prescient Business Consulting

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2020 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 2020 this involves 8 free workshops taking place between 2nd March and 27th March, culminating in a full-day Growth Through People conference on 2nd April. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Prime Accountants Group, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

Working conditions and environments are constantly changing. In the modern world, we face growing expectations and employees - whilst juggling demanding lifestyles and family needs - are often working longer hours in roles which are becoming increasingly more complex and challenging.

All of these factors can have a huge effect on people’s mental health and as a result, it impacts on their ability to perform well in their jobs.

According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), mental ill-health costs the British economy £94bn a year, of which, nearly half of these costs - £42bn - are indirect costs related to lower employment and productivity.

In our region alone, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) reported that a staggering £1.7 billion is lost each year due to poor workplace wellbeing and its impact on productivity - including 4.1 million working days lost due to the mental ill-health of employees. Locally, nationally and internationally, these alarming figures are set to continue rising.

This sends a very clear message of the greater need to prioritise the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing practices. But what do we really mean by ‘wellbeing’?

Wellbeing isn’t just one thing or a one-time initiative - it’s a holistic approach to our overall health. It’s about encouraging people to make small yet manageable and sustainable changes to existing routines and lifestyle choices to ensure that our bodies at functioning at their optimum emotionally, physically and mentally.

Although wellbeing impacts many aspects of our lives, the workplace is an ideal setting for interventions. Not only can employers influence the physical and psychological wellbeing of their employees, they find that in doing so, they help to boost attendance, productivity and engagement levels.

If as employers we can encourage and support our employees, managers and leaders to adopt healthy wellbeing practices in the workplace – enabling them to recharge themselves every day in the same way we do our mobile phones – we are building resilience and increasing the capacity for people to remain healthier and happier. People are able to manage the challenging conditions within their work and have greater ability to recover more quickly from difficulties – boosting productivity and leading to reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as lowering sickness costs.

What’s more, people who feel valued and can see that an organisation is taking a genuine and proactive approach towards improving their wellbeing, are more likely to join and stay with that organisation, leading to greater talent attraction and retention.

So, what steps can we start taking to improve employee wellbeing? (and we don’t mean just a daily 10k steps challenge!)

Most of us know that physical activity is an important component of keeping healthy but because wellbeing is multi-faceted, we must make sure that other equally important areas, such as mental health, nutrition and sleep, are not overlooked or neglected.

  • Physical exercise. People sometimes feel too busy to add exercise into their daily lives but simple things can have the biggest effects. If walking to work isn’t an option, suggest people park a little further away, or get off the bus a stop earlier, to get a short walk in during the commute to/from work. To get people moving more throughout the day, encourage employees to take the stairs instead of using the lift or to go outside for ‘walking meeting’. Even just managing to stand and move around during a seated meeting round a table is better than staying sedentary all day.
  • Good sleep hygiene. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is essential for our bodies to recover and recharge from the day. Without it, people can become forgetful and agitated. With good sleep, our emotions are regulated, we have the ability to make better decisions, stay alert and reduce feelings of stress and worry. Encourage employees to set routines: going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, reducing caffeine, unwinding before bed with a bath or good book or give a meditation app a try. As employers, we can role model good sleep hygiene by creating an environment where employees are encouraged to avoid looking at stimulants such as mobile phones, tablets in the evening. Maybe you could introduce a policy to leave laptops locked in office to prevent the temptation to log on at home or restrict access to email outside of core hours?
  • Nutrition – help employees to improve their understanding of food and how it impacts on their health and mood. ’Superfoods’ are nutrient rich foods considered to be very beneficial for health and wellbeing. Have fruit bowls containing these superfoods in the workplace to encourage people to reach for a healthy snack rather than a junk food quick fix. Promote healthy food swaps and look at the food offered in your canteens / vending machines – can any items be substituted for healthier alternatives? Also, ensure employees are keeping hydrated with access to drinking water. This is also another great way to keep people moving more during the day - offer smaller cups at the water cooler so people need to move more to keep getting them refilled. Providing squash or slices of lemons to flavour the water can help convert people away from unhealthy, fizzy drinks.
  • Mental health and self-care – help employees explore the power of mindfulness activities to calm and strengthen the mind. The concept of mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now, bringing your attention into the present moment, counteracting any worry and busy thoughts. Focusing on sensations such as breathing prevents your mind from feeling stressed and anxious. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, at any time, even whilst at work - especially in moments where you are busy, feel overwhelmed and need to reset yourself. There are a number of free apps that you can promote (also handy for meditation as part of good sleep hygiene) or maybe get a yoga / mindfulness coach in to your workplace to run some sessions and teach people techniques that they can practice and use every day.

Having employee champions is a great way of ensuring wellbeing becomes part of the culture within the workplace. They can help to recognise and highlight those employees who have demonstrated efforts to improve their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing - rewarding them with cards and certificates (or, if you have the budget, small gifts) to celebrate the successes – as well as sharing best practice within the organisation to inspire other employees. After all, not only does this makes the employees efforts feel worthwhile and valued, but gratitude itself is an important aspect of wellbeing. Focusing on the positives in your life and what you appreciate helps to reduce feelings of frustration and regret - increasing joy and building mental resilience – making us healthier and happier professionally and personally. Win win!

Kate Marsh
Partner – HR & Culture
Prescient Business Consulting