Wellbeing in the Workplace

07 April 2017

A few years ago a company car was considered a major perk of a job but nowadays only 15% of employees consider a company car to be important. Of far greater importance now is the facilitation of healthier lifestyles for employees.

Work can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing, as well as a financial reward it can also give self esteem, companionship and status.  Healthy and well-motivated employees can have an equally positive impact on the productivity and effectiveness of a business. Healthy and motivated employees go that extra mile, give good customer service, take fewer ‘sickies’ and provide commitment and creativity.

The involvement of employers in their employees health and wellbeing is not new. During the industrial revolution, some large employers built houses for their employees. Later many occupations such as the Gardai, railway workers, nurses and estate workers had accommodation provided as part of the job.  However, this early approach was paternalistic and involved taking control over many aspects of employees’ lives but nonetheless recognised the concept that looking after workers needs resulted in increased productivity and efficiency.

Personal well being nowadays involves physical and mental needs for social support, health and safety, and employees are increasingly looking to employers to help them achieve this, as such a large part of peoples’s lives are spent at work.

Wellbeing at work is defined by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) as ‘creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation’ and involves much more than the avoidance of ill health.

Reasons to Promote Wellbeing in the Workplace

Wellbeing initiatives are now considered very important in the workplace as research shows that  62% of employees are likely to stay longer with an employer who shows an interest in their wellbeing, while nearly 50% would consider leaving a job where there is nothing to promote wellbeing.  Productivity is higher in companies where employee wellbeing is a priority.  Absenteeism and presenteeism are lower where a healthy lifestyle is promoted and facilitated by the employer.  Important when we consider that 11m days are lost through absenteeism each year costing the economy €1.5bn, and presenteeism, where workers show up but are experiencing health problems,  costs 7.5 times more than absenteeism. 

No wonder therefore that employers are taking employee wellbeing increasingly seriously with 48% of them putting measures in place to facilitate healthier lifestyles among their employees.

According to workers surveyed, the most important lifestyle benefits in the workplace are now:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Better holiday allowance
  • Training and development opportunities
  • Workplace wellbeing programmes and facilities including showers and bike racks.

But before any initiatives or extras are put in place, crucial factors in workplace wellbeing are:

  • The relationship between line managers and employees – line managers need to be trained in people skills and confident in their role.
  • Whether employees are involved in organisational issues and decision making – employees need to feel valued and feel their opinions matter.
  • An awareness of occupational health and safety issues
  • Up to date policies and practices and managers who are able to identify problems at an early stage and try to resolve them informally if possible.

In contrast, all the lifestyle initiatives and perks in the world will not result in a healthy happy workplace if there is

  • Poor management
  • A bullying culture
  • High levels of absence and reduced productivity
  • Unreasonably high work demands.

Situations like these at work can cause stress, anxiety, back pain, depression and increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Wellbeing in the workplace is a continuum and constantly needs to be worked at. Creating an efficient, safe, happy working environment is a first step. Offering incentives and putting initiatives in place as the opportunities arise, to make employees feel valued and validated and providing rewards for commitment and increased productivity can be the difference between getting by and doing well.

Promoting Wellbeing at Work

  • Initiatives to promote wellbeing in the workplace can range from offering free fruit snacks, or providing healthy food options in the canteen, to  providing gyms on site or quiet places for people to think or relax. 
  • Other possibilities include workshops on nutrition, fitness and mental health, counselling, health screening and educational opportunities.
  • Showing a genuine interest in employee’s ambitions, and their problems, not to be confused with being nosey or interfering can make them feel valued.
  • Something as simple as promoting a lunch time walk can make a difference to employee wellbeing.
  • Providing coaching in personal finance including taxation, debt and pensions can be supportive in a practical way and of great benefit to employees.
  • Social events especially fitness based activities can help people connect with each other and improve their health as well.

Wellbeing initiatives in the workplace can have far reaching effects, as by promoting mental and physical health in a large scale setting where many of the workers are parents, they can positively influence the health of the next generation as well.

Small employers and sole traders need to address their own wellbeing in the workplace and take care of their mental and physical health, as they too will be more productive if they are happy and as stress free as possible, rather than running themselves ragged and jeopardising their health and their business.

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