While great strides have been made towards focusing on workplace health and well-being in recent years, research has shown that there is a worrying implementation gap.
Absenteeism rates can also be an indicator of how successful well-being initiatives are working. Credit: Fotolia
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The CIPD 2015 Absence Management survey, conducted in partnership with Simplyhealth, found that just 8 per cent of workplaces have a standalone health and well-being strategy.
This signals a need to view well-being as a strategic priority and a source of competitive advantage, not an ‘add-on’ or a ‘nice to have’.
Almost a third of employees (31 per cent) say they come home from work exhausted either often (24 per cent) or always (7 per cent). That’s according to the Employee Outlook Spring 2016 survey of employee views on working life by CIPD and Halogen Software, which interviewed 2,029 UK employees in February and March 2016.
The survey was not all bad news. One question asked how work makes employees feel. The good news is that of the emotions listed, employees are most likely to say that work makes them feel cheerful (24 per cent) most or all of the time as opposed to any other feeling. However, this is followed jointly by optimistic and stressed, with 18 per cent respectively saying work makes them feel this way most or all of the time.
Red flags for mental health
Response to the question of how employees feel about work may be a red flag for future mental health problems. Mental health is equally as important as physical well-being in the workplace.
Sixty-six per cent of employees surveyed described their mental health as very good (29 per cent) or good (37 per cent). Almost a quarter (24 per cent) states their mental health is moderate, with 7 per cent describing it as poor and 2 per cent describing it as very poor.
There were some key variations across different groups. Men are much more likely to say their mental health is good (70 per cent) compared with women (64 per cent). Younger employees under the age of 34 are significantly more likely than older employees to describe their mental health as poor.
Employees working in the private sector (69 per cent) are significantly more likely than employees in the voluntary (55 per cent) and public sectors (62 per cent) to say that their mental health is good.
Of course, employee well-being links intrinsically with organisational performance. Ongoing employee performance management can provide a useful check on well-being, providing a channel to support employees and mitigate issues they may be facing.
If you’re talking to employees regularly about what is and isn’t working, about how they’re doing personally and professionally, you can have a positive impact on employee well-being and organisational performance.
To that latter point, the majority of companies (70 per cent) investing in ongoing performance management practises saw revenue increase, according to Brandon Hall Group research, while 72 per cent reported improved retention, and 54 per cent saw improved customer satisfaction scores.
Organisations can take a number of proactive steps to improve health and well-being at work:
1. Switch off the always-on culture. If employees are under pressure to work lots of extra hours and to respond to emails 24/7, the stress will inevitably be too much for some. Make sure employees take all the leave days owed to them and that line managers support the need for this. Some organisations have implemented a ‘no work’ rule which forbids employees to work, even to read and respond to emails, between the hours of 10pm and 6am, for example.
2. Make work fun. This might range from providing table tennis tables and free fruit to running regular social events like Friday lunchtime barbecues. Happy employees make for a supportive positive and productive workforce.
Researchers at Warwick University found that happiness makes people around 12 per cent more productive at work – Professor Oswald says: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37 per cent, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”
3. Offer performance incentives to keep employees motivated. This need not be an expensive exercise. Low value, well-placed recognition can be just as effective as high cost bonuses.
A ‘thank you’ note or a small gift given in response to good performance as it happens rewards productivity and boosts feelings of well-being for both the person giving the reward and the person receiving it. Consider targeting incentives in a way that appeals to individual employees – a great way to assess the types of rewards and recognition your employees would like is to ask them.
4. Use regular one-on-one conversation to provide coaching and feedback. These conversations are especially important when it comes to understanding what may be getting in the way of employee productivity and engagement.
Productivity should not be confused with presenteeism – i.e. the time an employee spends at their desk working. In fact, tired and stressed employees working long hours are more likely to make mistakes or deliver poor customer service. Use one-on-one coaching conversation to discuss progress on goals, what might be getting in the way and how employees might better prioritise their time.
Equally important these kinds of check-ins provide an opportunity to gauge employee engagement and what stressors might be impacting it. Holding these conversations on a regular basis ensures both the employee and the manager are aware of productivity challenges and successes and can work collaboratively to address them.*
5. Measure the effectiveness of well-being initiatives regularly. Take the time to evaluate whether the initiatives are having the intended impact, and act on the results of your findings to improve practice.
Look for an increase in engagement, as revealed by regular employee engagement surveys. At the same time, absenteeism rates can also be an indicator of how successful well-being initiatives are working.
Questions managers can use as part of one-on-one coaching and feedback discussions to engage employees in well-ness discussions, particularly as it relates to productivity and engagement:
• What is the single most important thing we need to talk about?
• What are the pressures/issues that affect your daily work?
• What was most challenging about a recent project/experience?
• What could I start or stop doing to help you achieve your goals?
• What barriers are preventing you from achieving your goals?
• What skill gaps do you see, that if left unattended, may prevent you from reaching your goals?
• What is one thing tolerated in our organisation that should change?
The impact of diminished employee well-being on organisational performance is wide-ranging. Cambridge University researchers report that a stressful work environment has effects on employees ranging from physical symptoms such as sleep disturbances and raised blood pressure to emotional indicators such as anxiety, irritability, or even full-blown depression.
Stressed employees also may suffer intellectual impairment leading to loss of concentration and poor decision-making, and display behavioural changes such as uncharacteristic lateness and substance abuse.
None of this bodes well for an organisation’s productivity levels. It is increasingly critical to embed measures of well-being into performance management if the process is to deliver the desired improvements in productivity.
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