Surviving is the reality for a lot of employees who ‘put up and shut up’ in return for the stability of a living wage; yet some companies are turning things around and ensuring that emotional and physical wellbeing is a priority with Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), robust work-life balance policies and initiatives in place to reduce stress, absence and mental health issues.
The dangers of ignoring employee wellbeing
In toxic workplace cultures, where presenteeism is applauded, professionals often distrust one another with incidences of workplace bullying, ill-health and high stress levels resulting in spiralling levels of absence and lower productivity.
The cost to businesses with this employee fallout can be very readily felt and can also be damaging to employer brand. The Employer Branding Insights 2019 whitepaper from Wonderful Workplaces shows that 68% of jobseekers said ‘a better work-life balance’ would make them consider applying for a vacancy even if they’re not actively looking for a new job. This demonstrates how important a favourable reputation is and the importance that candidates now put on workplaces being a positive environment.
Listening to and supporting employees
Having an open dialogue with employees is the best place to start. Many companies use employee wellbeing surveys to gather data on how their employees feel. This can be achieved whatever the size of the company or sector and offers a useable benchmark from which to assess current and future progress.
Statistics tell us that one in four people will suffer from a mental health issue. Mind, the charity for better mental health, publishes its annual Workplace Wellbeing Index Awards and celebrates those organisations that normalise conversations about mental health whilst embedding support. The 2017 and 2018 winner was the Environment Agency. Its Healthy Minds programme and staff-led network, Healthy Minds, is an awareness-raising and training programme for both individuals and line managers that teaches people how to spot the signs of emotional distress as well as how to access support. Its employee-led mental health network is entirely run by staff, for staff.
Similarly, many of the bigger firms now have EAPs in place that help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being. Occupational health facilities, together with on-site gyms and exercise programmes, can also support physical wellbeing and promote a healthier lifestyle.
Normalising work/life balance
Millennials and increasingly older professionals are demanding an improved balance between work and their personal lives. Many businesses have removed the taboo from home or remote working for professionals that need to strike a balance between domestic responsibilities by cutting their commute whilst ensuring their productivity is at an optimum level.
Businesses that achieve this champion their policies from the top down with senior leaders ‘walking the talk’ by demonstrating to junior colleagues that a work/life balance can be achieved by stamping out presenteeism. Policies like working from home can also help maternity returners find their feet as they ease their way back into working life after having a baby.
Employers are caretakers of professionals’ careers and programmes need to be put in place to ensure that workers play a part in their own development. Rewards programmes, both financial and other, are instrumental in assisting this.
It is also important that employees buy into the values of the business and this can often be achieved with corporate social responsibility initiatives and other fulfilment exercises including opportunities for employees to do good works for related charities or community efforts.
For many employees, working for a business that pays more than lip-service to their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing, is a key factor in how aligned they feel to the organisation and in turn the successes they have whilst working there and for the company. With absenteeism and stress being a huge cost to businesses it is an issue that cannot be ignored.
National Work Life Week (7-11 October 2019), is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance.
Annie Hayes is a specialist HR, skills, careers and L&D writer with 19 years experience in the sector.