By Clare E. Kenny, Employee Wellbeing Specialist
Working through a global pandemic has bumped employee wellbeing up the business agenda. By being forced to abandon the office-based, 9-5 business model we’ve learned that actually, there’s scope to offer employees much more balanced and healthy ways of working – now and in the future. We’ve also learned to listen more to the needs of our employees – the past year has brought into sharp focus the fact that burnout can happen so easily when we’re juggling work life alongside all the unexpected curveballs life can throw our way.
Which is why now is the right time to put in place a robust employee wellbeing strategy. By investing in the health and wellbeing of your staff, not only do you pave the way for a more productive, motivated and engaged workforce, you invite the opportunity to boost your bottom line and drive sustainable, long-term business growth.
Out with the old
Wellbeing strategies themselves are nothing new and traditional wellbeing models might have offered relatively ‘standard’ employee benefits, such as access to gym memberships or enhanced healthcare plans. What events of the past 12 months have taught us is businesses have an opportunity to adopt a much more holistic approach to staff welfare by offering benefits that can have a positive impact on their life overall – such as flexible working and increased mental health support.
Why flexibility pays off
With the end of lockdown now in sight, many business leaders will be thinking about how to phase a return to office life. But whether you plan to reopen your office space or not, now is the time to consider the value of embedding a clearly articulated flexi-work policy into your organisational culture.
Offering a more flexible working approach allows employees to free up time for activities that help keep their wellbeing in check, such as exercise or counselling, so they are likely to be healthier, happier and work more sustainably. By minimising the number of days staff have to spend in the office, you also cut back on commute time, which can have a huge impact on both physical and mental health and reduce sickness.
If you empower employees to set their own work patterns and control their personal workloads, they can work when they are naturally more productive, energised and the least distracted. Employees who are well-rested are also more likely to do their job well. Stress or fatigue can lead to avoidable mistakes, which can be costly and damaging to a company’s reputation. By creating cultures and processes that support employees and their work-life balance you’ll also attract a bigger and more diverse pool of talent – appealing to more to candidates than your less-flexible competitors.
Research has shown a direct link between offering flexibility and increased employee engagement, which in turn boosts morale, productivity and retention. A survey of 250 UK businesses by recruitment agency Ten2Two found 83% in favour of flexible working because of the benefits it offered, including the ability to retain valuable employees and boost wellbeing and job satisfaction. The past 12 months will have given nearly every organisation the opportunity to explore these benefits even further.
By having more engaged employees, you’re likely to increase longevity of service, which not only means a more stable and secure workforce, it also offers greater continuity for clients and the ability to retain knowledge and experience within your company. And let’s not forget the cost-savings associated with the need to hire less frequently – from recruitment fees to the reduced loss of productivity while a new person gets up to speed.
Finally, it’s worth considering that if pay rises or bonuses are out of the question in the current economic climate, offering flexible hours could provide a welcome alternative this year. A survey run by Investors in People showed that a third of people would take flexible working arrangements over a pay rise.
Leaders lead change
Rapid changes in workplace culture over the past year have impacted on the mental health and wellbeing of employees across all sectors, with an increasing number now actively seeking emotional support from their employers. All of which means an increasing number of businesses are, in turn, focused on how they can improve in this area.
Fortunately, there are many proactive steps employers can take – from training leaders and managers so that they’re able to spot and deal with wellbeing issues, to investing in platforms and comms strategies that encourage more open dialogue around mental health and promote more open, inclusive and supportive workplace environments.
Businesses should look to build mental health support into their leadership culture. Meaningful change occurs when leaders engage with, understand and support staff and create a culture of transparency around subjects that, pre-pandemic, may have felt off-limits.
The disruptions caused by the pandemic have given way to much more open and honest conversations around the struggles we all feel at times to maintain wellbeing and work-life balance. Smart businesses are the ones taking this unprecedented opportunity to strengthen their mental health support offerings and lay the foundations for a future of happier, healthier employees.
The true cost of wellbeing
It’s worth at this point considering the true cost of not looking after your staff. For example, how much money does your organisation lose to absenteeism? According to health insurer Vitality’s annual Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, it cost British businesses and the economy an estimated £91.9bn in 2019, a more than £10bn increase on the previous year. Studies have also shown that a proactive approach to wellbeing and preventative healthcare can lead to a reduction in absences. By opening up conversations around wellbeing and mental health with employees, you increase the opportunity to spot and resolve issues before they have an impact on your business. This in turn has the potential to lower your company’s healthcare costs by reducing the number of claims against healthcare providers.
If the positive long-term benefits of a proactive wellbeing strategy alone aren’t enough to convince you, take a closer look at direct savings to your organisation. A systematic review by the CPSTF found that for every dollar invested in health intervention, employers recouped between $1.40 and $4.60 in avoided medical costs and loss in productivity. This suggests that typically, a company will save more on productivity loss and medical costs than they would spend on a wellbeing programme. So not only does it benefit employees, company culture and productivity, it could also positively affect your bottom line. When you weigh up the pros and cons, the question shouldn’t be whether you can afford to implement a wellbeing programme – but rather can you afford not to?
Clare E. Kenny is an experienced change management and employee wellbeing specialist, and an expert on the issues affecting leadership, management and workplace culture today. Clare works with organisations of all sizes, helping them to develop and embed wellbeing strategies that lead to happier, healthier and more productive workforces. Prior to founding her own business, Clare led a 40-strong team as head of client operations at the global leadership strategy firm, YSC.