13 July 2022
Why employee wellbeing is important and how leaders should think about their wellbeing strategy
Employee wellbeing is more than a touchy-feely catchphrase – it’s integral to success as businesses navigate the post-pandemic world.
Wellbeing – there’s more to do
The conversation around employee wellbeing and mental health had been growing in momentum before the pandemic. During the pandemic it accelerated as a burning issue and as we enter the post-pandemic world, it’s a conversation that no employee can afford to ignore. Employee wellbeing is vital to the survival of businesses and the growth of the economy. To make this clear in terms of numbers, poor mental health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year! Mental health difficulties are the biggest cause of employee absence in the UK. The business case is quite clear – it really does pay to invest both time and resources into employee wellbeing – helping employees to feel positive about their mental health at work.
Employers, leaders and managers must do more than just pay lip service to the issue of employee wellbeing. Employee wellbeing and mental health is more than just a tick-the-box exercise, it’s about implementing a proactive, preventative and positive approach to employee wellbeing that actually works and ultimately creates a work culture where people feel secure and cared for.
Why is employee wellbeing important?
- Employee engagement and productivity
Research has shown that when employees feel valued they are more likely to be aligned to the goals of the organisation. Engaged employees will generally stay with the organisation longer and perform at optimal level. So, what is the secret to making employees feel more valued? The answer isn’t always about salary or working conditions, it’s often the simple, powerful, yet overlooked art of making people feel that they are heard. When people feel listened to, they feel valued. When people feel listened to, it does wonders for their mental wellbeing.
- Reduced employee turnover and better retention
The power in making people feel cared for should not be underestimated by employers. People want to work in an environment where they feel safe, secure in the knowledge that their employer has got their back when it comes down to their physical and mental health. Employers that place an emphasis on employee wellbeing are more likely to develop a work culture that fosters staff loyalty and high morale. Such employers are more likely to keep people for longer and reduce the upheaval and costs associated with the recruitment and training of new employees.
- Reduced employee sick leave and absenteeism
Employees who feel their wellbeing needs are being met at work are less likely to be overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Stress and stress-related illnesses are one of the biggest causes of employee absenteeism. Healthy employees are less likely to take sick leave and if they do, are more likely to return to work in a timely and sustainable way.
- Developing a resilient workforce
The post-pandemic world has been described as a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment. In this environment of massive change and upheaval, people will have to learn new skills faster. One key skill in employees that will benefit businesses in this environment is resilience. If your people have the ability to bounce back from setbacks, failures and challenges then your business is better positioned to operate in a VUCA environment. A massive part of building employee resiliency is looking after employee wellbeing.
- Building a great reputation and attracting top talent
If your business invests in employee wellbeing as a priority, it sends a powerful, positive message about the culture of your business. It will do wonders for your reputation in the marketplace. When a business places an emphasis on employee wellbeing it communicates to both the outside world and internally that this is a place that cares about people and their long-term development. As a result, your business is much more likely to attract talented, quality employees who want to stay longer and develop their careers with you.
How can leaders implement an effective employee wellbeing strategy?
Every business is different and when it comes to implementing an effective wellbeing strategy, one size does not fit all. However, the following considerations may be helpful to keep in mind when thinking about developing your employee wellbeing strategy.
- Think about the meaning of work
The reason we work is to earn a living, but pay isn’t the only benefit we get from working. Most people spend a large proportion of their lives working. Work can provide us with a sense of meaning, purpose and achievement. Work can boost our self-esteem and satisfy many of our deeper psychological needs such as a sense of belonging and community. Work provides us with the opportunity to forge friendships and social connections and it is this wider lens that is so important to consider when thinking about developing an effective wellbeing strategy. The meaning of work is so much more than just receiving a pay cheque and leaders should think carefully about how they can further bolster the deeply human needs of meaning and connection.
- Take a holistic approach to your wellbeing strategy
When thinking about your wellbeing strategy consider all aspects of your employees’ lives that may cause stress and anxiety for them. Look beyond just problems with physical and mental health. People can experience a major blow to their wellbeing when struck by life events such as a bereavement, divorce or relationship problems, having a baby or if their children are experiencing challenges at school. Debt and financial worries are also a major cause of stress. Employers should consider a wide range of services and benefits to provide that reflect their understanding of how wellbeing is impacted by many different things that happen to us throughout our lives.
- Work towards creating a culture where employee wellbeing is a priority
How we feel about work can be greatly influenced by the work culture we operate in. A toxic work culture is likely to have a negative impact on an employee’s mental health, but a supportive, inclusive work culture can have a very positive impact on employee wellbeing. Employees who suffer from mental health challenges are much more likely to stay at work and thrive if they know they’re supported by their leaders and the company as a whole. Leaders should strive to create a culture where employee wellbeing is regarded as a priority – a culture where employees can talk openly about major life events or juggling caring responsibilities without the fear of stigma and judgement. Ultimately, creating a culture that supports employee wellbeing comes down to great communication and an open-door policy. People need to know very clearly what support is available and how to access it.
- Consider how the pandemic impacted behaviour
The Covid-19 global pandemic was a game-changing event in terms of how we approach the world of work. The great resignation was a sign that in many cases employees wanted something different from their careers – freedom, autonomy and respect. As we emerge into our post-pandemic world, many employees continue to prioritise things in terms of what they want from their careers. Where possible, leaders should offer employees flexibility in how they approach their work as many employees discovered the much better work-life balance achieved by a hybrid model of working. Another lesson from the pandemic that leaders should keep in mind is to avoid developing a culture of presenteeism – a workplace where someone feels they have to be at work even if they’re not being fully productive. This sort of work environment can negatively impact an employee’s mental health and lead to burnout and exhaustion. Leaders need to walk their talk and encourage employees to take breaks and stick to their working hours rather than staying late to get work done. The pandemic taught us many lessons and the importance of a happy work-life balance is an important one that no leader can afford to ignore.