Employee wellbeing may be the buzzword of the moment, especially in January but what does that actually mean and how can you make your commitment more than shallow soundbites? Successful employee wellbeing initiatives can bring extraordinary change to your organisation by creating a more inspired team, increase retention rates, reduce absence and generally make a more positive (and probably profit-making) business.
What is wellbeing?
The million dollar question. The answer in its broadest sense is that employee wellbeing is about making sure you have a happy, healthy and productive workforce. What that means in terms of practical, realistic and effective steps towards your ultimate goal is a real test of leadership. Often people think of programmes to promote physical health, which although is important, is only part of wellbeing as a whole. It’s important to consider mental health too. Taking responsibility for the effect on both mental and physical health that the job impacts is key to making key changes.
Listen to your employees
Before embarking on any programme to benefit your employee’s wellbeing, find out what they want. Don’t waste money on a state-of-the-art gym only to find the majority of the team have gym memberships close to home. If your office is on an industrial park just off the motorway is anyone really going to cycle? Everyone has different requirements but coming to a consensus will avoid wasting time and money and also people are more likely to participate if they feel they have been involved from the beginning of the process.
Slow death from sedentary lifestyles
We all know that desk-based workers struggle to achieve exercise goals without committing to sports outside of work. The last thing employees want is to be hassled into exercise at work but providing opportunities for physical activities is really important.
More and more companies are providing lunchtime exercise sessions – yoga or HIIT for example. You may decide to convert that meeting room that is rarely used into a micro gym. An exercise bike, a treadmill and a few weights – you don’t need much. Remember the cycle-to-work scheme that encourages workers to commute by bike.
Part of encouraging physical activity is giving people the option to take regular breaks. Don’t stigmatise someone for wanting to take a quick walk around the block. Generally breaks and exercise promote productivity.
Finally why not bring the team together by taking part in a charity fun run, a sponsored bike ride or a walk to work challenge.
Making healthy food choices easy
Lots of us really want to eat a healthy diet but end up grabbing whatever is easiest. The dedicated fast-food junkie may take some persuading and really doesn’t need their boss telling them what to eat!
If your office is surrounded by unhealthy options you may want to get in a healthy caterer once a week or more. It’s up to you if you want the company to pay for it or staff can buy their own meal. Why not make a feature of ‘meat-free Monday’ for example and get in a selection of veggie salads? It is not your responsibility to transform your employees’ eating habits but encouraging baby steps towards better health.
If you’re in a busy city centre is there an opportunity to approach a healthy cafe to provide a small discount for your employees? A few promotions, some timely vouchers may just be the encouragement needed to shift some people towards smarter food choices.
Supporting mental health
Mental health awareness is so important. Huge cultural shifts have happened, moving society towards a more knowledgable, more understanding and more tolerant view of the complexities of mental health issues. For those suffering from a mental health condition it’s important to be able to share it without stigma, if they choose. It’s still very difficult for many to give mental health as a reason for sick leave, choosing instead to lie about their health. Creating an explicitly positive mental health HR policy is a great step. Invest in training a mental health first aider to show your true commitment.
Be careful regarding the amount of stress you place on your workforce. We all expect some tight deadlines, some difficult customers and general irritations. You can’t create zero-stress environment. What you can do is learn to recognise when ‘normal’ stress is becoming unhealthy. The International Stress Management Association has some great resources for identifying stress.
Remember that you are unlikely to know how many of your team suffer from mental health issues, regardless of how close knit you feel you are. Some people have an ongoing condition and may take medication or see a therapist, some people have mild symptoms that could be exacerbated by circumstance and some people experience a trauma that results in a sudden mental health crisis. Mental health is complicated and all you can do is demonstrate your support for employees, whatever their situation.