Business management

How to improve wellbeing in modern workplaces

From returning to the office to dealing with the rising cost of living, make sure you look after your employees with a joined-up approach to workplace wellbeing.

How to improve wellbeing in modern workplaces

Natalie Nelson, Technical Advice Lead at NatWest Mentor, shares her top tips on how to improve workplace wellbeing.

Workplace wellbeing is no longer a business buzzword. Far from it. In a fast-changing world, a focus on wellbeing can now make all the difference when it comes to staff retention, engagement and cutting sickness rates.

Employees increasingly value workplaces that put wellbeing at the top of the agenda too. But is it still the focus it once was? As we return to a post-pandemic normal, some businesses have started to turn their attention to other initiatives, with things like training costs and recruitment becoming more pressing.

Overall, 70% of HR professionals now believe employee wellbeing is on the agenda of senior leaders, according to the CIPD’s Health & Wellbeing at Work Report from April 2022. But that slipped from 75% in 2021. The number saying line managers have bought into wellbeing has also dropped. It’s down from 67% to 60%.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an established business leader, wellbeing matters. Read on to explore the benefits of workplace wellbeing and discover some top tips for making wellbeing an important focus in your business.

What is workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing aims to make people’s working lives healthier, happier and more balanced. It’s an employer-led approach that can benefit both staff members and the wider business. Think tailored benefits packages, mental health first-aiders and a better work-life balance and you’ll be on the right lines.

Wellbeing is made up of four key pillars – social, financial, physical and mental. And while many businesses focus on these individually, an approach that breaks down the walls between them and targets the bigger picture can be the most impactful.

An effective programme takes a holistic, joined-up view, tying all these elements together. They should interact with each other, rather than being left in silos, to have the biggest benefit to employees and the business.

Why is workplace wellbeing important?

Workplace wellbeing plays a range of important roles for both businesses and employees. They include:

  • Building resilience. Wellbeing schemes help leaders and staff adapt to a fast-moving world.
  • Boosting engagement. Employees should find it easier to buy into your brand. There’s also the potential to enhance your wider reputation.
  • Reducing absences. Easing mental and physical strain means healthier employees in the long term. It can also lead to a more productive workforce.
  • Supporting staff retention and recruitment. Wellbeing is often a key deciding factor during the job-hunting process. People don’t simply look at wages and bonuses anymore. They review the wider culture of a firm too.

What can cause issues with wellbeing programmes?

One of the most significant issues facing workplace wellbeing programmes is buy-in from senior leaders or business owners. After all, they set the tone when it comes to a company’s culture, vision and working environment.

You’ll quickly run into obstacles if those at the very top struggle to see the value in a wellbeing policy. Or if they fail to weigh up the costs against the benefits.

Often it can be the case that those in senior roles don’t fully understand the business case for wellbeing. Or they may not fully grasp what the payoff involves after all their investment.

But it’s not just about winning over those in leadership roles. You might also need to overcome a broader stigma within your organisation when it comes to social, financial, mental and physical issues. Many workers will have little or no experience of asking for support, or even see it as a taboo subject, which can make it harder to identify problems and areas of focus.

With that in mind, here are some handy tips to get senior leaders or business owners and your wider workforce on board:

  • Focus on the business case. Ensure leaders are made aware of the benefits of a holistic wellbeing programme. Explain how improved sickness rates and productivity can cut costs in the long term. And why engaged workers are less likely to leave. Or mention how wellbeing support might make your organisation more attractive to external talent.
  • Demonstrate the benefits through training. Educate leaders about what wellbeing means in practice. Explain that it’s not just a trendy buzzword, but something that can have positive, lasting consequences for people’s lives.
  • Gather employee feedback. Talk to your staff about the things that would really help them. It might be as simple as getting outside more during the day. Or not feeling the need to answer emails at weekends. Gather their thoughts and use them as hard evidence to improve your culture.
  • Remove the stigma. Great strides have been made in mental health awareness in recent years. But it’s traditionally carried a stigma. You can help end this by encouraging an open dialogue with staff. Sharing your own experiences and acting as a positive role model will also make a huge difference.

How to improve workplace wellbeing

Improving workplace wellbeing is a long-term project that should have a lasting impact for your employees. It isn’t about one-off mental health campaigns or financial gimmicks. Instead, it should follow a holistic approach that’s tailored to your company and the unique needs of your staff. Since everyone is different, a one-size-fits-all scheme just won’t cut it.

Take a look at our top 10 tips on how to improve workplace wellbeing:


1. Offer training and education

Rather than jumping in, take the time to explain the basics. Define what wellbeing is and why it’s so important. Then list the common ways to spot if something isn’t quite right. It’ll improve buy-in from managers and staff and get a constructive dialogue going.


2. Train up mental health first-aiders

As an extension of your training, it’s worth developing some specialist mental health first-aiders. Training people to spot common issues could help you see potential problems, as well as giving people the opportunity they might not have elsewhere to seek help when they need it most.


3. Provide access to employee assistance programmes

Consider how counselling, employee assistance and occupational health schemes can improve wellbeing. Giving people access to support networks can help them find the avenues they need to get back to their best.

It doesn’t have to cost the world either. There are plenty of things you can do if your budget doesn’t stretch that far. It may just be a case of signposting where employees can get help. Or ensuring they have the time and space to attend medical appointments as and when they’re required.


4. Appoint wellbeing champions

Any effective workplace wellbeing scheme should start at the top. But it should also trickle through your entire business. Appointing wellbeing champions across all levels will ensure everyone has easy access to support. They can gather employee feedback and send it up the ladder too.

Wellbeing champions can be anyone in your company. They’re simply approachable peers with their teams’ best interests at heart.

It’s a useful step in building a holistic programme, tying mental, physical, social and financial support together.


5. Signpost financial help

The cost-of-living strain has pushed financial wellbeing into the headlines in recent months. And it’s something people are more aware of than ever. Energy bills, food prices and mortgage rates have all risen. And there have been knock-on effects for mental health.

The financial support you offer doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply signpost the places where employees can access help and guidance. This could include free financial advice from the government. Charities such as Citizens Advice and high street banks can also be great places for employees to find financial support when they need it most.


6. Review your benefits package

Taking an objective look at your benefits package could also ease some of the financial pressure for workers. Think about teaming up with retailers or supermarkets to offer discounts to employees, for example.

Salary sacrifice schemes may help too. This is where people give up some monthly pay in exchange for a non-cash benefit.

Examples include the cycle-to-work initiative. Cycle-to-work allows staff to make savings on a new bike. It can have a wider impact as well, supporting physical health and the environment.


7. Tackle presenteeism

Presenteeism is a common trend in the modern workplace. It describes people who carry on working when they’re unwell or put in longer hours than they should.

The boom in home working following the pandemic has only added to the problem. That’s because managers are often unable to see when staff are struggling or spending too much time working. It ultimately blurs the boundaries between work and home life.

A few simple steps can tackle presenteeism within your business. They include:

  • Encouraging regular breaks and finishing on time.
  • Policies that ask for devices to be switched off at a certain time.
  • Sending emails during fixed working hours only.
  • Introducing specific no-email or no-meeting days.


8. Make remote working effective

It’s important to strike the right balance between home-working and connecting with colleagues. On the one hand, working remotely can save the stress of a busy commute and increase people’s family time. On the other, it can potentially lead to isolation.

Depending on your business model, it may prove useful to plan specific time for people to work together in person. That way, they can check in with each other and avoid negative feelings. Balancing regular social interaction with remote working should give you the best of both worlds.


9. Focus on fitness

Get your staff moving by making fitness fun and accessible. Fitness challenges and policies can encourage people to step away from their desks. And colleagues can easily do face-to-face or virtual meetings while out for a walk to keep their physical wellbeing heading in the right direction.

Think about how benefits packages can cover physical and mental fitness too. Subsidised gym memberships and wellness app subscriptions are just two ideas that can go a long way to boosting wellbeing.


10. Show compassion for long-term issues

Put policies in place that offer deep, meaningful help when people need it most. Bereavement, pregnancy loss and chronic health conditions are just a few of the areas where you can show compassion and offer staff additional support, whether that’s offering more time off or just helping them find the support they need.

Ensuring a smooth return to work is also vital for employees who have been through a difficult period. Think about how you can make the transition back to the office as friction-free as possible. Could it be worth offering phased returns, or letting people work remotely until they get back up to speed, for example?

Finding the right blend

Workplace wellbeing should never involve a blanket approach. Each business has different needs, working patterns and goals. So it’s all about finding the right blend for you.

But whatever benefits and support packages you put in place, always aim for a holistic, joined-up approach. That means breaking down silos between mental, physical, social and financial health. It’ll ultimately ensure you don’t leave anyone behind and get the best possible outcome for both your employees and your business.

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