Business management

Staff well-being equals a healthy business

Ensuring a happy, healthy workforce is the responsible and ethical thing to do, improving productivity. Not only that – failing to protect employee well-being could have severe consequences.

“Well-being is a combination of several physical, mental and social factors, an interplay of all aspects of our lives and how this makes us feel,” explained senior HR business partner Edwina Redhead, who joined fellow panellists Toni Reilly, employment law and HR consultant, and health and safety business partner Clare Frost. “Employers have a vital role to play in looking after their staff’s mental health and overall well-being.”

Why should this matter to business owners?

“Investment in well-being can result in better employee resilience, improved morale and engagement,” said Reilly. “It can result in reduced sickness absence, higher performance and productivity, and a healthier, more inclusive culture. A happy workforce is good for business and your bottom line.”

But it’s crucial, she added, that business owners and managers don’t see well-being promotion as just a ‘nice’ extra or add-on. “Initiatives often fail because they stand alone, isolated from the everyday business. Well-being practices need to be embedded in the organisational culture and leadership. It’s essential that line managers lead by example in creating a culture about talking about mental health matters, ensuring they’re providing the meaningful support employees need.”

The behaviour of a line manager affects engagement and stress levels of employees. The message is to ensure your managers have the right training and tools to look after your staff’s well-being

Toni Reilly
Employment law and HR consultant, Mentor

It’s also the morally, ethically and, crucially, legally right thing to do. “All businesses have a legal duty of care to their employees,” said Reilly. “Failing to make reasonable adjustments for someone struggling with mental health problems could not just result in long sickness absence, but litigation claims and reputational damage.”

What can businesses do?

“There are many things you can do to support your employees,” said Redhead, “including appointing well-being champions and/or mental health first aiders, introducing employee assistant programmes and occupational health support.

“It’s all about getting mental health conversation going in your workplace,” she added. “How do you listen to staff and really understand what their needs are? Do you have the right channels in place, do you really understand the impact on your staff and what their needs are at the moment?”

There are specific tools available to help, including the free HSE Management Standards Workbook, available online. This, Frost explained, sets out six key management standards that companies should try to attain: demands (workload and work patterns); control (how much say do people have in work they do; support (what encouragement do you offer); relationships (positive working and the culture around what is acceptable behaviour); role (ensuring employees understand their job and how it fits in with the company); and change (how it is communicated and managed).

A policy for change

Underpinning all your initiatives should be your well-being policy, explained the panel. “It should cover both physical and mental well-being,” said Reilly, “and should begin by setting out a clear statement that commits to, and developing an environment that promotes employee health and well-being. It must be championed by senior management to ensure it’s taken seriously and that everyone is invested in making it work. In addition, it should set out the responsibilities of key stakeholders, including management, line managers and employees themselves.”

Your policy should also form an integral part of the business’s responsibility and approach to health and safety. “This isn’t ‘we’re being good to our employees by having a well-being policy’,” she said. “If employers place well-being at the centre of their business and view it as a vital source for value, the dividends will be significant. Therefore, those at the top of the business should think carefully about their well-being strategy and aligning it to their existing health and safety policies.”

Managers must be on board

“Well-being policies must have the same engagement and commitment from managers as any other part of the business’s growth and development,” said Frost. “Failure of managers to lead and understand the programme inevitably leads to staff not getting on board or having trust in it – which means your policies have to be right for your business and fit your purpose. If you don’t have the knowledge or time to fully commit, get professional support to help you implement this, to ensure it works from day one.”

And line managers in particular hold the key to the well-being of individual staff. Reilly highlighted a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey that found 75% of organisations reported ‘presenteeism’ – people working when unwell – and 70% ‘leavism’, ie employees working outside contracted hours. “It’s essential line managers protect their teams from this,” she said. “The behaviour of a line manager affects engagement levels and well-being and stress levels of employees. When someone is managed by someone who’s consistent, fair and kind and can build good relationships with employees, that can really enhance employees’ sense of well-being, as well as their desire to do a good job. The message is to ensure your managers have the right training and tools to look after your staff’s well-being.”

Take remote control

Well-being has taken on a different focus since lockdown – with employees needing to be looked after while they work from home. “Are you encouraging people to have the right breaks, getting away from their desk and screen?” said Redhead. “Look at how you communicate with them – too much or too little can increase staff anxiety. Focus on output rather than activity. Adjust goals if necessary.

“With so few things open this past year, and nowhere to go, staff have been tempted to forgo holidays,” she added, “but you need to make sure they get them. And for many managers, this will be the first time they’ve had to supervise remote teams – make sure they are properly equipped to do so.”

Engagement is everything

It’s one thing to have well-being initiatives – but you need to ensure staff engage with them. “Monitor, review and adjust as needed,” advised Frost. “Ask opinions, do anonymous surveys, measure their effectiveness with accident and sickness data, staff performance. Is your initiative working for your business?”

A committed focus on staff well-being is essential to your business and your bottom line, concluded Frost. “It’s a hugely important aspect of your future success,” she said. “It’s investing in your employees – which are the biggest asset you have.”

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