Health and wellbeing at work

Joanne InghamIn the increasingly competitive and difficult business climate in which companies operate, the need for strategies to improve the health and resilience of employees has become all the more important. Declining morale can lead to decreased productivity, increased sick leave and apathy towards customer service.

Compound this with the evolving nature of work, including the shift from manufacturing to a service and knowledge led industry, requiring increased emotional involvement from employees and resulting in high levels of “job related burnout”

Illness caused by workplace stress continues to dominate newspaper headlines and doctors waiting rooms. According to statistics from the Health & Safety executive 1 in 5 people in Great Britain are suffering from high levels of stress. Estimates from the Labour Force Survey indicate that self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for an estimated 13.5 million lost working days in Britain in 2007/08, and costs employers nearly £26 billion each year. That is equivalent to £1,035 for every employee in the UK workforce.

Accordingly there is a growing body of evidence to support the notion that “a happy worker is a more productive worker.” Positive employee mental health/well-being including the prevention of stress, are now recognised as significant determinants of performance and success in the workplace. In her review of the health of Britain’s working age population, National Director for Health and Work, Dame Carol Black, cited research to confirm that a focus on employee wellbeing can add value to organisations. The research showed that organisations that had promoted the health and engagement of employees benefited from increases in productivity and profitability.

Clearly it’s in all our interests to take forward strategies to support our employees and improve opportunities for good emotional and physical health in the workplace.

So what employers can do to promote wellbeing at work?

Employers of any size can take action to support their employees improve their wellbeing.. Here are some straight forward ideas suggested by Business in the Community in their Emotional Resilience Toolkit.

1. Foster a sense of community.
Encourage colleagues to connect with others by organising social events inside/outside of work, eating together in communal break areas, community volunteering, sports activities etc.

2. Get your people moving
Provide opportunities for physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. Encourage colleagues to walk, cycle to work, use stairs instead of lifts, engage in team sports or other group activities.

3. Nurture sensitivity in the environment
Ensure that colleagues have opportunities to take regular breaks, leave their desks, go for walks or find ways of varying the rhythms of their daily routines.

4. Promote learning and development
Provide opportunities for colleagues to develop and apply new skills, take new responsibilities or challenges, or pursue new interests, whether it takes the form of learning on an existing job, a secondment into a new role, formal training or courses.

5. Encourage generosity at work
Promote respect for others, regardless of their formal status in the organization. Encourage managers to say “please” and “thank you” and publicly recognize the efforts and achievements of their colleagues. Support contributions to the local community by allowing time off for volunteering or providing other resources to community groups

Joanne Ingham is a lecturer in business and management at Myerscough College and founder of LifeBooster.