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haw-week-badgeHealth and wellbeing in the workplace is steadily rising up the business agenda as more employers recognise the benefits of introducing workplace health and wellness policies. The CIPD defines wellbeing in the workplace as ‘creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation’.

Studies have shown that healthy, motivated, and engaged employees create a productive and high performing workforce. Conversely, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) flags employee absence due to illness as a major business issue and a key indicator of how well an organisation is managed. Work-related ill health accounts for 28 million working days lost every year in Great Britain. The biggest cause is stress and related mental health issues, according to the HSE. HR and business leaders can play a vital role in helping employees manage stress and remove barriers to productivity that could negatively impact employee wellbeing.

Impact of work-related stress

The HR department at the University of Cambridge collated a list of examples of the impact of work-related stress on the organisation3. Where stress is not controlled and the individual and organisation suffer, there are many physical, emotional, and behavioural side effects such as:
• Sleep disturbances
• Headaches
• Anxiety
• Irritability
• Depression
• Loss of concentration
• Poor decision-making
• Substance abuse

The effects on the organisation as a result of stressed employees, according to Cambridge University’s research, includes: high absenteeism; increased staff turnover; poor time keeping; low performance; low morale; lack of motivation and productivity.

Personalised approach to wellbeing

Employee wellbeing should be closely aligned with a talent management strategy that takes any available opportunity to manage and observe employee performance all year long. The recent trend in managing employee performance on an ongoing basis provides the perfect opportunity to identify and mitigate potential stressors because of the frequent interaction between managers and employees.

There are a number of effective techniques that will help HR or line managers get the best from these interactions. One technique is to schedule regular one-to-one meetings, a dedicated time for managers and employees to have regular conversations with employees. These regular discussions, in contrast with annual appraisals, are a good way to ‘check in’ with employees to see how they’re doing. They are an opportunity for leaders to get employees talking about what is and isn’t working – for the organisation and for the employee.

Open ended questions are better than those that invite simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Managers should ask the question and wait for a reply – don’t be tempted to fill a lull in the conversation. Potential questions include:

• What barriers are preventing you from achieving your goals?
• What skill gaps may prevent you from reaching your goals?
• What are the issues that affect your daily work?
• What do you enjoy least about your job?

Allow the employee to suggest ways to address barriers and find solutions. Ask how you as a
leader can help and then put together a plan of action. Here are some additional tips to help keep employee wellbeing top of mind in the workplace:

• Incorporate flexibility into workplace culture. Allow employees to work from home and focus more on the results an employee achieves rather than where they work or how long it takes them to complete the work. A productive employee might leave the office early every day, but still completes projects on time and meets deliverables.

• Allow enough downtime. Against the backdrop of an ‘always-on’ culture, employees often fail to take holidays – or managers prevent them from doing so. Tell employees to take a vacation and/or mandate certain ‘no work hours’ such as between 10pm and 6am.

• Provide fun ways for employees to let off steam. Showing your employees that you appreciate them and inviting them to partake in some workplace fun will help keep morale high and performance levels elevated. Some organisations provide table sports such as table tennis or table football. Tap into seasonal fun – recognise your team’s accomplishments with an outdoor picnic in summer or hold a decorating competition over the Holiday season.

• Keep employees motivated and engaged with performance-based incentives. It’s not necessary for incentives to be financial. In fact, they don’t have to cost your organisation very much at all. Consider giving an employee an afternoon off in recognition for accomplishing a particularly challenging stretch goal. Say, “Thanks for a job well done,” with a fruit basket, gift card, or even a handwritten note recognising the employee’s strong performance.

• Measure the results of your wellbeing initiatives. Productivity cannot be measured by how much time
an employee spends working. In fact, working fewer hours can result in greater productivity. At Menlo Innovations, offices are dark and locked by 6pm4. Employees aren’t allowed to work from home. “Tired programmers start putting in lots of bugs,” says chief executive, Rich Sheridan. He says that the cost of software glitches can exceed the benefits of overtime. Engagement surveys should reveal an increase in engagement and decreased absenteeism rates should indicate how effective your wellbeing initiatives are.

Prioritising the wellbeing of employees as part of your ongoing performance management strategy can help employees and their managers alleviate workplace stress. Regular check-ins with an employee can help better manage sources of stress that could become overwhelming.

Additionally, ongoing performance management improves engagement as employees feel listened to and are able to review organisational and personal goals with their manager regularly. This means that engaged employees are healthy employees, and healthy workers make for a productive workplace.

References
1 CIPD Report http://www.cipd.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/DCCE94D7-781A-485A-A702-6DAAB5EA7B27/0/whthapwbwrk.pdf
2 Health and Safety Executive http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/misc743.pdf
3 http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/hr/policy/stress/effects.html
4 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-10-08/the-best-startup-perk-a-40-hour-week