Icing on the Cake

Wellbeing in the Workplace

Contrary to what you may think this article isn’t about baking, nor is it about cake but rather wellbeing in the workplace. Puzzled at what this has to do with cake…read on.

It’s a sad fact that too often efforts to improve wellbeing in the workplace are icing on the cake rather than addressing the fundamentals.

Why does wellbeing in the workplace matter? We’ve got the NHS after all. Surely organisations operate in a difficult enough environment without taking on the burden of the nation’s failing health too. In an ideal world perhaps, however with the NHS at reported breaking point, long waiting lists and GP surgeries struggling to cope, there is a growing expectation, obligation and benefit to employers in looking after the health of their employees. 

Did you Know?

  • 60% of employees have experienced a mental health problem due to work or where work was a contributing factor at some point in their career (Mental Health at Work Report 2017).
  • In any one year, one in six workers is likely to be suffering from a mental health condition (NHS Digital). One in six is a high figure – think about what this means. 
  • 43% of organisations report management style among their top causes of workplace stress

There is some good news here. Wellbeing and mental health are high on the management agenda. However whilst the will is there, there is room for improvement with the CIPD 2019 Wellbeing at Work Survey reporting a lack of competence and confidence of respondents in line managers who are increasingly expected to take responsibility for their teams wellbeing. 

Behind Closed Doors

From my work as a Career, Performance and Wellbeing Coach I hear what’s behind the headlines and statistics. I hear what people don’t say to their colleagues, their friends and often their families. I hear the truth that people are often too ground down and too busy to do anything about. 

What people really do when they work with me is take off their masks. I recently did a talk at a large organisation on Wellbeing in the Workplace. My starting words were:

‘If on coming into work in the morning, in the same way as we take off our jackets or coats, we take off our masks to the world, the workplace would be a difference place’.

From my experience, stress and anxiety are widespread. Clients talk:

  • Of struggling, of being overwhelmed and of not coping 
  • Of long hours and unrealistic workload
  • Of work taking over their lives – this imbalance affecting their health, their relationships, their energy and their enthusiasm for life in general.

Very often there are tears- tears from feeling trapped; there are bills to pay, maybe mortgages to cover. 

I see some professions more than others. More often than not I find that clients haven’t fallen out of love with their job, nor with their profession but with the relentless and continuous demands and unbearable pressure. 

Icing on the Cake

Back to the icing on the cake then. If employees are continuously working long hours under pressure then wellbeing initiatives will quite frankly be icing on the cake. Free fruit and lunchtime yoga are all very nice providing the basics of workload and management support are in place.

The Ideal Cake Recipe

Here are my seven steps for organisations to build a healthy base:

  1. Strategic. Develop a clear wellbeing strategy to provide intention, focus and direction and take a holistic rather than piecemeal approach.  
  2. Specific. Find out what the key issues in your organisation are. Use sickness absence data and carry out a short wellbeing survey to tailor wellbeing offerings to specific needs. What is the word on the ground too – what are the key messages coming through from your people? 
  3. Supporters. Who is leading wellbeing? Who is championing it? Top managment and senior HR need to be actively (excuse the pun!) involved. 
  4. Support. How supportive are your culture and line management? Very often working hours and management style will vary between teams in an organisation. One of the key values in my employment with IBM was Respect for the Individual. Treat your people with respect and not simply a number.
  5. Smarter not longer. If we are really serious about wellbeing, improving efficiency and productivity are key to break the long hours and presenteeism culture. Two of the most efficient people I know check out at 5pm (they will log back on later. If essential). We can all learn from them. At the same time, we all know people who put in long hours yet whose working practices could be improved. There are many techniques for high performance – a habit of prolonged working hours not being one of them. 
  6. Snacking. Help employees to build more movement into their day by encouraging healthy snacks. How about a room with mini fitness options e.g. a mat for gently stretching, a balance board for stability and core strength, a skipping rope for short burst of cardio. Yes this would mean allowing more fitness friendly clothes in the workplace (for non-client contact days).  A suggestion I read about which I especially liked was plank meetings. The person speaking holds plank for the duration of the time they talk (others can choose a more gentle stretch). There is no doubt this would lead to short focused meetings! Such short speaking slots might sound impractical however at the public speaking club I attend, a timed 2 min speaking slot is the norm with a red card being shown for time breakers. 
  7. Self-care. Help employees to build their own personal recipe of what makes and keeps them feeling good. Make it easy for them to make time for their healthy recipe for example by providing showers at work, allowing flexible working hours so they can go to the gym at quieter times and –  providing strong foundations are in place – even free veg crudites, yoga and workshops to share tips and best practice in improving health, happiness and productivity. 

Until now company efforts on wellbeing have generally been to gain competitive edge. It’s true that in general millennials do not live to work, they want to lead a more balanced life and they take looking after their health seriously. Organisations are therefore finding that in addition to helping them be an employer of choice, looking after their employees health makes good business and moral sense.

A final note to mention here is that in her book The 5 Regrets of the Dying by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, no one said they wished they had worked harder. 

With a background in corporate consultancy and coaching, if you would like to chat with me about how to achieve a win win for your organisation and employees by introducing a wellbeing programme for a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, get in touch here now. 

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