It’s hard to believe there was once an age when employee wellbeing was not top of the priority list for businesses: Human Resource Management Assignment, TCD, Ireland

It’s hard to believe there was once an age when employee wellbeing was not top of the priority list for businesses.  Health and well-being in the workplace is now crucial to business success. It is widely recognised that the workplace itself has a huge effect on people’s health and overall well-being. When people are happy in their work, they tend to be more productive.

On the contrary when people find work a negative environment, they become agitated and stressed which has an impact on their health and results in lower performance levels. Organisations that embrace wellbeing and foster a culture that promotes a healthy lifestyle whilst encompassing all other aspects of wellbeing can help prevent stress, create positive working environments where both the individual and the organisation can thrive.

The World Health Organisation define wellness as being a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.  Put simply wellbeing is feeling good about yourself whist functioning well in your daily routine that is life. We all juggle lots of demands and challenges and taking care of our health and wellbeing is essential if we are to be at our best for work, for colleagues and for our family and friends.

Wellbeing is of fundamental importance and its critical that we all take time to create healthy structures around our work and home life. Organisations today are realising the importance of employee wellbeing and are moving towards an employee focused model whereby employee’s wellbeing is at the centre of everything they do. Given people spend the majority of their lives in a working environment it is incumbent on employers to create a positive wellbeing culture that’s inclusive of all employee’s needs.

Most organisations today value the importance of a wellbeing culture and can see the benefits that are reaped by engaging with this. Not only by positively engaging in wellbeing are absentee levels diminishing but in what can only be described as a war for talent these initiatives play a vital role in attracting top talent to organisations and retaining key staff. The additional benefits of improved performance and productivity coupled with building a great employer branch has put wellbeing to the forefront of most HR divisions across the globe.

Wellbeing of course must be viewed holistically, and most organisations today set out a plan that looks at numerous factors. When devising a workplace wellbeing programme there are several critical elements that should be addressed rather than looking at wellbeing in isolation. The CIPD identify seven domains of employee wellbeing as follows: (CIPD, 2022)

Health- within this sphere when developing a well-being programme an organization needs to address such issues as physical health, mental health and physical safety
Good Work- this should look at working environments, line management support, work demands, change management, and pay and reward
Values and Principles- issues that should be addressed here are leadership, ethical standards and inclusion and diversity
Social- within this remit an organisation should look at listening to the employee’s voice and creating positive relationships
Personal Growth- This area delves into career development, emotional reactors, lifelong learning, and creativity
Good Lifestyle Choices- This area needs to put a spotlight on physical activity and healthy eating
Financial Wellbeing- Another important element that an organisation needs to consider is Retirement planning, fair pay and benefit policies and employee financial support

Bu devising a programme that covers all these aspects an organisation is showing clear commitment and intent to their employees. The importance of this approach cannot be understated. This is beautifully illustrated on the you tube clip ‘Trusting Teams’ (Anon., n.d.). In this clip the narrator speaks of Noah who works for two different organisations.

Since the onset of the pandemic employees have become more aware of their worth and there has been a massive shift in mindset. They are clear about their own needs and wants. If their current employer doesn’t meet their criteria, then employees will find someone else who will. Employees now more so than ever realise the fragility of life and as such they are seeking a job that can coexist alongside their personal life.

Workers are changing their definition of success and they are now prioritising their work life balance, mental health and having a meaningful job over the old thought process of a regular pay packet. Research from mental health charity (MIND.ORG, n.d.)showed that the FTSE 100 companies that prioritise wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%. Forbes business council member Tom Gibby also looks at Wellbeing in the workplace where he reiterates the absolute requirement in his opinion to place wellbeing at the top of every organisation goal if they want to be successful.

He mentions the importance of recruitment and the culture around this stage of a career journey. He makes a valid argument that by signposting what is on offer and by devising and living by a strong set of values you will likely find that candidates applying will want to work for you and will fit well into the organisation.

He believes that employees want trust, flexibility, and acknowledgement from employers that sometimes its ok for personal life to take priority even during a workday. The only way he feels this can be achieved is from top-down leadership and embracing an empathetic leadership style (TOM GIBBY, 2022).

This ethos is echoed on the you tube clip ‘Trusting Teams’ where the narrator talks about Noah. Noah has two jobs one that he loves and the other he doesn’t like. When asked what the difference was it was all down to line manager and being part of a trusted team.

Benefits of promoting a wellbeing culture within an organisation are increasingly acknowledged as:

Staff feel appreciated, engaged, and motivated
Staff feel physically and mentally fit
Work productivity and performance increases
Ability to retain and attract top talent
Increase in staff morale
Sickness absences decrease

These benefits have been identified in several companies and he CIPD look at numerous case studies on wellbeing. (CIPD, 2022) One is Eli Lilly, a high-tech pharmaceutical company based in Kinsale Co Cork employing over 1000 people directly and a further 500 plus indirectly.

At Eli Lilly, they pride themselves in the respect they show towards their people. They are committed to the wellbeing of all people involved within the company and recently have embarked in developing an overhaul of their workplace wellbeing programme. They have undertaken several steps to gain employee buy in and have rolled out a programme that as such has been created by the overall workforce which has resulted in some very positive outcomes.

Their wellbeing programme is based on 4 main pillars known as ‘Live Safe, Live Fit, Live Healthy and Live well’. They have embraced annual wellbeing events and they have analysed data from the employee assistance programme to highlight areas of concern that they focus on. Inevitability they encountered several challenges such as identifying and communicating the need to develop a wellbeing programme as well as trying to organise events for such a large diverse employee base. By engaging with all staff and having all teams involved these challenges were overcome and the positive effects that resulted were very evident.

The absence levels decreased, employee’s fitness centre became a hive of activity and overall staff morale amongst the teams was vastly improved. In addition to this the company cited the programme as being one of the main drivers for attracting top talent and retaining critical people within the organisation in an industry that is struggling to find ambitious, well qualified and driven people.

A recent survey undertaken by AON has revealed that ‘Work life’ balance is the top wellbeing concern for Irish employers. (AON, 2021)The survey undertaken in May 2021 titled ‘Global Wellbeing Survey’ carried out by IPSOS highlighted the top wellbeing risks impacting company performance. The results are very interesting detailing that 70% of employers in Ireland identified work-life balance as the top wellbeing risk, 66% identified mental health as a concern, 45% the current working environment and 39% employee burnout.

It is comforting to see from this survey that Ireland is in fact ahead of its European and global peers in this space with 96% of businesses in the country having at least 1 employee wellbeing initiative in place. The survey goes on to explore the benefits of improving employee wellbeing, in fact the survey states that an improvement of as little as 4% in an employee wellbeing programme has seen a 1% increase in company profits and a 1% decrease in employee turnover.

47% of businesses that took part in this survey reported that attracting and retaining talent as one of the critical factors impacting their businesses. The data within this survey further reinforces the importance for all and the mutual benefits that can be leveraged when a comprehensive wellbeing programme is implemented and embraced.

Further survey conducted by CIPD ‘HR Practices in Ireland 2021’ again supports the significant role that wellbeing is now playing within organisations culture. (CIPD, 2021) Within this survey there are several indicators suggesting that organisations are proactively engaging employees on wellbeing.

Three in five respondents reported that employee wellbeing was increasingly part of the senior management agenda which is very welcome news however it also identified that more support needs to be given to line managers in relation to rolling out these wellbeing initiates.

It was clear within the survey that line management require additional training and skills to bring these programmes to life and ensure that they don’t become a mere tick box exercise. The survey went on to detail the benefits again of these programmes with 43% of organisations that took part reporting decreases in absence levels, and this was even more prolific in the public sector at 59%.

The government too has acknowledged the importance of wellbeing in the workplace and has introduced the ‘Framework for Healthy Workplaces in Ireland’. This is an effort to support and grow the ideal of better health and wellbeing in workplaces. Within the framework there are several principles set out which include (government, 2022):

Sustainable culture change- this looks at ensuring there is a long-term vision in mind when embedding new policies and practices on wellbeing
Safety First- Ensure that workplaces follow basic Health and Safety guidelines and keep staff safe as a main priority
No Health without mental health- Recognise that mental health is core to overall health and wellbeing and remind oneself of this in any decision making
Engage and Empower-Involve the workforce in creating and being part of a sustainable healthy workplace
Integrated ways of working need to be implemented
Proportionate Universalism- Here the organisation should focus on these individuals that have higher incidence of ill health and invest in their wellbeing with the long-term view of making strides to improve their wellbeing
Evidence led- use the best available evidence before you implement any change

As we have seen massive changes in how people work, in particular on the back of the Covid 19 Global pandemic many employers are now moving to fully remote working or embracing a hybrid type model in an effort to meet both the organisational needs and that of its employees. The pandemic certainly shifted people’s priorities.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022 (MICROSOFT, 2022) looked at a cohort of 31,000 workers across a range of 31 countries and found that 52% were more likely to value health and wellbeing over work than they were pre pandemic. A further 47% cited that they would put family and personal life ahead of work. At a national level NUIG undertook a study of 8400 employees on their current experiences of remote working.

The results are quite telling. Prior to the pandemic 58% of the respondents had never worked remotely. The pandemic fast tracked remote working at a level that is unprecedented and likely not to be seen again. 76% of respondents in the NUIG survey stated that remote working made their jobs easier whilst a whopping 96% went on to say it made their lives easier and allowed for a sustainable work-life balance.

Participants in this study were very clear that these benefits are something they would be now unwilling to give up and indeed one third of them said they would change jobs if their remote working preferences were not facilitated. Within the survey participants detail the top three benefits of remote working as no traffic or no commute followed by reduced costs of going to work and finally greater flexibility as to how they manage the working day.

They were also asked within the survey for the top three disadvantages as they see it to working remotely. These included not being able to switch off from work, harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers and poor physical workspace.(deirdre frost, 2022)

In Ireland it appears that organisations are very much receptive to the hybrid models, flexible working and remote working patterns and they recognise the rationale for adopting this approach. IBEC research has found that 62% of organisations confirmed that they would engage in a hybrid model in some form.

Organisations are looking at all of this data and realising that in order to attract and retain the best people they need to be open to this and the once salary package that would have been on offer is no longer sufficient. People are craving flexibility in the fast-paced society we all now live in.

Organisations must also be cognisant of the challenges that the remote working environment poses. Issues such as reduced visibility affecting remote workers career development and the often times feeling of loneliness and isolation can have widespread impact across employees. Indeed the CIPD HR Practices Survey 2021 found that remote working is increasing the challenges around supporting employee wellbeing by almost 75% of respondents (CIPD, 2021).

However previous concerns that remote working has a negative impact on productivity have been allayed as overall responses within this survey suggest that productivity actually increased 48% and a further 21% stated that there was little or no change.

In April 2021 The Workplace Relations Commission published its Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect. The code defines an employee’s right to disengage from work related activities outside of contracted working hours. It has three main features:

The right of the employee not to engage in work outside of normal business hours
The right to not be penalised for refusing to attend to work items outside of normal business hours
The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect

This code has ensured that clear boundaries are set between work and personal lives enabling a balanced and mutually beneficial working relationship for both the employer and the employee.

Where an issue arises within this area an employee can take a case to the Workplace Relations Commission. Whilst this code has yet to be formally legalised discussions and consultations are underway to sign this into law. Refreshingly it appears that the government and the heads of state are now also embracing the importance of individual wellbeing within the workplace and working towards legislating around it.

Looking forward there are a number of trends that organisations will need to stay close to if they are to remain relevant in the wellbeing space.  Based on Heka’s Wellbeing Trends Report (Anon., 2022) these are the top trends to consider for healthier, happier workforce:

Financial Wellbeing- given the current climate of high inflation and soring living costs employees are looking towards their leaders for support and education on how best to manage their finances. Close Brothers Asset Management survey(CLOSE BROTHERS, 2019) in 2019 highlights that 77% of employees identified money worries as impacting their working lives. Organisations need to take a broad look at this area and see how they can best support their workforce; many organisations are now looking at education funding and
Female Health-in the workplace each and every employee must be educated on female health. There is a need for all colleagues to educated on topics such as menopause, periods, sexual health and pregnancy
Holistic Wellbeing-Organisations must view wellbeing as more than just a ‘tick box’ exercise. They need to engage in holistic wellbeing and offer treatments such as yoga, mindfulness, diet and nutrition and focus on mind, body and soul.
Personalised experience and incentives- Given that the majority of organisations have a diverse workforce employers must recognise that no one size fits all. This approach simply will not cut it. Employers must personalise their employee experience and adapt the wellbeing offering to suit the audience.
The End of Burnout Culture- Employers are already beginning to realise that a healthier lifestyle and focus on wellbeing can prevent burnout and that a move to this culture and values will have much longer-term benefits than the old adage of being overworked
Digital Wellbeing- Employers will have to ensure that they continually take on board feedback from employees to ensure that the use of technology is kept to what is required and not excessive and screen time is limited to acceptable levels

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