By Paul Barrett, Head of Wellbeing at Bank Workers Charity
More and more businesses are recognising the importance of employee wellbeing and it’s great to see. In my role as Head of Wellbeing at Bank Workers Charity (BWC) my work involves keeping abreast of the latest developments in this field. One that I am particularly pleased to see is a growing recognition that if you want to improve employee wellbeing at work you need to take account of the full range of factors that influence it, and the reality is that many of these originate outside the workplace.
When people struggle with significant personal difficulties, whether it’s in their relationships, because of financial difficulties or following bereavement, it has an adverse impact on their wellbeing and this doesn’t stop just because they come into work. As businesses begin to fashion wellbeing programmes, this awareness is now helping shape their content. What we’re now seeing is forward thinking businesses taking a more holistic, ‘whole person’ view of wellbeing, that takes account of the impact of these personal concerns on the workplace.
Ten years ago it would have been unusual to find businesses providing advice and guidance to improve employees’ financial literacy, but now it’s an increasingly common feature in organisational wellbeing programmes. Why? Because financial problems have been shown to be strongly associated with mental health problems like anxiety and depression, two of the most common reasons for long term sickness absence. Research by Barclays found that the ramifications of employees’ financial difficulties cost a business 4% of productivity, so there’s every incentive to put support in place. There is of course also a convergence of interest in the availability of such programmes with both the employee and the business benefiting from their uptake.
What I’m particularly pleased about is that an intervention like this is also preventative. Historically, wellbeing programmes have been excellent in reactive ways. I’m pleased to see that this is changing as there are more instances of businesses taking a holistic view but also recognising that prevention can be better than cure. Below are a few more examples of innovative approaches to wellbeing that are operating at the holistic end of the spectrum.
Mental health training for line managers
Attitudes towards mental health are starting to change for the better, with many organisations making mental health policies a strategic priority. However, what I see missing from all but a few organisational approaches, is enabling line managers to respond more appropriately when employees experience mental health problems. Line managers don’t need to be experts in mental health, but they do require good skills and a basic understanding of mental health conditions. So the introduction of skills-based line manager training can equip them to deal with mental health issues in ways that employees experience as both positive and supportive.
I was surprised to learn that 25% of the UK population suffer some form of sleep disorder. Sleep deprivation is associated with debilitating conditions such as stroke, cancer and obesity but can also result in significant reduction in cognitive capacity, affecting judgement, creative thinking and ability to concentrate, all of which can have a serious impact at work. A BUPA survey found that workers deprived of sleep cost the UK economy an estimated £1.6bn a year, (that’s £280 for each worker). As businesses digest the impact of this, some are providing effective sleep training as part of their wellbeing programmes, whilst others like Google have introduced nap rooms.
Supporting working carers
Right now in the UK, there are over three million carers combining work with caring responsibilities; more than two million of whom work full-time. Many carers really struggle in managing the often conflicting demands of caring and work responsibilities and each year the strain of doing so results in many deciding to leave work. Building a carers strategy that encourages flexible approaches to work is becoming a more familiar feature of the wellbeing landscape. It can be the starting point for putting in place the kind of long-term support that reduces the strain on carers and sidesteps their need to make a painful choice between these two equally important areas of their lives.
Some of these programmes are closer than others to becoming a day-to-day reality in UK business but they’re all signs of a change in the direction of travel. This is a measure I’m convinced, of our increasingly sophisticated understanding of the drivers of employee wellbeing.
Paul regularly writes for BWC’s workplace wellbeing blog, Wellbeing Pulse, that delivers the latest in thinking, research and techniques across the four pillars of workplace wellbeing: mental, physical, social and financial.