How responsible should we be for our employees' wellbeing?
We all know that we need to support the wellbeing of our employees, but how often do we pause to consider what this really means?
According to the CIPD, wellbeing at work means, ‘creating an environment that actively promotes a state of contentment, benefiting both employees and the organisation’. Ooof, ‘contentment’, now that’s a tall order. There’s got to be more to it than giving people a better benefits package, offering flexible working and dishing out more holidays (though, obviously, those things are all important).
Wellbeing is about caring genuinely and deeply about the people who work in our organisations. But, people’s needs are complex and their take on what ‘contentment’ means is wide ranging and personal. In this context, how on earth do we really ‘do’ wellbeing properly?
The desire to support our employees should be woven into the fabric of the organisation; part of its narrative and its expressed culture. Let’s drop the sewing metaphor there and state the obvious: paying lip service to the wellbeing agenda will never be good enough, it has to be natural.
The People team are, of course, responsible for getting the wellbeing conversation started. We’re likely to be the custodians of the wellbeing agenda and, let’s face it, any work we undertake will likely come out of our budget. BUT (and it’s a big but), responsibility for employee wellbeing is everyone’s business.
Employees should be at the heart of the mission and vision of the organisation. The way we work should, first and foremost, be influenced by what the majority of our employees can manage. Because what happens on the inside of an organisation will always affect the output.
We need to treat our employees with as much care and respect as we treat our customers and clients, which means that it should never be just a ‘People’ thing. When we do what we can to get wellbeing as high up the agenda as possible, the contentment of our employees will increase.
It starts at the top
Of course leaders should be looking after the wellbeing of their employees but... they are employees too. Their own wellbeing matters just as much as the people they manage. So, whilst it’s brilliant for leaders to offer pastoral care to others, the biggest shift will come when they role model behaviour that shows their team that they take their own wellbeing seriously.
Like it or not, the behaviour of our leaders sets the organisational tone. It doesn’t matter that we’ve told everyone they can leave early on a Friday if their manager habitually works till 9pm. Or, if we give everyone ‘mental health’ days but the CEO is perpetually strung out and seems to never leave the office.
Like most People pursuits, we need to educate our leaders first. Helping them to form healthier working patterns and get a better balance will give them the motivation to genuinely support their teams wellbeing better.
Don’t forget about physical health
When we think of wellbeing, we often focus on mental health. Actually, wellbeing starts with good physical health and should always form the bedrock of a wellbeing agenda. Occupational Health specialists are your allies and collaborators when it comes to creating effective, holistic wellbeing practices.
We can’t force people to start exercising more or stop slouching at their desk, but we can offer them support to make better choices when they are under our duty of care. Home and hybrid working makes this slightly harder than it has been before. Looking for opportunities to educate people on, for example, their musculoskeletal health when working at home and ensuring they have access to the right equipment to help with this, is all part of the general wellbeing picture.
No one is more accountable for individual wellbeing than, well, the individual themselves.
You could be doing great things: making people aware of the support they have access to, shouting about wellbeing from the rooftops and giving managers the permission to avoid their own burnout. But, none of it will really work unless people feel empowered to take control of their own wellbeing
It’s hard to help others’ take responsibility for themselves but listening is a good place to start. Giving people a forum to discuss what stops them from prioritising their own wellbeing, might give you the ‘in’ you need to help your wellbeing agenda have a bigger impact. Once people are aware of the barriers they are putting up, it’s far easier to start breaking them down.
Ultimately, when we create the conditions for better employee wellbeing, role model what this means and offer as much support as possible, we have done the best we can. Accountability, ultimately, sits with the individual. So, what have you done to prioritise your own wellbeing today?
‘Wellbeing at work: factsheet’, CIPD
‘Can companies actually help workers stay happy and healthy’, BBC
‘Creating a mentally healthy hybrid workplace’, Mind
‘Investing in health and wellbeing at work doesn’t just benefit individuals, it’s also good for the bottom line’, The Guardian