Why a clear wellbeing strategy in the workplace is more important now than ever before.

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5 min read

I have read this type of headline over the past six months so many times that I have lost count.

Are wellbeing professionals just trying to cash in on COVID or is there real evidence that tells us, wellbeing at work really is more important now than ever?

Pre-covid times, I worked with companies delivering workshops, programmes, seminars, and leading discussions on various wellbeing related topics that effect employees across all types of industries.  Each time I was hired, I would have one clear message for the leadership teams that were responsible for employee populations and for making decisions.  That message: ticking a box and playing at wellbeing won’t make an ounce of difference to long term change in an organisation. 

You see, wellbeing tick box exercises don’t create loyalty or increase engagement and the certainly don’t make a difference to employee wellbeing long term.  Give your employees a little more credit, they aren’t daft.  They know when their employer is trying to skirt around and issue just so they are being seen to be doing the right thing and they know when their employer really cares.

We have moved from a place where workplace wellbeing used to be about health and wellbeing in a very general way to a place now where a good, solid wellbeing strategy is about so much more and needs to include focus areas like:  promoting good sleep; educating on movement and exercise; stress reduction; identifying and dealing with mental ill health; tools to promote good listening and relationship building; financial wellbeing; work and life balance; line manager and leadership objectives centred around wellbeing role modelling; office set up and shared space that promotes collaboration; family coaching; leadership development, diversity and inclusion… I could keep going.

So why is a solid workplace wellbeing strategy for employees so important now and more important than it’s ever been?

A few reasons.  Covid has played a big part in this.  Employees simply can’t go back to the office and fit back in where they left off.  Many colleagues will be suffering in some way, physically, emotionally, or psychologically.  You could say that each employee, no matter of the type of company they work for, needs a ‘return to work’ plan, just like they would be offered as a minimum by a good HR business partner if, for instance, they were returning to work after a spell of prolonged absence.

Employers need to take care of their teams.  Employees need to feel safe, supported, and nurtured as they move back to the workplace.  If you are reading this and thinking that it’s ok because your team or your company have moved to home working, then think again.  You still need to do the same thinking.  Why?  Because employees moved to home-based working with little or not notice and have been there ever since, with little change to policy or approach when it comes to employee wellbeing.

In a recent Josh Bersin (the world’s largest HR professional development network) research paper where 500 HR professionals were interviewed, it was reported that most HR professionals believe their companies have only basic wellbeing strategies in place.  In fact, most HR professionals confirm that the general focus is generally on areas like reducing absenteeism, eliminating accidents, keeping people healthy at work.  This is a far cry from the recommended longer-term view on embedding a wellbeing strategy in the DNA of an organisation to achieve a focus on wellbeing as part of an overall social sustainability programme, contributing to wellbeing and health of community, families, and society at large.

So back to the question, why is a clear wellbeing strategy in the workplace more important now than ever?  Because businesses are under more pressure now than they have been for many years to deliver more with less.  Take a moment to think about how much change has happened in your company in the last 12 months.  The level of change will impact your employees and if the next 12 months aren’t managed well, there will likely be a detrimental downstream impact that will affect company performance, productivity, employee engagement, attrition and even loyalty if not managed well.

Employees will look for an employer that puts them first.    Talented individuals that companies look to for ideas, innovation and high performance will be head hunted and lured elsewhere by better compelling employee propositions.  Employees will be looking for their jobs and careers to deliver on purpose.  Employees are already looking for deeper more meaningful work and a connection to the greater good post pandemic.

Employers will notice an increase in mental ill health related absence.  Companies will struggle to retain talent if the broader topic of employee wellbeing doesn’t become a priority, not matter the size of the organisation.  Companies will notice a decline in performance due to the diminishing good will of employees to work more hours the way they used to pre pandemic.

Modern wellbeing in the workplace is about creating a wellbeing culture.  It’s about creating an environment where individuals are attracted by an employee first strategy.  Modern workplace wellbeing is what will make the biggest difference to companies in the next five years when it comes to attracting and retaining talent whilst thriving in a post pandemic world and economy.

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