Do you need to worry about the well-being of your staff?

The inspiration for this week’s blog is from an interview which I did last week on the BBC Three Counties Radio drive time show. The interview was all about the well-being of employees and the duty of care that employers have towards their staff. The conversation was sparked by the announcement by Easyjet that one of their pilots had been stood down from duties and was being assessed after his friends had reported concerns about his mental health and potential suicidal thoughts.

I am being approach more and more by people who want to talk to my clients about the services they offer.

Like me, they understand the power of cross selling and working with providers who target the same audience as me – the entrepreneurial business owner who employs 5 – 100 employees.

However, for me, what they have to offer has to be relevant! I am VERY protective of my clients and my database (and that has been the case for the past 13 years, not just since GDPR).

Over the past 12 months more and more ‘well-being’ practitioners have approached me. Some, I have to say are very credible and I like what they do and how they do it. Others are, quite honestly, a bit ‘woo woo’ and yes, I know, that’s not a technical term, but I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole, never mind let them loose on my staff or introduce them to my clients.

What exactly is well-being?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is ‘not merely the absence of disease or infirmity but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.’ This definition was first used in 1948, but well-being was not fully defined.

One dictionary defines well-being as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

And synonyms are provided as: welfare, health, good health, happiness, comfort, security, safety, protection, prosperity, profit, good, success, fortune, good fortune, advantage, interest, prosperousness, successfulness.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US acknowledges that there is no single definition of well-being, includes ‘the presence of positive emotions and moods, the absence of negative emotions, satisfaction with life, fulfilment and positive functioning’.  Well-being has multiple different aspects to it including:

  • Physical well-being
  • Economic well-being
  • Social well-being
  • Development and activity
  • Emotional well-being
  • Psychological well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • Engaging activities and work

The bit of the WHO’s definition which has taken on most meaning recently is that of mental well-being or as described above, emotional and psychological well-being.

Mental health was not really spoken about even 5 years ago, unless you had a named ‘medical condition’ such as schizophrenia, autism, anorexia, OCD etc. Today, everyone has mental health, it is just a question of whether it is good mental health or poor mental health. It is even accepted that people can have both good and poor mental health, depending on the circumstances – situational mental health.

Today, the concept of mindfulness is all around us. 30 years ago, I was taught to meditate, but it was not popularised or widely practiced. Today millions of people are taking up mindfulness, a form of meditation as part of their well-being journey. Apps such as Headspace and Brain FM are highly accessible and help thousands of people on their mindfulness journey. Mindfulness is a way of focussing attention on what is being experienced at a specific moment in time. It requires training and practice. It is the ability to focus on thoughts and feelings without judging them.

Well-being at work

One of the biggest challenges for businesses today is employees with poor mental health. Couple this with a healthcare system which is overstretched and far too ready to hand out fit notes signing people off with depression, anxiety and stress and the managers’ task of achieving a productive workforce is harder than ever before.

What we are increasingly seeing is under performing employees who are formally invited to attend a performance management meeting or are informally given feedback on a piece of work or a situation who then claim they are being harassed by their line manager and are then being signed off sick by their doctors. This means that managers are now so scared of saying the wrong thing, that they fail to give the appropriate feedback, poor performance is tolerated and the business suffers.

There are absolutely cases when the business owner or line manager creates a stressful working environment, but in the majority of instances, the advice doctors should be giving patients is go back to work, have a conversation with your line manager, accept the feedback and deal with the issues. Instead, they are given pieces of paper and sometimes pills. Access to talking therapy or lifestyle advice is sadly lacking as GPs just don’t have the time or the money to deal properly with these issues.

Well-being at work stems from culture and the culture is created at the top and spreads down throughout the organisation. To achieve a healthy workforce, you need to create a healthy culture and an environment in which all employees can thrive.

What is your culture of well-being?

No matter how large or small your business, there are things which can be done to create the right culture and working environment so that your staff feel valued, are productive and work is not having a negative impact on employee mental health and thus well-being.

The culture of every business is different and therefore the tools which work for your business will be different to the techniques which work in other businesses. Your goals and vision, your sector and company demographics will all impact on your culture and the need for and acceptance of well-being interventions.

The following are all areas which you could make changes to, to improve the well-being of your staff:

Working patterns – Look at rotas, starting times, finishing times, shifts and breaks. Make sure that they create the best possible environment for your staff as well as your business. Your staff will be more productive and more creative if they are working at the right times.

Flexible working – Who has access to flexible working? What types of flexible working would support your business and your staff? Part time working, working from home, working longer days and having more days off, job sharing, working outside of ‘normal’ working hours, working shifts. While parents have the right to request flexible working (and there is a proper process which must be followed), what do you do for those with older care responsibilities, or those who want to volunteer for a local club or charity, or those who just want time to make it to the gym? Does being flexible with your staff offer your customers a better service?

Team spirit – Who you hang around with matters a lot! The people you work with, that you sit next to for 8 hours a day, who you need to influence, who you need authorisation from, who you need to collaborate with will make a huge difference to the way staff feel about going to work. No one wants to ‘carry’ other people. No one enjoys covering for other people’s mistakes or picking up the pieces when the shit hits the fan. Ensuring that your staff get on, work productively together, bounce ideas off each other and add more as a team than they do as individuals is vital to creating the right culture. That ultimately comes down to a good recruitment process where you actively look for people with the right cultural ‘fit’ for your business.

Fresh air and exercise – Making sure people get fresh air during their working day is really important. Being able to get away from the shop floor, the factory machines or the desktop computer and get some fresh air and exercise is so important for both the employee and the business. Problems can become unblocked when the individual has some thinking time. Getting fresh air helps get oxygen in the body and reduces tiredness which can lead to sluggishness, lack of clarity or even accidents.

The physical environment – How much natural light is there? How much room do people have around them? Are repetitive movements well laid out to reduce the risk of injury? Has a risk assessment or occupational health assessment been done to ensure that people are able to work as efficiently and safely as possible? Has the chair been adjusted? Is the desk adjustable? Is their good access to toilets? Are the toilets gender specific or shared? What do you do about people with disabilities or people who are transgender? Is there a safe means of exit for everyone, in the event of a fire or emergency? Is there a quiet room where people can take a break, rest or even work in silence?

Communication – The way in which people communicate at work can have a huge impact on well-being. Do you have an open door policy, encouraging people to talk to you about everything and anything without being judged OR are your staff terrified of you avoiding contact at all costs? Is all your communication in one line emails, long drawn out meetings, text messages at all hours of the day and night or walking up to people and having a quick, highly focussed chat? If your tone is abrupt and rude, expect your staff to communicate in the same way, both with yourself and each other. How do you communicate to get the best from your staff and drive your business forward?

What do you do for staff who are struggling?

Knowing what to do for the best is always difficult because every employee is an individual and what is right for one, is not necessarily right for another. There is also the risk that they take offence, think you are bullying them and go off sick with stress – as above!

One of the easiest things to do is to ensure that all staff are treated the same way and have access to the same information. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) either as a stand alone service or as part of your insurance policies, make sure ALL your staff know about it and that you regularly signpost the services available. They often have counsellors, financial advisors, doctors etc. and are therefore able to cover a wide range of issues.

It may be that someone is struggling with work – identify whether it is a can’t do or a won’t do and then address the issue. If can’t do, can training be offered? If won’t do, understand why and deal with the situation collaboratively (where practical to do so).

Think about bringing in speakers or educating your staff on the importance of looking after themselves.

If people are off sick, ALWAYS do a return to work interview and ensure you fully understand the REAL reason for the absence. Keep an eye on absence trends as this is often the first indicator to a problem.

If someone is off sick a lot, seek permission to write to their doctor so you can make reasonable adjustments for them at work – you can’t deal with something unless you know what it is you are dealing with!

Communication and working together to resolve problems early on (before they become massive issues) are the key to ensuring the right culture at work This creates the right environment for a healthy, motivated and engaged workforce.  

Don’t know what your staff really think? Ask them! There are tools available, such as our engagement questionnaire, to help you really understand what your staff think and how they feel.

Well-being as a 360-degree responsibility

The well-being of your staff does not JUST sit with you. While you remain 100% responsible for the well-being of your staff, your managers and staff are also responsible for themselves and each other (and you). They live and breathe the culture you set, but they can’t abdicate responsibility. Make sure that once you have set the culture, your managers filter it down through the organisation and your staff a bought in to living it. They need to respect each other, speak to each other and support one another on the bad days as well as the good.

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