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Emma Yearwood

Sodexo Engage

Director of HR

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The evolution of workplace wellbeing

Moving past employee benefits towards a culture of ‘conscious wellbeing’.
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It’s hard to believe there was once an age where employee wellbeing was not top of the priority list for businesses. Historically, a benefits package that included health insurance and an employee assistance programme was thought to be enough to look after employee wellbeing. Nowadays, we know that employee wellbeing requires so much more, and if not addressed, it could have a hugely negative impact on a business. Our recent report found that last year, the average worker lost 14.6% of their working hours to absence and presenteeism, representing a loss of 38 days per employee per year.

Employers should work together with their team to create the right culture, where employee wellbeing is at the core and work to not only deliver on individual purpose and development, but for the business as well.

This further cements the fact that businesses must put employee health at top of the agenda. Furthermore it shows us that the investment in initiatives to help manage wellbeing are well worth making with recent findings demonstrating that every £1 spent offers a return on investment of £5.

The tide has turned, and for many organisations, it is understood that a safe and supportive culture, where teams are encouraged to take care of themselves and to ask for help when they need it, creates a more positive and productive working environment. When people feel less stressed and more in control, it helps them feel more relaxed, resilient and able to deal with the inevitable pressures of working life. It goes without saying that employers have an indispensable role to play in this, especially right now.

The five pillars of wellbeing

Part of the shift in workplace wellbeing programmes and support is due to the evolution in our understanding of the importance of good health and the impact of this. There’s also a wider appreciation of the fact that wellbeing isn’t just limited to physical health. Many employers realise that wellbeing is about keeping ourselves in balance and energised by the work we do, the people we spend time with, and the way we live our lives.

For employers to properly understand wellbeing at work, there are five pillars of wellbeing that must be considered

  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Digital

Using these pillars as a guide, it’s possible to build a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. If one area isn’t properly supported, then a person’s welfare can be dramatically affected which has a huge impact on their performance and organisational wellbeing as a whole.

The impact of Covid-19

It’s impossible to talk about wellbeing without addressing the elephant in the room: coronavirus. There is no organisation in the UK that has not had to implement some form of change since the start of the current crisis, with many businesses making the move to a completely remote workforce.

One impact of this shift to working from home is the increasingly blurred boundaries between professional and personal life. Research from the University of Kent and the University of Birmingham found that two thirds of employees struggle to cope with this.

Another key impact is the rise of presenteeism. While working from home, many employees are simply making a commute to the living room, making it harder for them to step back and take the time they need to look after themselves. Alongside this, the economic impact of the pandemic, means that many employees may feel the need to log on to work every day, even when sick, as worries about losing their job creep in. The cost of this is huge with pre-coronavirus research estimating that presenteeism costs the UK economy £15.1 billion every year.

With the latest government advice asking those who can to work from home for the foreseeable future, businesses need to find new ways to engage their employees and quickly rethink how they can support their wellbeing from afar.

Conscious wellbeing

Once offices reopen, wellbeing is more than likely to be front of mind for many employers. This is an opportunity to go way beyond the immediate demands for health and safety and take a progressive approach, shifting towards ‘conscious wellbeing’. Employers should work together with their team to create the right culture, where employee wellbeing is at the core and work to not only deliver on individual purpose and development, but for the business as well.

A huge element of helping conscious wellbeing to thrive is trust. Leaders need to trust their employees to make the right decisions for their own wellbeing and to inform them of how those decisions can be supported, while employees need to know that management will listen and take these requests on board.

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While we have come a long way, there is still room to evolve and grow. Wellbeing is no longer the plaster we put over a burned-out employee, but rather fostering a culture that prevents it. Having a happy and healthy workforce is a powerful part of a company’s culture. Getting it right allows everyone to make the right decisions and build a healthier, more balanced, and productive workplace where employees feel supported and happy in their roles.

Interested in this topic? Download the full report here.

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Emma Yearwood

Director of HR

Read more from Emma Yearwood
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