Is workplace wellbeing just another buzzword?
We’ve all had to learn a new vocabulary over the past couple of years. PCRs, lateral flows, social distancing, isolating, and PPE, not to mention just how bacchanalian a work event has to become before it’s considered as a party.
But while most of these buzzwords will be consigned to the dustbin of history once the worst days of the pandemic disappear in the rear-view mirror, one concept that has gained greater traction over the last couple of years, and is here to stay, is that of wellbeing. Wellbeing encompasses a person’s physical and mental health, and their level of contentment, comfort, and fulfilment. (For a full description of What is wellbeing? see our post here.)
In recent years, employers have increasingly come to realise that they need to provide their workforce with more than just a job and a pay-cheque, they have a responsibility for their wellbeing too.
According to Pippa Andrews, Director of Corporate Business at health insurance provider Vitality, the concept of ‘workplace wellbeing’ has been placed squarely at the centre of corporate discussion due to the pandemic. “Never before has it been more important to support our employees’ health and wellbeing, given the direct and indirect impact of Covid, such as how people are dealing with the additional emotional stress and anxiety that Covid has created.”
According to a recent YouGov poll, 62% of respondents said stress and burnout at work had increased in 2021. But Professor Sir Cary Cooper, of Manchester University, points out that depression and anxiety were already the biggest source of workplace absenteeism even before the pandemic hit, with 57% of all long-term sickness absence down to stress, anxiety and depression.
Of course, many businesses will look at the economic uncertainty caused by Covid and wonder if they can afford to spend money on employee wellbeing. According to Amanda Hammond, who is the Wellbeing Leader for Fujitsu’s 6,500 UK employees, the question should be ‘can businesses afford not to?’ “Wellbeing is good for productivity. If people are feeling well at work, they’re going to be more productive.” It is a point echoed by Josh Krichefski, Global COO of MediaCom: “When you have a business that has people thriving, generally your business performs better… For people to be performing at the very best that they can, they need to be healthy. They need to be mentally healthy.”
Furthermore, as companies vie to win corporate beauty contests to attract, and keep, the best and brightest workforce, they need to show employees and potential employees that they take their welfare seriously. A striking 85% of respondents to a survey conducted by Vitality said that their employer’s attitude to health and wellbeing would be an important factor in thinking about who they work for. “The talent battle is fierce,” says Hammond. “If you’re an organisation that puts wellbeing at the top of the agenda, you’re likely to attract the key people that you want to attract.”
But accepting that wellbeing is important, and that employers have a role to play in promoting it, is one thing: Implementing the relevant programmes is quite another. Where do employers start? By fostering a culture of openness and flexibility, and normalising the conversation about mental health, says Krichefski. “If you can create a culture and a working environment where people feel totally comfortable, I think that goes a long way… Creating that sort of culture doesn’t cost money.” At Mediacom, he explains, some employees relate their own mental health experiences in company-wide emails. “Overnight, that changed the culture in the business.”
Having the right culture on its own isn’t enough, of course. Sometimes, a company’s good intentions can result in it pursuing too many initiatives, with not enough strategy. “It’s initiative overload too much of the time,” says Krichefski. “It just becomes noise. You need to be smart about what you’re going to get behind, and not waste people’s time with stuff that isn’t going to have an impact.” And measuring that impact can be problematic in the overcrowded wellbeing world. Dr Katie Tryon, Chief Engagement Officer at Vitality, says “What we’re finding is lagging behind in a lot of this is the research to suggest the efficacy of these interventions.”
Another challenge is accessing a programme that can have an impact in a world of flexible working. Dr Tryon says that digital partners can provide the solution. “Having real digital partners… can be incredibly powerful. In this hybrid world, where people aren’t going into the office every day, and accessing the gym that’s next door to their office, we need to think in a far more flexible and malleable way about how we’re supporting people in the multiple locations they’ll be working in going forward, to have a structured and organised prevention and wellbeing schedule in their lives.”
It’s important to recognise that workplace wellbeing should be for everyone, not just for those who are having difficulties at any given moment. As Hammond points out, “mental health isn’t something you just tackle when it becomes a problem… How do you make sure that your provision to support everyone’s mental health, which we all deserve to have, is actually encompassing the [whole mental health] spectrum, not just the acute end.”
These strictures and recommendations might all sound a little overwhelming to anyone looking around for initiatives to introduce in the workplace. But the good news is that the answer can be a simple one. “It’s the really small things that have made a huge difference,” says Hammond. “We introduced something called a Work Your Way hour, where we say to people “Do what you want, go away from your laptop, go for a walk, chat to a friend, but it’s an hour out of your day, in addition to your lunchbreak. The feedback for that has been amazing.”
Kate Whitelock, Head of Wellbeing at Life Insurance provider YuLife, agrees that simple can mean effective. “There’s a certain amount of base behaviours that, if we all did them on a frequent basis, would support us. But to a certain degree, we think it has to be a sweeping lifestyle change, we have to do something completely differently. We completely underestimate the power of doing some relatively simple things.”
This is where organisations like buddyboost can make all the difference. buddyboost is a proven employee wellbeing tool, using a simple challenge format to help improve wellbeing and drive employee engagement. Rather than wholesale lifestyle changes, participants just commit to doing at least 26 minutes of physical activity for 26 days in a month. They form into groups of buddies in the buddyboost app to help and motivate one another to complete the challenge. Everyone taking part from across the organisation stays in touch on their company’s private community feed, posting messages and photos, boosting engagement and fostering team spirit.
It is suitable for those working in the office or at home, and for everyone, wherever they sit on the sliding scale of physical and mental health. It is simple, and its efficacy has been academically proven. Participants register their mood after exercise, which has the added benefit of explicity reinforcing for them the mental benefits of being active. The data from thousands of participants shows that on average people get a 25% mood boost after doing their activity.
Ultimately, according to Krichefski, the aim of any wellbeing programme should be to give participants tools that they can use themselves in everyday life. “It’s not just about looking after [employees]. You don’t want to have a parent-child relationship with your people. What you want to be able to do is… give people skills and tools to be able to look after themselves and each other.”
In other words, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is at the heart of buddyboost’s approach to wellbeing. A huge number of buddyboost participants have reported that they have continued with their 26 minutes-a-day, and continue to use the app even after their challenge has finished.
In a world where a workplace wellbeing programme needs to be flexible, accessible, simple, and with proven efficacy and long-lasting results, buddyboost should be a key component in any employer’s wellbeing strategy.