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The rise of workplace wellbeing: giving stressed staff some breathing space

Today, an increasing number of employers are recognising that the wellbeing of their staff is a business matter. Where possible, companies are introducing programmes that help employees deal with stress and stay emotionally resilient.

11 Jul 2019

Anyone who’s ever had financial worries knows how distracting it can be. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, that niggling concern just doesn’t seem to want to go away. And, depending on the scale of the problem, the stress of something like debt can even affect your mental and even your physical health.

But it isn’t just being in debt that can give you a financial or actual headache. Even for those who do a generally decent job of balancing the domestic books can suddenly face a potentially large expense that needs to be planned and budgeted for.

Moving into a new home, getting married or starting a family are common financial crunch-points for ordinary families to navigate. Yet many people don’t know where start to make sure they save enough in time to pay for a major life event like a wedding or a house deposit. Others worry about choosing the best option for taking their pension pot when they retire. Throw into the mix the need to go to work and concentrate on your job while you’re chewing it all over, and the impact on your stress levels can be considerable.

In fact, according to the Money Advice Service (MAS), one in five UK adults describe themselves as drowning in debt with many of these saying their mental health has deteriorated as a result1.

Wellbeing programmes

Financial stress is also bad for employers. Research by Salary Finance revealed that 40% of the UK workforce has money worries that make them more likely to have sleepless nights, troubled relationships with colleagues and be unable to finish daily tasks2. This is therefore as concerning to bosses as it is miserable for workers.

Certainly it’s no longer regarded as frivolous or a bit on the hippy side to think about the physical and emotional welfare of those who make up your workforce.

It’s relatively commonplace these days for corporate wellbeing schemes to include regular workplace activities like yoga sessions, or events including coffee mornings and workshops that tie-in with annual awareness campaigns such as Stress Awareness Month.

Wellbeing programmes don’t have to be expensive as long as they signpost staff to the rich source of reliable but free advice that’s already out there. The NHS for instance, often has free advice on its website that covers off many wellbeing themes. For time-poor and cash-strapped employers, offering a very basic wellbeing programme can sometimes be as simple as appointing someone to organise and coordinate some workplace wellbeing events and making sure the rest of your staff know about them.

We know from our own experience at Legal & General that when employers make a commitment to providing wellbeing advice like this, it proves popular with staff. But the onus is on senior managers to promote its availability.

The workplace is changing

In our world of 24-hour accessibility employees can sometimes feel under pressure to be almost permanently available for work while simultaneously juggling domestic duties and the likelihood of staff burn-out is very real. This can have very expensive consequences for employers. The same Salary Finance research that exposed the link between financial stress and sleeplessness, also found that money worries could lead to 25-35 lost productive days at work – and that’s before we calculate the costs of long-term stress-related sick leave that employers may have to absorb.

In other words, ignoring staff welfare issues because you don’t think your business has the time, resources or money to implement a wellbeing strategy, could turn out to be a very false economy indeed. A few slots in the office diary for some hour-long awareness sessions could make the difference between ensuring that your team is resilient and productive or a potential liability.

People perform better at work when they feel emotionally and physically well. Therefore, organisations that tackle topics such as managing stress and keeping fit as part of their wellbeing offer aren’t just doing their workers a favour but their businesses and themselves too.

Whether or not all companies should routinely be offering wellbeing programmes is a matter for debate. What isn’t debatable is that supporting your workforce with the stresses and strains of life isn’t going to do your business any harm. The workplace is changing and so must attitudes to staff welfare. The ‘chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out’ culture is on the way out. Companies that succeed in the future will be those who invest in their people by ensuring they respect and at least try to accommodate the challenges faced by their staff.

If we want to maximise the benefits of a diverse workforce and get the best from those we’ve appointed to deliver our companies’ objectives, then it’s time to acknowledge the realities of life for our personnel. Businesses’ corporate governance and social responsibility programmes should already be engaged in activities such as raising awareness of LGBT+ issues in their workplaces. They should also be working to remove unconscious bias in their recruitment processes that can be barriers to career progression for certain groups such as women, disabled candidates, non-white applicants or carers needing flexible working arrangements.

Wellbeing programmes can be a very important part of an organisation’s agenda on social responsibility and enlightened governance. They may also be a clincher for tomorrow’s strongest candidates when selecting a prospective employer.

In short, looking after staff looks set to be a central part of looking after business. And those companies which woo and win the most impressive talent for their workforces are likely to be those whose staff wellbeing initiatives outstrip the offerings of their rivals in an increasingly competitive arena.