There is a growing understanding of the impact of stress and busy lives on our health, so it’s not surprising that leaders are looking to create workplaces that benefit the wellbeing of teams. Here Nina Fountain, founder of Transformed Teams, uncovers how leaders can shape an attractive workplace, and improve the welfare of the workforce.
Across the private and public sectors, organisations realise how much the person matters. There is a change in approach that sees an individual’s wellbeing as directly linked to performance, productivity and even profits, and that if staff ‘feel well’ the business will ‘do well’.
The Global Wellness Institute, Future of Wellness at Work report echoes this stating:
"We saw significant, diverse and positive implications when a company is perceived to care […]. We found that caring companies tackle not just tangibles like healthy food and workspaces, they address emotional, relational, organisational, intellectual and financial 'wellness' (whether it's giving workers more work flexibility or encouraging socialising and friendships).”
Care is at the very centre of workplace wellbeing. While more employers could be investing in workplace wellbeing (only 9% of the global workforce have access to workplace wellness programmes), employees expect a holistic and rounded approach. The wellness industry is on the up, and turmeric teas, Barre workouts and meditation pods are all in our vocabulary now, but a gap still exists between the accessibility of wellness and how people feel because stress and mental health problems have continued to rise.
For individuals to be in a prime state, ready to be productive and able to produce consistently high results, several factors must come together. A combination of which is unique to each person’s natural tendencies. Companies who have acknowledged employee wellness cater for a variety of needs by having a wellbeing policy which can cover anything from flexible hours and massages at your desk, through to free healthy snacks and gym passes.
A wellbeing policy is a great thing to have in your HR armoury, but if you’re only just embarking on investing in your employees’ wellbeing, an excellent place to start is flexible working. It is one tried and tested way to improve wellbeing that should be part of any broader plan. The reason it works is that it allows for greater personal control; research has demonstrated that increased personal power reduces stress and improves health outcomes. And in my experience, even a small increase in personal power can make a significant impact. It may appear marginal to an organisation or another employee, but it can be the difference between someone being able to meet their work/life commitments and feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
In essence, if we provide employees with agility, we can create a lot of flexibility around how we operate our workspaces and our work environments. The vision is to get organisations to a place where staff determine where, when and how they work, and organisations provide situations where they can come together for creativity, socialisation and innovation.
Flexible working arrangements were first introduced to create family-friendly working environments. Organisations who proudly promote their family-friendly credentials, do so not just because it sends a positive message about ethics and values, but because it makes excellent business sense.
Flexible work has helped many people to balance their caring responsibilities with work and has helped many employers enjoy the benefits of enabling someone to continue their career in their businesses.
Employees respond exceptionally well to an employer who understands that starting or supporting a family is no longer the end of their career. And with our ageing population, we have to be mindful that employees will increasingly need to balance eldercare responsibilities with their working life.
Flexible work enables a much more controlled way for a family to manage their life well. It means that partners can share responsibilities, and that is a massive mental health, physical health and child nurturing boost.
Workplace stress and mental wellbeing
The opportunity to work flexibly also enables employees to work at their optimum times. We don’t all fit into the nine-to-five mould, think of when you’re at your peak performance during the day, it might be different to others in your office. And it’s all thanks to our body clocks, working at different times of the day suit different people. Flexible work allows morning people to seize the opportunity to work in the morning.
People with psychological conditions might also benefit from flexible working so they can work with their natural rhythms or complete various interventions. Someone with bipolar disorder might take medications that can make them feel groggy in the morning. If they can work slightly later, it would benefit them and their employer.
By allowing flexibility you reduce causes of stress, and it will improve the long-term wellbeing of the workplace and help you on your journey to creating a valuable and productive culture.
Flexible-working opportunities can also help employees’ physical wellbeing, for instance where employers provide staff with morning or lunch-time exercise classes or offer more flexible hours to enable them to go to the gym or commute by bike.
Flexible working can also be a time-saver; employees with long commutes can get more hours back in their days or fit jobs in, such as medical appointments. It reduces stress as individuals no longer feel the pressure of juggling too many responsibilities within restricted parameters.
Ultimately, flexible working allows staff to balance their home and working lives in a way that suits them and will enable people to have a more balanced life which has a knock-on effect on employees’ mental and physical health, but it also has benefits for employers. The most forward-looking organisations see it as working holistically and dovetailing working lives with the way people live.