Get well, soon
Employee wellbeing is moving up the agenda for L&D professionals. And with good reason: engagement, creativity and productivity are all impacted when businesses make wellbeing a priority.
The subject of health and wellbeing is on our minds, as headline stats show. The yoga industry is currently valued at £74billion, while estimates by the Global Wellness Institute show the workplace wellness sector contributes $48billion to the worldwide economy.
With that in mind, here’s a look at a few areas to focus on if you want to make the workplace well, based on comments from participants in the L&D and Wellbeing Discussion Group at the Richmond L&D Forum on 20 March.
1. Empowering your Line Managers
When it comes to wellbeing, line managers matter. Lots of companies report plenty of push from upper management around health and wellbeing programmes, but very little pull from employees requesting or engaging with them.
Line managers are the vital link here. With training, they can offer guidance and encourage employees to take charge of their own wellbeing, while helping organisations walk the fine line between wellbeing as a transactional driver of productivity, and wellbeing as the right thing
for any organisation to focus on and care about.
Some organisations report that too much choice can even lead to reduced take-up of wellbeing programmes – another area where line manager guidance is useful, either helping employees navigate their options or feeding back to senior management with suggested changes.
There is a caveat: should something as complex as employee health – particularly mental health – be a line manager’s responsibility? Some organisations prefer not to get their line managers involved, for this reason; but most tend to think giving them relevant knowledge and training is helpful, and that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.
2. Asking questions
Every organisation differs, and ideas to improve wellbeing for one team wouldn’t help another one – manual workers might need different interventions to desk-based ones, for example.
With that in mind, it’s essential to ask what employees really want, and what would help them. Starting a conversation will ultimately lead to finding practical solutions.
Similarly, asking questions once wellbeing programmes are in place will make sure both employees and businesses are getting the right kind of ROI. At the moment there’s very little measurement going on in this area, so there’s an opportunity to tighten up your wellbeing offering with some well-placed questions to make sure you’re giving your people what they want, and that it’s working.
3. Changing the culture
An increasing number of organisations are embracing the concept of the mental health first-aider: a first responder who receives specialist training to support colleagues as soon as they start to experience mental health issues. The idea is to treat smaller problems immediately, to stop them becoming bigger ones.
This is part of a wider move towards creating cultures of safety in our organisations, which can boost overall wellbeing by ensuring employees feel safe and supported around any issue. This might include supporting colleagues to make lifestyle changes, or offering access to experts (internal or external) through an employee assistance programme (EAP) who can advise on anything from finance and relationships, to mental and physical health.
Cultural change can have a measurable impact on employee engagement. The British Heart Foundation’s ‘Live Well, Work Well’ campaign saw engagement rise from 67% to 70% over a single year, for example, while average staff absence fell from 7.3 to 5.3 days.
4. Understand where L&D fits in
The role of L&D professionals in promoting wellbeing is critical, but complex: they facilitate wellbeing initiatives, are conscious of organisational health, act as the conscience of the business for wellbeing; and they have a pivotal role in making sure line managers get the knowledge and skills they need in this area.
Significant cultural change requires enthusiasm from the top if employees are truly going to buy into it, so L&D can’t act alone. But with the support of senior leaders they can champion new programmes, encourage conversations around mental health and help put employee wellbeing into the heart of the workplace.
*All quotes are from workshop participants.