Wellbeing in the Workplace: Cheap, Cheerful & Crucial

There is a falsehood residing in the minds of many senior executives, one that leads them to believe that building a workplace where wellbeing is prominent is both an expensive and time consuming process.

I set out to bust this myth during a recent class session on the Masters in Talent Development & Human Resources with IE School of Human Sciences and Technology, where I teach this very topic. We, as a collective, set about exploring not only the component parts of personal wellbeing but also how those are applicable to organisational wellbeing as well.

The work of the Happy City Initiative in Bristol beautifully established the components of personal wellbeing as:

http://www.happycity.org.uk

Let’s take 2 of those components, Place & Social Relationships, and examine what is currently evident within modern organisations.

PLACE: both the physical and non-physical space that we occupy as part of our working day significantly impact our performance and productivity levels.

Organisations already invest in the physical workspace, as well as, health and safety features. Creating and maintaining a fresh workspace that is both welcoming and safe for their staff is a basic expectation from all.

The non-physical space refers to emotional/cognitive space we occupy as part of our day. Organisations already have embedded decision-making processes and an organisational culture. Time, energy and resources have already been invested in developing these elements but are they now reflective of the changing nature and dynamics of the working environment? Are decision making processes inclusive, dynamic and transparent? Is your culture a positive one with clear values and a purpose?

In other words, as an organisation you are already investing in both the physical and non-physical space the question is are you getting the ROI you should be getting?

SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS: they provide the social fabric of the organisation. The formal and informal approaches and structures present within organisations are critical to the development of strong social bonds and relationships that enhance individual and collective resilience, adaptability and creativity.

Organisations already invest in formal approaches such as: team building workshops; training courses; and CSR days. On the other hand, informal events occur on a daily basis at coffee/lunch time, along with events such as celebrating birthday/Christmas parties.

However, is enough been done? and is the value of both the formal and informal approaches and structures understood by the organisations leadership? Small cost effective steps can be taken to reinforces social relationships such as internal chat platforms, mentorship programs, and employee recognition programs.

CONCLUSION

It is clearly evident that organisations are already investing in the wellbeing of their staff either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, the very notion that to ensure the continued wellbeing of your staff or indeed to introduce wellbeing in your workplace is expensive is a fallacy. Many of the key ingredients are already there, they just are not being used effectively.

Refining your understanding and focus with regards to wellbeing in the workplace is cheaper than not doing so, a cheerful and happy workplace directly impacts engagement levels and productivity, while building a positive workplace is crucial for recruitment and retention rates.

Guest contributor: Declan Noone, Co-Founder Serrano 99 Management Consulting and Positive & Mindful Leader Magazine

www.positivemindfulleader.com

World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day takes place annually on September 10th. The aim of this day, which is organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), is to raise awareness worldwide that suicide is preventable.

Thousands of lives are lost to and are left devastated by suicide every year, but the IASP are aiming to show that this does not have to be the case. There are many ways that you can get involved this year, both inside and outside of the workplace, in order to promote understanding about suicide, and to support those affected by suicide.

Cycle Around the Globe

An initiative called Cycle Around the Globe is being organised by the IASP, as part of World Suicide Prevention Day, to raise awareness of the risks of suicide and to raise money for suicide prevention activities. The aim is to collectively cycle around the globe (40,075 km), between the 1st and 17th September, and to raise vital funds for the IASP while doing so. The cycling can be done by anyone and in any place – more information on the challenge and to register can be found here. This is a challenge that could be made office-wide and could be undertaken by colleagues together – in terms of racking up the km on the bike, raising funds, and generally spreading awareness of the cause around the organisation.

Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Mental health first aid is the help offered to a person who is developing mental health difficulties until appropriate professional treatment is received. Both individuals and organisations can receive Mental Health First Aid training – the workplace training teaches managers, supervisors, and individuals how to assist a co-worker who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. Engaging in such training in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day will contribute to an organisation’s wellness culture, will help staff to feel valued and supported, and will contribute to improved relationships between managers and employees. More information can be found here.

Other Fundraising and Supporting Options

Small steps can make a big difference, especially in the workplace. Why not organise a bake sale, a book sale, a coffee morning, a talent show, or a silent auction, and donate any funds raised to charities working towards suicide prevention. A list of organisations working on suicide reduction in your local area can be found on the Samaritans website – for example, a list of the organisations in Ireland can be found here.

Other activities which can be done in the workplace to support this cause include: holding workshops and seminars in suicide and depression awareness; organising a memorial service or event to remember those who have died by suicide; amending organisational policies to ensure that adequate mental health support is provided to colleagues; or providing workplace education emphasising the factors which contribute to good mental health, such as physical activity, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep. A comprehensive list of activities provided by the IASP which can be undertaken to support World Suicide Prevention Day can be found here.

Sources

http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/wspd/en/

https://www.iasp.info/wspd/pdf/2018/2018_wspd_suggested_activities.pdf

https://iasp.info/wspd2018/cycle-around-the-globe/

https://www.mhfaireland.ie/workplace

 

Guest Author: Dr Jennifer Fennel, Counselling Psychologist

 

Combating presenteeism in the workplace

Presenteeism is the phenomenon of employees coming into work when they are sick or injured, instead of staying at home. It has also been termed “sickness presence”, and it is thought that workers in ill-health are likely to be ineffective and unproductive, which can result in increased financial costs and stress-related absenteeism in the long run – it is estimated that presenteeism costs the UK economy up to £15.1 billion annually.

Therefore, addressing presenteeism in the workplace is something that should be taken seriously. There is some preliminary but promising evidence that workplace health promotion may be effective in improving presenteeism. By promoting a healthy workplace, and by being conscious of the factors that may contribute to presenteeism, organisations can target this phenomenon, enhance productivity, and improve overall employee well-being in the workplace.

Organisational policies

Certain organisational policies may play a role in presenteeism. Policies regarding sick leave, sick pay, and attendance may lead to employees feeling like they cannot be absent from work. In particular, a lack of paid sick leave and disciplinary “trigger points” with regards to absent episodes are thought to foster presenteeism. It is important that employers review such policies to ensure that sickness presence is not encouraged over legitimate sick leave.

Job design

Job design features may also stimulate presenteeism. Employees in high-demand jobs may wish to maintain high levels of performance and may therefore engage in presenteeism when they are unwell. Job demands include the physical, cognitive, and social features of a role that require sustained physical and psychological effort – it is therefore imperative that the demands of a job are not so high that an employee feels under pressure to meet all of these demands, even when they are unwell.

Ease of replacement is another feature which impacts on presenteeism – if employees feel that sick leave will result in their work piling up, this will also trigger presenteeism. Reasons why other employees may not be able to assist with sick colleagues’ workloads include lean staffing, high specialisation, and a lack of cross-training. Furthermore, employees may be inclined to be present when they are unwell if they feel that it is unfair for colleagues to have to take on more work. All of these features influence whether or not an individual engages in presenteeism, and so management should provide opportunities for cross-training and should encourage communication among all staff regarding what is considered fair and reasonable with regards to the replacement of work.

Presenteeism cultures

Some studies have found that presenteeism cultures may contribute to sickness presence. In certain organisations, employees can experience presenteeism pressures, particularly when there exists “competitive presenteeism” cultures. Such cultures can demand long work hours, the foregoing of recuperation time after business trips, and working while sick. Management should ensure that competitive presenteeism is not encouraged.

Individual risk factors

It is also important to consider the individual factors which may put individuals at greater risk of presenteeism. It is thought that potential risk factors include a poor diet, a lack of exercise, high stress, certain health conditions, and poor relations with peers and management. It is therefore important that employers address these factors, by encouraging healthy food options, activity in the workplace, and open communication with all staff, as well as by educating employees on the importance of looking after their personal health and their workplace relationships.

Measuring presenteeism

Organisations face a challenge when it comes to actually measuring presenteeism, as there is currently no universal agreement on the most appropriate method for measuring the concept. However, several self-report measures have been developed, which may prove useful for organisations. These instruments require employees answering various questions with regards to the degree to which they believe that health issues hinder them in performing the tasks required of their roles. Examples of some of these measures which could be incorporated include the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ), Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI), and the Stanford Presenteeism Scale (SPS).

A positive work environment

It is thought that creating a positive work environment can help to reduce health risks and improve productivity in the workplace. While being aware of the organisational and individual factors which may contribute to presenteeism is important, it is just as vital to encourage a healthy and positive work environment, to defend against sickness presence. Workplace health promotion can have a variety of benefits for employers and employees alike, such as increased satisfaction and productivity, improved morale, reduced costs and turnover, and improved company profile. Some examples of workplace health promotion activities include:

  • Measures to improve the working environment, such as assessments and audits on manual handling, display screens, and stress
  • Organisational policies that encourage a work-life balance and that discourage sickness presence
  • Education for employees on health-related topics such as exercise, healthy eating, alcohol, smoking, stress, heart disease, and cancer
  • Health screenings for employees
  • Providing free or subsidised healthy food options
  • Encouraging employees to engage in physical activity throughout the day, e.g. during their lunch break
  • Providing health insurance and GP visits

Guest Author, Jennifer Fennell, Counseling Psychologist

Sources:

https://www.robertsoncooper.com/blog/entry/five-ways-to-reduce-presenteeism-in-the-workplace

https://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2013/11000/Health_Risk_Factors_Associated_With_Presenteeism.10.aspx

https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-11-395

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/job.630

Linking financial difficulty and mental health at work

A recent research project by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, sponsored by SalaryFinance, sets out the case for employers to provide practical support to employees experiencing financial difficulty, and how this could boost the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of their workforce.

The analysis found a clear link between financial difficulties and poor mental health. Not only do 45% of UK employees report at least one sign of poor mental health, but those with money worries are 50% more likely to report signs of poor mental health that affect their performance at work.

The research found that even less intense financial strain can have an impact on both wellbeing and productivity. 41% of employees who identified themselves as financially comfortable reported at least one sign of poor mental health. However, this number rises to 51% for those just about managing and to 67% for people in financial difficulty.

This is perhaps not surprising when considering the fragile financial situation of a large proportion of the UK workforce. Nearly 17 million working age people across the UK have savings of less than £100, meaning that something as simple as an unexpected repair bill can create a significant issue. Those with lower credit scores will often pay higher interest rates, exacerbating the issue and triggering a cycle of problem debt.

The consequences on an individual’s ability to work caused by financial worries include struggling to concentrate, losing sleep, feeling additional pressure and reduced motivation.

The results highlight a two-way street between concerns about money and mental health, suggesting action to improve financial resilience and alleviate problem debts could play an important role in preventing mental health problems in Britain’s workplaces.

The report suggests actions that employers can take to alleviate these issues for their employees:

  • Boost short term savings: Access to savings of just £1,000 could protect half a million households from problem debt.
  • Support access to affordable credit: Over half of the research participants suggested that the provision of affordable credit products through payroll would have helped them.
  • Foster financial capability: Access to financial tools and apps can help people manage their money more successfully.

The full research report – Overstretched, overdrawn, underserved – can be found at: www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/financialwellbeingatwork/

Creating an environment for open discussion.

It’s a topic that most will avoid, especially in the context of work however, there is a reason mental health or more accurately, mental ill health is increasingly the subject of advertising campaigns, literature, and medical conferences the world over. According to the WHO, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. In Ireland, the HSE has identified that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will seek treatment for depression at some point and, in the UK more than 21% of people surveyed had called in sick to avoid work due to feelings of stress. With over 32 million people employed in the UK and Ireland, these numbers reflect a staggering portion of the workforce.

Similarly, the economic cost of work-related stress and anxiety is a common theme in business media. Pick up a copy of any business or HR publication and it’s hard not to read about the cost of our busy work lives and the need for employee wellbeing programmes. There is a need, employee mental and physical health should be top of the priority list for HR professionals.

There are an increasing number of technologies available to support/improve the mental and physical health of employees. Everything from recognition software, to movement trackers all have measurable impact and are supported by ample research and literature. No doubt this is a key contributing factor to the rapid growth of the employee wellbeing industry. It’s reassuring to think that employers are acting in a responsible way towards the health and wellbeing of their employees. However, when we consider that 59 per cent of employees surveyed in the Republic of Ireland felt uncomfortable talking to their manager about their mental health and 14 per cent in the UK had resigned as a result of workplace stress, how effective can these programs really be?

Although mental health problems are generally treatable, the global stigma associated with depression and anxiety significantly reduces the likelihood of patients seeking help, and therefore receiving treatment. Findings from a UK ‘Time to Change’ survey showed that over 40 per cent of employees find it hard to talk to or open-up about their mental health to anyone.  The research also showed that 32 per cent of employees felt they were ‘treated differently’ by their line manager (after returning to work) following absence related to mental ill health. Even more concerning, 20 per cent of survey participants also felt their fellow colleagues’ attitudes towards them had changed!

It’s admirable to see corporate trail blazers implementing employee wellbeing programs and HR hero’s raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, but this progressive attitude isn’t seen on every corner of the high street. It’s most often “Great Place to Work” winners such as Propellernet in the UK or Global Enterprises like Google who will take progressive steps, allocate sufficient budget, and often appoint a dedicated employee engagement specialist, to ensure the success of programs. Most businesses however either don’t have the budget to allocate or (much worse), don’t believe allocating the budget will improve their bottom-line.

No matter the size of your company or how progressive the corporate culture, there are certain steps every HR team can take to raise awareness of metal health in work and reduce the stigma.

1.      Mental health training for managers: Just like having people certified in first aid it is equally important to educate managers about mental health. Training suitable people to notice the signals or symptoms that someone may demonstrate if they are going through a tough time can make all the difference to aiding recovery. Equally important is teaching team leaders/managers how to deal with issues as they arise and how to respond in a crisis. Get an expert in for a training day so people can ask questions.

2.      Educate your employees: A reoccurring theme I have found is that employees don’t know the “protocol” in work if they do experience a mental health problem. Make sure your team know who they can turn to, if you have an EAP, encourage the use of this service. Often managers worry that if employees are using the company EAP it’s a bad thing when in-fact it’s very positive. It means your staff know where to turn in time of personal crisis!

3.      Support a mental health charity: There are countless charities out there doing great work to raise awareness of mental health problems, offering bereavement counselling to families of suicide victims, educating youths – the list goes on and on. Choose one to support this year and get the company involved in at least two fundraising activities. You can participate in an event as a team, like the Darkness into Light run, collect on behalf of your charity around your local town or plan your own event. Whatever it is, use the occasions as an opportunity to work with the charity and talk about mental health.

4.      Get on board with World Mental Health week: WMHW is great opportunity to talk about mental health in the workplace. Choose a different topic every day; ‘eating for a happy mind’ or “mindfulness masterclass”. Whatever it is, encourage your team to talk openly and ask questions. If you have the budget, invite a guest speak. Celebrity advocates or medical professionals such as Dr Ian Gargan are a great way to create some hype.

5.      Technology as an intervention – eHealth is a growing industry and its application in mental health education is gaining great momentum. Create a directory to help your employees access information more easily. Include any apps your company provide – POWR or Sleepio, and a list of useful websites and resources. If you’re not currently offering an employee wellbeing app then try to include consumer apps which are free of charge.

Reducing stigma is about educating people and creating an environment of disclosure. There are countless tools and services you can offer to support mental health in work and at home, but the most important thing is to get people talking. So, whether you invest in; a mental health app, workshops, or host a fundraising event, always create as much buzz as possible to keep people talking long after the fact.

Author: Sara Glynn, Marketing Manager, Wrkit