Like many business leaders, I fill my days with activity related to planning, measuring, motivating, discussing, analysing and generally thinking about our business, the people within it and where we are heading. I spend far too little time looking after myself! Over the summer, as part of a basic recognition that I need to focus more on the Wellbeing of myself and those in our community, I triggered a major focus on Wellbeing within the Vistage organisation.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, Wellbeing is "the state of being healthy, comfortable or happy". Personal wellbeing encompasses mental, physical and emotional health as well as a sense of purpose, satisfactory relationships with others, and general satisfaction with one's life.
With people spending 40-50 years of their life and more than half their waking hours at work, it makes sense to ensure they are happy and fulfilled during those hours. Not just for their own wellbeing but also for the profitability and business advantage of the company they work for.
Studies have identified several areas where a worker's performance is impaired when their wellbeing is undermined including reduced productivity, increased mistakes, and increased sickness and absenteeism. All of which can have a dramatic effect on the company's bottom line. (Every year in the UK, around 200 million working days are lost through sickness absence with 40% of that sickness being due to stress, anxiety or depression).
As Vistage Speaker, Dr Dorian Dugmore, states: "The most important aspect of your business is your people. It makes absolute common sense to try and look after them."Does your workplace add to staff stress?
Some of the common causes of stress and anxiety from the employee's viewpoint are:
- Heavy workload
- Impossibly tight deadlines
- Interpersonal conflict
- Lack of resources
- Ineffective management
- No clear job role
- Threat of redundancy
There are a number of areas that, as managers/leaders, we need to consider to ensure the wellbeing of our staff:
- Your business culture – do you reward long hours and stress on employees while undermining those who only work their contracted hours?
- Your HR procedures – are the roles and responsibilities clearly laid down? Do staff know what their roles are and who they report to? Are reviews/appraisals carried out in an atmosphere of support and growth or an atmosphere of criticism?
- Interpersonal relationships – is there workplace bullying in your organisation? Would you know about it if there was? How can you discover what's going on day-to-day with your workforce?
- Future plans for the business – change can be very stressful particularly when there's a feeling of no control. Consult with staff where you can, so they feel involved. At the same time there's no need to share your worries and concerns if that will just stress them out more.
In simple terms what threatens our wellbeing is our 21st century lifestyle and two major factors.
- Today's diet of processed food high in sugar and salt has led to overweight and obesity becoming the norm. The extra weight that many people are carrying leads to other serious health issues including diabetes, heart disease, and back and joint problems. Diabetes cases are expected to reach 5 million by 2025 – that's around 7% of the population.
- A sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise. Most of us sit all day – in the car, at our desks and in front of the television or computer in the evening (be honest, - is this you?). As a consequence we are becoming much less fit than previous generations. This leads to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.
In addition we are being expected to work for longer and work harder. The statutory retirement age has already been increased to 68 for those in their thirties today, and is likely to be raised further in the next decade or so. At the same time, as a result of the global recession, companies have flattened their management structures and cut their workforces so those who are left are having to do more with fewer people. Heavy workloads and tight deadlines are cited as major causes of stress in the workplace.
Taking all those factors into account you have employees who are physically unfit and under a great deal of stress. These people cannot work effectively for your business.What can be done by businesses to improve employee wellbeing?
Ultimately everyone's health is their own responsibility but giving your staff information about diet, exercise and healthy options can help them to make better choices and improve their health and wellbeing. You could perhaps run seminars where a nutritionist comes to speak to the workforce. You could disseminate information in an internal company bulletin. And you could arrange for your staff to have a medical examination and personal feedback from a doctor giving advice on the best future course of action for better health and wellbeing.
To eat healthily, in general we all need to:
- Reduce simple carbohydrates and sugars in our diet
- Increase fruit and vegetable consumption – aim for at least 5, preferably 10 portions each day
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated – often thirst is mistaken for hunger leading to over-eating
- Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and enjoy the experience. Slow down and savour the flavours
- Eat less red meat and more fish and vegetable proteins.
High performing companies have high performing teams by managing wellbeing in the workforce. Anything you can do to encourage your employees to take action to protect and develop their own health will pay dividends in the long run. Be interested, organise inter-departmental contests, publicly recognise and applaud activities and achievements. You could even arrange a reward system – staff could earn points for different activities or actions (e.g. walking 10000 steps in a day) and then spend the points on treats such as cinema visits or gym membership discounts.
Create opportunities for your workforce to take part in physical activities and think about their diet and health. Practical changes in the workplace as simple as changing the contents of vending machines can make a huge difference. And you could organise after work or lunchtime events such as a walk or a yoga class. Ensure there are healthy options available in the staff canteen and arrange for a delivery of fresh fruit at intervals. Perhaps set aside a "quiet room" for meditation and offer counselling for staff who are feeling stressed and anxious.
In addition, you may want to carry out a Company Wellbeing Audit by arranging health checks for the staff and carrying out staff satisfaction surveys.What results can you expect from being proactive about staff wellbeing?
Each fitter employee:
- Has a stronger immune system leading to being healthier and taking less time off sick
- Is more productive when they are at work
- Thinks more clearly due greater oxygen uptake
- Tends to be happier and more engaged with life and work
Companies that have tried this approach and are proactively encouraging health and wellbeing in their staff report massive benefits:
- Reduction in sickness absence
- Reduction in accidents at work
- Reduction in turnover of permanent staff
At the same time staff report improvements in various aspects of their lives:
- Sleep patterns
- Relationships with others
- Ability to relax
- Being happier at work
If you’re a business leader, then Wellbeing needs to be up there in the top 5 things that you’re doing to achieve success – both for yourself and for your organisation..
More from Vistage: