How Tokenistic Wellbeing Is Killing Your Bottom Line


How Tokenistic Wellbeing Is Killing Your Bottom Line

(And What You Can Do About It)

We all know the drill – it’s World Mental Health Day so management has put some cookies in the staff room… Hooray! Your crippling anxiety and existential dread are now fully cured by the provision of a sweet treat to nibble on… But if you’re still feeling stressed then join the staff pizza party! Well done for all your hard work but implementing an effective wellbeing program seems too costly so have some Dominos instead (other pizza brands are available)…

It seems that some companies are all too keen to shirk their wellbeing responsibilities whilst pretending they are not.

Tokenistic approaches to staff well-being have become all too common, in a pathetic attempt to adhere to government regulations. These stipulate all businesses with three or more employees must provide wellbeing support for staff.

But what are the consequences and more importantly, what can be done to address the problem?

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing seems to be a modern-day buzzword.

But it needs to be discussed. The world is facing something of a mental health crisis, the effects of which threaten to be far greater than those of Covid. The statistics are alarming.

According to The Mental Health Foundation:

  • 1/3 of men and 4/10 women admitted to experiencing high levels of anxiety
  • 1/10 adults will experience depression during their lifetime
  • 1/6 adults have been diagnosed with a common mental health disorder
  • Mixed anxiety and depression have been attributed to causing one-fifth of all absence days in Britain

These statistics not only highlight the scale of the problem but also support the idea that it is in the best interests of a company to do something effective to help manage it.

After all, sick days cost businesses huge amounts, not only in lost wages but also in a drop in productivity as other team members are required to pick up the work of their absent colleagues.

Alarmingly, the stats for mental health issues amongst teens and young adults are higher – showing that this is not an issue which will be going away any time soon.

So what can companies do to help with the issue?

One thing is certain. They should stop tokenistic wellbeing at work:

  • Tokenism – the aforementioned pizza parties, sweet treats or meaningless reminders to seek help
  • Treating staff like commodities and their wellbeing as an inconvenience by doing the absolute bare minimum
  • Offering ‘relaxation spaces’ that staff are too overworked to use – that foosball table and beanbag chillout zone, anyone?
  • Offering wellbeing activities which staff would undertake outside of work (and would probably prefer to).

Is something better than nothing?

“At least we offer something!” I hear a million mid-managers scream!

Well, such poor attempts at wellbeing end up being more damaging to your bottom line and not just through the losses related to absenteeism.

There’s been a ton of research into the issue. An effective wellbeing programme can help in the following ways:

  • Reduces sick days for both mental and physical health reasons (the two are inherently linked, after all)
  • Improves staff retention (simultaneously reducing the costs associated with recruitment)
  • Increases productivity and positively impacts efficiency (leaving management more time to do the important tasks and less time micro-managing)

Overall, an effective wellbeing program has a massive positive impact on the bottom line of a business.

Don’t take my word for it though:

  • Companies that create a positive employee experience are 21% more profitable and enjoy 37% higher sales than their competitors
  • FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing out-perform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%
  • When choosing between products of equal price and quality, 65% of consumers prefer to buy from brands that treat their employees well
  • Companies with an effective wellbeing program have a 37% lower staff turnover
  • An effective wellbeing program will have a 3-5x ROI
  • 1/10 people said they would take a PAY CUT in exchange for a better wellbeing program at work.

With all of this in mind, it is clear that an effective wellbeing program is not only beneficial to employees but also for employers. This information also highlights that any investment in said programs will be returned many times over!

So, what does an effective wellbeing program look like and what should it do?

“It’s important to note that a large contributor to staff wellbeing is not through implementing costly programs or outside intervention but rather through fostering a positive working environment!”

  • 1. Ensure your staff have a good work/life balance.

People need time to rest and recuperate. Sure, there may be busy periods where people have to go above and beyond but these should be recognised and balanced with times when employees are able to see their loved ones.

  • 2. Staff recognition – which works two ways.

The first is recognising the good work your staff do and celebrating it appropriately and genuinely. To do this you need to know your staff – some people may like to be applauded in front of the team, others may prefer a quiet word of praise. It’s up to your management team to get to know their staff well enough to decide how to do this effectively. But when done properly it can have a massive impact on wellbeing and motivation!

The flip side of this is recognising when your team members are overwhelmed – this could be due to a myriad of factors both internal to the business and external. Do they need a bit of support and guidance? Could you allow them to be more flexible to care for a sick relative?

The key here is treating employees as people and fostering a culture of care and support.

  • 3. Ensure your team feels valued.

It sounds simple but is often completely overlooked. If they don’t feel valued, they are unlikely to let you know – they will simply ‘silent quit’ their role and spend their break times on Reed looking for a new opportunity…

One of the key components to building a strong team and boosting wellbeing is through social capital, which essentially means ensuring that each member of the team feels like they are a part of just that, a team. Making sure they feel supported and that they have strong social bonds with their colleagues is key to this.

  • 4. Give your team a sense of autonomy.

Do they feel they have the scope to make decisions? Do they feel trusted? How varied is the work they are doing? If needed, could they step in for a colleague and take on their responsibilities even if only for a day? If they can answer in the affirmative to all of these questions the likelihood is that they will be a happy and productive member of your workforce.

  • 5. Give growth opportunities.

Finally, let’s talk about growth. Growth is one of the higher needs on Maslow’s hierarchy and as such for someone to be truly happy they need to feel as though they are learning and growing as an individual. What opportunities does your company offer for people to develop, both personally and professionally? If you struggle to think of any then this needs addressing as a priority!

Now, it’s all well and good to talk about what a happy workplace looks like, but how to implement all of this?

  • 1. The most important and effective way is through modelling.

This goes right the way from the top to the bottom. Owners, Directors, VPs and managers all set the tone of a company and dictate the culture. If your top team aren’t embodying these ideas then they will never be able to filter down.

  • 2. Get out on the shop floor!

All too often the top team in a company hide away behind their desks, only venturing out for board meetings or to issue edicts from on high. Encourage everyone to get to know everyone else. This is the easiest way to build team spirit and affect a familial atmosphere in the workplace.

  • 3. Introduce a coaching culture.

Invest in some team or group coaching to help employees feel that they are valued and growing but most importantly independent and invested

  • 4. Choose team-building activities carefully.

These need to be experiences which not only foster bonding but also avoid any toxic elements of competitiveness or division. Think cookery class rather than food fight…

  • 5. Offer wellbeing activities which give the chance for people to grow and learn new skills.

Rather than offering an exercise class offer self-defence sessions which provide a progression. Rather than a one-off mindfulness session, offer mindfulness coaching over a period of months.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do it sooner rather than later as it is becoming clear that you cannot afford not to.

Written by David Corbishley –

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