In recent years, wellbeing has become an increasing priority for many businesses across the UK and globally as well. However, even as employers start to see the benefits of staff wellbeing, it is still far too common to disregard wellbeing strategies as unrelated to productivity. These attitudes can stem from various issues, from a simple lack of understanding on how best to incorporate wellbeing into the workplace, to a skepticism of the financial benefits that these programmes can have.
Wellness programmes will never be a one-size-fits-all solution for every business, and knowing how to implement them is not always easy. However, it is important to at least explore the options that are available, and to understand the effects that improved mental and physical wellbeing can have on productivity.
Productivity decreasing in the UK
Since the financial crash in 2008, falling productivity has become an increasing issue for businesses all over the country, with 93% of London based SME businesses alone reporting it as a problem. While companies are implementing various solutions to improve the lot of workers, private medical insurance provider AXA PPP reports that 8 out of 10 SMEs in the UK have no standalone wellbeing strategy, and even businesses that have turned to wellness programmes for improvements rely on one-off initiatives, as opposed to an ongoing strategy.
For some businesses, it’s not a lack of interest that prevents them from implementing appropriate wellness strategies, but simply a lack of knowledge or experience. This is especially true of small businesses that do not have their own HR departments, and which, due to the day-to-day running of the business, may not have time to investigate the options available to them.
Though employers face various challenges when attempting to implement adequate wellbeing programmes, sometimes knowing what their staff need can be the trickiest hurdle to overcome. Not every business needs to rush out and buy a nap pod or build a yoga studio in the office. By implementing simple, yet ongoing changes to the work environment, it is possible to support and maintain good mental and physical wellbeing, and see a significant improvement in productivity and performance.
Whether it is taking work home at the end of the day or simply working two jobs out of necessity, the workplace affects today’s workforce more than ever before. The pressures of the digital age, rising rents and less secure jobs have exacerbated mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression, the number of people suffering from which has risen from a quarter to a third over the past five years.
The impact this has had on workplace productivity has not been limited to the UK. It is estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion every year. The UK governments own Thriving at Work review has shown that for every £1 spent on mental health at work, there is a return of up to £9.
Although serious mental health concerns in the workplace should be dealt with by professionals trained to deal with sensitive issues, business owners themselves have many simple and cost effective tools at their disposal.
Mental health awareness
There has been an increase in the number of organisations providing mental health first aid training for their staff, along with bespoke stress management and mental health awareness activities designed to reduce the stigma around Mental Health.
Companies such as Forster Communications have created their own mental health strategies, such as providing resilience training on managing stress in the workplace, as well as providing mental health awareness workshops and a counselling service. According to the company, this has fostered an environment of support and openness regarding mental health that has helped its staff members to thrive in the workplace.
Although much has been done towards mental health awareness in recent years, it’s not uncommon for employees to still feel uneasy approaching their employers with mental health concerns, acting concerns around future job security and potential future promotions. However if companies can provide workshops, training or even counselling services, a positive and supportive environment is a continued step in the right direction.
Reduced working hours
More and more companies are proving that when it comes to productivity, quantity does not always equal quality. A wave of new studies has shown that working harder for shorter bursts of time improves productivity without increasing stress levels, and businesses are keen to take advantage.
Employees with shorter working days or weeks have reported feeling less distracted by errands and responsibilities during the work day, and more motivated and engaged as a result.
In 2015, a retirement home in Gothenburg, Sweden cut nurses’ working hours to six a day in the hope that this would improve staff satisfaction and patient care. After a year, the amount of sick days taken fell by half, and nurses were able to partake in 64% more patient activities than they did before.
Meditation and mindfulness
Whatever your individual preference, there is a meditation style out there to suit anyone. The evidence surrounding the mental health benefits of meditation is mounting, and more businesses are applying it to improve staff wellbeing.
The Milestone Hotel in London, for example, has turned to technology to encourage its staff to meditate. By introducing them to meditation and mindfulness apps, they hope to help combat stress and anxiety in the workplace.
This is a cost effective solution for smaller businesses to implement and means staff can easily take part in short, daily meditation sessions that can be carried out anywhere.
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Importance of nutrition
These days, it is not uncommon for people to run to work without having eaten breakfast, or to grab an sugary snack at lunch, having not had the time to prepare a healthy one the night before.
Providing good nutrition during working hours can be as simple as keeping fresh fruit in the office at all times, but could also extend to providing free breakfast every morning, as some companies do for their employees.
There is a scientific precedent for employers to take an interest in staff nutrition, as research shows that nutrition can have a vital impact on alertness in the workplace. In a study by the British Journal of Health Psychology, employees who ate five portions of fruit and vegetables on at least four days per week showed 25% higher job performance than those who did not.
Not only does exercise increase our natural level of serotonin, which can positively impact our mood, but it also increases blood flow to the brain, making us more alert and focused. For people working long or even unsociable hours, though, physical exercise is not always something that is easy to come by, despite the wonders it can do for performance and productivity.
Encouraging physical activity in the workplace does not have to mean handing out free gym memberships to every employee (though some companies do provide this perk). It can be as simple as creating a reward scheme for staff who cycle or walk to work instead of driving, or even encouraging employees to leave their desks and take a walk during their lunch break. Even Mark Zuckerberg is known for his “walking meetings”, which he claims helps his mind stay focused and active.
Get enough sleep
It’s important that employers promote a healthy work/life balance, and fundamental to this is the importance of a good night’s sleep. Though some assume that sleeping less can increase productivity (simply by having more hours in the day), evidence shows us the exact opposite. A sleep study conducted using college basketball players showed that players who’d had a good night’s sleep improved their free-throw and three-point shooting by 9% and 9.2% respectively.
For industries that work regular hours, ensuring that staff do not take their work home with them can prevent them from being tempted to work late into the night. For businesses employing shift workers, maintaining a balanced rota with adequate rest periods is vital in ensuring staff members are getting the right amount of sleep.
However, sleep deprivation can occur even with the best intentions, and providing space for a 20 minute nap during the day can help boost concentration levels. Many international corporations (including Google, Uber and Ben & Jerry’s) have seen successful improvements in productivity simply by allowing fatigued staff members to nap during the day.
Certain wellbeing strategies, such as mental health training, do require the expertise of professionals who are trained to deal with corporate wellbeing. Others – like healthy snacks in the breakroom – can be easily implemented.
By taking steps to ensure that physical and mental wellbeing is considered on equal footing with branding and profits, employers can foster an environment of support in which employees know they are valued, looked after and supported.