Over recent years there has been an increased focus on employee benefits. Large multinational companies have been making headlines for their ancillary employment perks, extra little incentives that may make them that little bit more attractive to potential employees. (Ping-pong tables, office dogs and beer taps spring to mind.) In our January blog about what employees really want, we discussed whether or not these types of perks really do enable companies to attract and retain staff. The conclusion? Employees are much more focused on comfortable working environments than flashy benefits.
Ensuring your employees’ wellbeing will not only mean that you are ticking boxes from a legal standpoint but will also improve your business’s output. There have been numerous trial experiments, tested and implemented by employers, which have proven that healthy work environments boost productivity and employee morale. There are also some common areas for improvements that have surfaced time and again. It seems that true employee wellbeing comes from a much deeper well of intrinsic company philosophy.
1. Corporate Culture
All businesses have a culture, but not all businesses have a good one. Unfortunately, you may not be aware of this, despite your best efforts. Top level management can sometimes be removed from what is happening at other levels of the employment hierarchy, for any number of reasons. Perhaps employees feel intimidated, or that they cannot be open and honest about their experiences within the business. It could also be down to time constraints, or a misconception that company culture is not a matter of priority. Whatever the reason, it needs to be proactively addressed, otherwise you run the risk of losing good employees.
How you can ensure wellbeing
You might want to consider the following areas;
- Company values. What are your company’s core values? How are you embodying these yourself and how are you encouraging them within your employees? What is your company’s mission statement? If your company has never decided on its values or mission statement, then perhaps these are a good place to start. If your company values have changed over time, then consider revisiting them.
- Employee engagement. Consider conducting surveys at regular intervals and looking for feedback, suggestions and complaints. This way, you can proactively ensure that you are both giving employees a voice and capturing any cause for dissatisfaction. Exit interviews should also form part of the official process when an employee leaves.
- Honesty and transparency. When strategic decisions are made, how are they disseminated throughout the ranks? Is there an official statement made or is gossip and speculation allowed to percolate throughout the office? Particular attention should be given to when employees leave. How is their departure communicated? Facing these areas head on with proper, tactical communication will be better for your business in the long run.
2. Focus and concentration
Life today is full of distractions, with the workplace often reflecting this. Busy offices are usually open plan, with phones ringing constantly, colleagues inviting you for a coffee breaks, coming to you with ad hoc queries or filling your calendar with meetings. Some of these distractions can boost employee morale, such as the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends about their plans for the weekend over a coffee, or brainstorm ideas in a meeting. However, there are hidden dangers when meetings become productivity killers. There is a saying that goes ‘having meetings about meetings’, a tongue in cheek turn of phrase which refers to the tendency of some employees to discuss matters at length without ever resolving them.
Constantly being faced with distractions from the job at hand can lead to real problems with stress and performance anxiety. Those working in non-office environments do not magically bypass this problem. Messy workstations or unorganised sites can impact on focus and concentration, sometimes dangerously so. Distracted employees can tend to go without noticing potential hazards – such as spillages that are not cleaned up right away – which can lead to workplace accidents. There could also be time pressure from management to complete certain tasks on time, meaning that all the employee can focus on is completing the job quickly, not necessarily safely.
How you can ensure wellbeing
All employers should implement rules regarding mess and tidiness. For an office worker, this may mean a clear desk policy, which will ensure that only items necessary to the role are at hand. This doesn’t mean the photo of their beloved dog goes in the bin, more that printouts and other personal items aren’t cluttering the area. After all, clear space clear mind! Some employers have also implemented initiatives such as no-meeting Mondays, giving staff time to focus on their main tasks that will help to set them up for the week ahead.
3. Policies and Procedures
It may be worth reviewing your current company policies and procedures with the aim of uncovering gaps where employee wellbeing may be at risk. Working at a desk and staring at a computer screen can be detrimental to employee health if regular breaks are not taken. Sitting hunched over a laptop can cause shoulder and neck pain and screens may be set to a brightness level that becomes uncomfortable over time.
If you work in a sector which is prone to high levels of stress, then your organisation may be unconsciously encouraging a culture which promotes overworking. Financial worries can also contribute to high stress levels. Ensuring that employees are being paid adequately and in accordance with the work that they do is important. Although minimum wage has been increased, there is a worry that it does not match expectations for the national living wage which is believed to indicate the minimum amount of money that individuals can live comfortably on in today’s world.
Social relationships also contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing. It is a basic human right to be treated with dignity and respect, and so too does every employee have a right to receive fair treatment at their place of work. This applies to both employee/employer relationships and to employees’ relationships with other employees. As an employer, you risk serious repercussions if you fail to treat your employees fairly. Similarly, if you fail to step in when there is an issue between employees then you are also leaving yourself open to scrutiny and potential litigation.
Bear in mind that issues can snowball if not dealt with efficiently. Employers should be careful not to trivialise complaints from staff by putting them down to ‘clashes of personality’. What can be seen by one party as a harmless remark or just messing around may not feel that way to the recipient.
How you can ensure wellbeing
If your employees sit at desks all day, you could encourage them to move regularly by having printed reminders on their desk or having set breaks for certain departments. If company budget can stretch to it, movable standing desks are a particularly good investment which means that employees have the choice of when they prefer to sit or stand. For those employees that use a laptop, you should ensure that employees are using it at eye level by providing them with a stand and separate keyboard. Comfortable office chairs are also a must. Certain exercise classes such as yoga and Pilates are especially beneficial for office workers as they incorporate flexibility and movement important for maintaining a good posture.
When it comes to working hours, certain industries may require long hours or out of hours work which is unavoidable. However, you can review how employees are being compensated for this so that they are being given sufficient time to recharge their batteries and still maintain a social life, which is also important for wellbeing. Scandinavian countries are especially good at encouraging a healthy work/life balance for their citizens, with both businesses and the state taking responsibility.
It might also be worth channelling some of that hyggeligt culture when it comes to diversity and inclusion within your workplace. Swedish businesses are required to have active programmes which ensure gender equality in the workplace. Also, in Sweden, parents are entitled to a combined total of 480 days parental leave – which either parent can take. Denmark has one of the highest levels of social capital in the world and Danish businesses operate a flat management structure, meaning that it is not unusual for a junior member of staff to have direct access to the CEO, rather than necessarily having to go through management hierarchy.
All of these are great ideas for how your business can maintain and improve employee wellbeing. But what happens when employees treat one another badly? Having a Dignity at Work Policy makes it obvious that there is zero tolerance for bullying and harassment. A clear policy will outline your expectations regarding how employees should be treated while at work, as well as provide procedural steps for what an employee should do if they feel they are being treated unfairly. This should be a document that all employees sign as they commence work, so that they cannot claim at a later stage not to have been made aware of it. For further information on how to deal with bullying in the workplace, you can check out our advice on the issue here.
Careful application of these guidelines should mean that you are on the way to creating a happy and healthy work environment for all employees. This list is not exhaustive however. There are many ways in which you as an employer can improve the working environment for your staff. You can read more about some suggestions for safeguarding mental health in our blog here.
For further information on this or any HR related issue, feel free to get in touch with us on 056 770 1060.