After a summer of swapping pinstripes for PJs and desks for dining tables, the UK’s workforce is slowly returning to its offices, factories, restaurants and stores. While some welcome the opportunity to reclaim their old routine, others are losing sleep due to concerns about safety amid talk of a second wave of COVID-19. These are, of course, valid concerns which most people are able to self-manage however, for those suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, the move back to the workplace can often be a step too far.
Getting Worked Up Over Wellbeing
On Saturday the 10th of October this year, we join hands around the globe to recognise World Mental Health Day. Launched in 1992, this date is set aside to offer support to anybody who is struggling to cope with a form of mental illness. According to WHO, 450 million people around the world live with a mental disorder and, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has seen a sharp rise in cases as our population struggles with the anxiety, isolation and fear that the virus brought with it when it began to sweep through the planet in the early part of this year.
In our complicated and fast paced world, mental health issues take many forms and are often left undiagnosed. According to recent studies, a staggering 14.7% of all employees reported that they have experienced some form of mental health problem in the workplace. While many of us have had a bad day at work or, have been forced to endure a job that we hate, workplace stress - in its extremes - can be incredibly harmful and, in some tragic cases, can even lead to suicide.
For this reason, more and more employers are beginning to understand the importance of employee wellbeing and are actively seeking to implement procedures and processes to support this. So much more than just a trendy buzzword, employee wellbeing is a term used to describe the overall safety and happiness of employees within a specific workplace. Although employee wellbeing does cover practical matters such as health and safety practices and employee comfort, including breaks and annual leave allowances, it also throws the net wider to encompass touch points which may impact on an employee’s mental health and standard of living.
At present, there are no Government guidelines to steer employers toward a culture of employee wellbeing, forward thinking companies are investing time and money in putting together their own set of best practices. Some of these best practices include:
A Head Start
These days, our society is so much more informed when it comes to mental health issues. As well as educational programs by healthcare providers, initiatives by celebrities and members of the royal family, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have helped to remove the stigma that was once associated with mental health disorders. With the breaking down of these barriers, employers are actively working to support employees by encouraging candid discussion and offering free or subsidised counselling services where appropriate. Many companies also train their managers and supervisors to look out for employees who may be displaying signs of mental stress and who may be reluctant to ask for help. This is a major step for employers and can be invaluable to employees who are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with day to day life.
Simply Red once sang that ‘money’s too tight to mention’ and, for a lot of employees, this is painfully true. As a society, we’re generally taught that talk about money is taboo or even vulgar - which is strange considering how much of our lives are dictated by it. In an ideal world, employers would be able to pay employees enough to pay all of their bills and live comfortably but, sadly, that’s not always possible. Instead, many employers offer their staff discounts on some everyday essentials and luxury items in order to help them to stretch budgets further. Some of these discounts may include:
- Restaurant or coffee shop vouchers
- Subsidised leisure club memberships
- Subsidised travel
- Free lunches within the workplace
While these may not seem like particularly expansive gestures, they can be really helpful for employees whose salaries barely stretch to the end of the month.
Body and Soul
We’ve long since known that there is often a very real correlation between physical and mental health and, keeping our bodies healthy is an important part of combatting mental health problems. As such, many employers offer staff incentives to keep fit such as:
- Free or subsidised gym memberships
- Cycle to work schemes
- Private health insurance
- Free equipment such as Fitbits
In addition to these, some companies organise classes and activities which not only help employees to stay fit but, also add a social element which can help with team building.
The Comfort Zone
Today’s wellbeing workplace is all about creating a culture whereby employees feel comfortable, safe and valued within the workplace. This can take many forms; some simple and some more complex:
- Validation - Often, employees feel that their hard work and long hours go unnoticed by their superiors. A culture of employee wellbeing instils in managers the importance of offering praise and encouragement to employees as a matter of course.
- Downtime - These days, most employees work considerably longer hours than dictated by their contracts, with many foregoing lunch breaks in order to get their work done. Progressive employers show appreciation for this dedication by offering employees additional annual leave to counteract the unpaid hours. This employer will also offer other precious time-based benefits such as unpaid holidays and extended maternity / paternity leave. Aside from money, most employees say that the biggest issue that they have is that their work leaves them with very little time to spend with family and on personal projects and so, this one would be really high on the employee wellbeing wish list.
- Time off sick - Over the years, a common complaint from employees is that they are actively discouraged from taking time off when they’re sick - something which is very much exacerbated by employer practices which see employees being ‘graded’ depending on which day of the week they happen to take time off. Many employees say that they fear reprisals when calling in sick and, so, drag themselves into work when they’re not well enough to be there. A wellbeing focussed employer recognises that employees are human beings - not robots - and are therefore susceptible to illness. These employers make it clear that there will be no negative repercussions for employees who are unable to attend work due to illness. Not only that but, these employers will be observant enough to notice when an employee is feeling unwell and will advise them to go home without making the employee ask to do so.
- Flexible working - In the modern world, employees are no longer just workers - they’re also parents, carers, entrepreneurs and volunteers. It therefore stands to reason that the traditional 9-5 working day is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ option. Thankfully, the modern employer is all over this and, a great number of companies now offer flexible working hours to employees. This can have a significant impact on an employee’s wellbeing as it means that they’re able to juggle the many different facets of their lives such as school runs, care of elderly parents and other personal responsibilities. As well as juggling different responsibilities, flexible working hours can help to improve employee wellbeing in other simpler ways, for example, this can allow an employee to skip the dreaded rush hour crush by being able to begin work an hour earlier or later.
The average workforce is made up of a number of very different characters with very different backgrounds and different private lives. While many employees may enjoy stable relationships and great social networks, others may live alone and find themselves constantly battling isolation and loneliness. Although it’s not, of course, the job of the employer to find friends (or act as matchmaker) for its employees, those dedicated to employee wellbeing will organise regular out of hours social events in order to promote team bonding and a culture of inclusion.
Employee wellbeing is much more than the sum of the above listed guidelines. It’s about working toward a culture whereby all employees feel nurtured and supported - and none dread walking through those doors every morning.
At iAM Learning, we understand how important it is to incorporate employee wellbeing into a workplace. Not only does this create happy and productive employees but, the knock-on effect is that it adds intrinsic value to a company’s output as well as encouraging staff retention.
Our Employee Wellbeing elearning courses are created for everyone’s wellbeing. Whether it’s recognising and knowing how to help when someone else is struggling. Or knowing how to better your own well-being at work. Our extensive employee wellbeing library helps promote a happy and productive workforce. Whatever your industry and, whatever the size of your company.
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