Health and wellbeing is certainly a topic that’s employers are not able to shy away from, and it’s definitely something that our clients need to embrace with open arms. I’ve recently been working with Leadership Development & Well-being Coach Pradip Gajjar from Harmonise Life, who kindly provided some insight into the notion of the wellbeing agenda, along with steps to take to ensure it’s effective implementation.
1. Wellbeing programmes and work-life balance - why is it so important?
Our body, mind and intellect are a collective vehicle we need for work - for recreation, for serving others, for fulfilling our aspirations. Yet how we fuel this vehicle will determine its performance, indeed its longevity. Our societal environment places many challenges on individuals. The excessive use of social media, for example, creates comparative, illusory lives that impact people with a rise in hankerings, false expectations and hopes, ending sadly in lamentation. This inevitably adds to the increasing mental illness, especially anxiety and depression, something we’re very concerned about in our workplaces.
Then consider the UK has one of the longest working days and weeks in Europe. Within the context of very competitive work environments, add travel, limited rest and attempting a fulfilling family and social life and we almost run out of time for wellbeing. Yet it is increasing the stress people experience, which accounts for 50% of all work related illness.
Wellbeing programmes, therefore, are a must. We need to support people by offering them techniques to not only manage the symptoms, but also address the script of lifestyle choices, nutrition, self worth and the quality of relationships.
Work-life balance has been an ongoing debate for decades. But what is the right balance? Is there such a thing as balance? I prefer to focus on effectiveness. We have a life of which work is a part, therefore we have to view the whole. Effectiveness is about how we focus our very best in all areas of life – engaging our time and attention progressively, conscious of our ‘whole’ responsibilities – to our self and others. Any attempt at work life balance has to be a personalised, unique to every individual need. It’s not just about maintaining good health both physical and mental or being happy about work, it’s about deeper nourishment and fulfilment - self actualisation, to use Maslow’s words. Just as vehicles transport us to a destination, our vehicle of body, mind and intellect is essential for us to achieve our life’s destination of fulfilling whatever purpose we set ourselves.
2. What are the challenges that you come across to convince companies to implement health & well-being?
In some recent work with companies for whom I’ve delivered work-life effectiveness workshops, the trigger was a poor employee survey. The need was for a fix. However, follow-up after the workshop or even requesting time to discuss an integrated strategy for wellbeing is not on the radar. There is a complacency of ‘we’ll deal with the issues as they arise’. For those where the issue has arisen, they still fall short of the realisation of embedding wellbeing into employee development, into an organisational imperative.
3. What are the key health issues employees experience in the City and how does this effect productivity and engagement?
The most challenging health issue in the City is mental health. Experts say 1 in 4 will experience it, yet 3 in 4 who have a mental illness do not disclose it to colleagues. Though 70% of people with mental illness can recover, understanding symptoms and offering the right support is a priority. If employers are not able to address this then the impact on productivity and engagement is severe. The City Mental Health Alliance are doing some great work to support employers and address this issue. The concern the CMHA raise is that without addressing mental health in the work place, the costs to employers is huge – sickness absence, loss in productivity and additional recruitment costs are top of the list.
4. What is the role that HR plays when implementing health and well-being?
HR is pivotal. People spend most of their life at work; therefore HR has to lead the revolution in health and wellbeing in the workplace. It is best placed to do so. The business case is obvious. Its priority must be to integrate health and wellbeing programmes throughout the organisation, ensure senior management imbibes and role models the culture and priority of the health and wellbeing.
5. How do you assess a firm’s current state of play around their health & well-being agenda?
Assess if it’s reactive or proactive. Are things in place to support a proactive, preventative health and wellbeing culture; does it sit centrally within the structure of the organisation and emphasised by leadership – that’s proactive. If not then it’s reactive and at best we will find fix-it measures or add-on arrangements.
6. Do organisations need to change their culture to embrace health & well-being?
Indeed. Health and wellbeing must sit at the heart of business with leaders modelling it, managers being trained to spot challenges in individuals and the right support being available either internally or sign posting employees to get the right help in a personalised fashion. It’s a crucial cultural change yet one that will have a longer term positive impact. A proactive health and wellbeing strategy means creating the right environment for focused engagement, improved productivity and greater economic value for business.
7. What would be evidence of best practice around health promotion/wellness programmes?
I’ve been sharing a common theme with you, which defines best practice – is wellbeing integrated and modelled by leadership? Some features that a programme includes:
8. How can firms improve their workplace health programmes?
After one of my work life effectiveness workshops, an employee commented ‘I can’t believe the company has invested in me by giving me this opportunity. It’s been so personal and has come at the right time.’
Let’s give employees an opportunity to reflect on their life – the roles they serve, their values, their relationships, the attention they give to physical health and if they have any specific needs – nutrition, exercise, losing weight. The attention they give to mental health – mindfulness, meditation, resilience and if they would like to learn certain techniques or talk about mental illness. We need to start having conversations with employees and asking about their needs. I also believe we need to share with employees and sign post them to improving lifestyle choices, making them aware of their own health and requesting they take ownership for their own behaviours to help themselves lose weight, give up smoking, exercise more, manage their relationships and manage their stress levels. Creating programmes, engaging in conversation and encouraging ownership will support the change we need.
9. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of interventions?
Some of the obvious metrics to measure include lower absenteeism, higher job satisfaction and work productivity, and higher employee retention. The impact of lowering stress and supporting mental illness is a little more difficult to measure immediately.
10. Is there a direct correlation between attracting talent and promoting health & well-being?
There is now a growing awareness of the need for wellbeing, and this will drive employees to consider their next career move dependent on not only the job role but the environment in which health and wellbeing sits integrated into the organisational culture. This will become an USP for organisations, especially in attracting senior talent.
11. What does the future hold?
While delivering programmes on global leadership, I used to say technical expertise alone doesn’t deliver business in the 21st century – you have to layer it with cultural intelligence, remote leadership intelligence, and technology intelligence. I now add, layering organisational leadership with health and well being intelligence. Statistics suggest the tipping point may have already passed - we are late to the party - therefore we need to act quickly and bring this agenda to the forefront of business. I would like to see a future where employees’ health and wellbeing personal plans are embedded into their overall objectives, regularly reviewed and given support. It will be good for them, good for employers and good for society overall.
Personally, I feel the more we shout out and promote the importance of the health & wellbeing agenda across the market a cultural shift will follow suit. Healthy & happy employees inherently result in increased productivity and commitment to you and to the firm. Everyone needs to take the right steps to look after one another and create a healthy working environment across the board.
We can proudly state that Oakleaf are taking the right steps to implement a flexible working pattern, along with hosting our first health & well-being week this May, with many more to come…