Protecting the health and wellbeing of your workforce benefits your people and the business as a whole, so what can you do to step up how you help your employees?
Health and wellbeing in the workplace should always be a priority for employers, but the importance of looking after your staff and putting measures in place to keep them safe has become clearer than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well as being a fundamental part of your duty of care as an employer, protecting the welfare of your workers can have a range of positive results in terms of your productivity, employer brand, staff turnover and more.
So what is it that makes health and wellbeing in the workplace such a vital concept, and what can you do to raise your standards in this space?
Why it’s vital to look after employee wellbeing
As an employer you have a legal responsibility to look after your staff and provide safe working conditions. Legislation like the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the US and the EU’s various health and safety directives make it clear that employers are required to not only maintain a safe and healthy work environment, but actively work to continuously improve standards and processes.
But going a step further than basic compliance, and showing a genuine commitment to looking after workforce wellbeing will strengthen staff loyalty and facilitate better relationships with your employees. According to the 2018 Global Talent Trends survey by Mercer, half of all workers would like to see a greater focus on wellbeing at their company.
Furthermore, there are tangible business benefits to be gained from having a healthier, happier workforce. People with generally high levels of physical and mental wellbeing are less likely to take time off, which reduces the financial impact of absenteeism.
High levels of absenteeism also have other negative repercussions such as:
Reduction in the quality of goods or services owing to overtime fatigue or understaffing
Management time spent on admin and plugging workforce gaps
As far as mental health is concerned, research has shown that happy workers are more productive, so investing in this aspect of workforce wellbeing could help you become more efficient and profitable as a business.
What do workforce wellbeing schemes aim to achieve?
The most common goals of employee health and wellbeing programs include:
Increasing workforce productivity
Improving staff retention
Lowering healthcare costs and compensation claims
Keeping workplace injuries to a minimum
Boosting employee morale and loyalty
Building a stronger employer brand
You can also introduce more specific, measurable objectives, which might be more closely related to the nature of the scheme you’re running. For example:
Increasing the number of people enrolled in smoking cessation classes by 10% within a fiscal year
Reducing the number of employees who smoke by 5% within a fiscal year
Decreasing the proportion of the workforce identified as overweight by 5% within a fiscal year
Setting clear goals is a key factor in the success of any workforce wellbeing program. As well as providing benchmarks to evaluate your progress and measure results, defined objectives add a clear focus to your efforts and show employees how seriously you take the subject of health and wellbeing.
How to get started with workforce wellbeing
Once you’ve made the decision to invest in a workforce health and wellbeing scheme, your thoughts will turn to the first steps required to design and introduce it. Regardless of the exact nature of your program, there are certain actions that will always prove beneficial in the planning and implementation stage.
Have a clear purpose
The thinking behind your staff wellbeing initiatives should be clear and well-defined. This will help you establish relevant goals and make the case for why employees should get involved in the program. An obvious purpose and a clear explanation for why the project is so important can also help you secure and allocate your budget.
Get staff input
Workforce health and wellbeing is all about looking after the people who help the business run, so it makes sense to put the needs and interests of your employees at the heart of your planning. Conduct surveys and have conversations with your staff to find out what they’re most interested in and where you have scope for improvement.
Produce a detailed action plan
Your workforce wellbeing action plan should answer some of the most important practical questions about the program, such as how long it will run for, what resources or budget you’ll need to manage it and how you will gauge its effectiveness.
Examples of wellbeing programs
Workforce wellbeing programs can come in many forms. Here are some of the most popular options:
Giving your employees free or subsidized memberships to their local gym encourages both physical and mental fitness, since exercise has been shown to benefit the mind as well as the body.
Smoking cessation schemes
For the smokers in your workforce, kicking the habit is probably the single most important step they could take towards improving their health. You can help by creating support groups or organizing sessions where colleagues can work towards quitting together.
If some of your staff feel they would benefit from counseling, consider how you could help them by paying for a certain number of sessions or even hiring an in-house therapist. Allowing people to be flexible with their working hours can also make it easier for them to attend private sessions at a time that’s best for them.
The amount and quality of sleep is a fundamental factor in a person’s health. You can’t expect your people to be happy and productive at work if they’re tired, and there’s evidence to suggest that short naps can boost alertness and performance. Some of the world’s most successful businesses have embraced the idea of napping on the job.
Monitoring staff wellbeing
Introducing a workplace health and wellbeing scheme doesn’t mean your job is done. It’s important to come up with a plan to monitor wellness on an ongoing basis.
You could gain some valuable insights from tracking metrics like:
Rates of long-term absence
Take-up of healthcare benefits
Furthermore, it’s vital never to overlook the importance of simply talking to your employees, gauging sentiment in the workplace and following your instincts if you get the impression that certain individuals are struggling with their mental or physical health.
Growth in remote working and geographically distributed workforces may have created a physical distance between some managers and their staff, but there are always positive steps you can take to support employee wellbeing from anywhere in the world.
Simply making the effort to speak to people one-on-one, and giving them the time and opportunity to talk about their physical and mental health, can make a big difference to overall levels of workforce wellbeing.
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