What we mean by wellbeing
Employee wellbeing has come under far more attention in recent years. It was under the spotlight even prior to the Covid pandemic. It is revealing to now read these articles by McKinsey and Forbes, written in 2018, emphasising the importance of employee wellbeing and how stress and poor mental health is exacting a toll on workers – and that’s even before the Covid pandemic was thrown into the mix.
This tells us that the drive to improve employee wellbeing is not some passing phase, catalysed by the pandemic. Even as we return to offices and the strictest measures of Covid fall away, the issue will remain and it is critical for HR leaders and management to address it.
The impact of poor wellbeing
A significant aspect of employee wellbeing is solving the issue of preventable absences. Burnout – now even recognised by the World Health Organisation – is a leading example of preventable absence. It is responsible for $322 billion of lost turnover and productivity worldwide. But burnout is not inevitable. It can be eased by improvements in employee engagement, which is a major factor in wellbeing.
A UK-based survey found that nearly 40% of employees don’t tell managers the real reason for absences when asked. A strong approach to employee engagement can help to foster trust that is obviously still lacking in many workplaces. The analytics organisation Gallup recommends a focus on employee purpose, development, strengths and life beyond the workplace. A healthier trust in management can also reduce absenteeism – a regular pattern of absence from work. The opposite issue of presenteeism, where employees feel pressured to overwork due to unhealthy feelings of insecurity about their job, is also a common issue but less well-understood.
What wellbeing can do for you (and for your company)
Wellbeing is rapidly becoming a metric by which company performance is measured. That is the view of Harvard Business Review, which suggests that measures to assess mental, physical and financial health will be incorporated into the traditional organisational metrics of employee satisfaction and engagement. It’s possible that wellbeing metrics may become just as valuable in assessing a company’s talent retention and employee performance.
There are a number of factors that can qualify as important when assessing wellbeing – increased productivity, greater staff retention, reduced absenteeism and greater levels of employee satisfaction. This will in turn have a positive effect on talent acquisition as candidates find your company a more appealing place to work.
It’s fair to say that organisations also suffer from a perception problem with regards to wellbeing. Gartner reports a serious gap in awareness over wellbeing programmes. Their research shows that 96% of companies say they offer mental/emotional wellbeing benefits, but only 42% of employees believe their employer provides them. As well as access to wellbeing services, it’s clear that communication and openness around the services can also be improved.
An industry leader’s perspective
Josephine Chia, a member of Continental Search Alliance and Founder and Managing Director of Progression Search Asia, has over twenty years of experience in executive search. She offers her perspective on the impact and methodology of improving employee wellbeing.
The inability to cope with work stress coupled with job uncertainty, especially during the Covid pandemic, and the lack of social support from peers or managers can leave an employee with nowhere to turn.
Having wellbeing programs, to me, is sort of like the last line of defense when everything else falls apart. Prior to that, many things contribute to the positive emotional wellbeing of an employee.
An open and safe culture where people are not afraid to say their thoughts is one. Honest communication from the management, where the individual knows where they stand, is another. If looking after your peers is part of the team culture then checking in on your colleagues, your staff and even your manager then the chance of someone suffering a breakdown is much lower as it will get spotted earlier. Lastly having a sense of purpose, value and achievement in individuals and collectively as a team will also contribute to a good level of emotional wellbeing at work.
All of this boils down to culture and perhaps an altruistic and genuine concern of every person beyond their contribution. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to change when the culture is quite the opposite. Having the mental wellness programs might help some of the employees tide through spots of tougher times but it would not bring the person to a positive emotional working state if those factors mentioned aren’t available to begin with.
At this stage it seems clear that the biggest question over improving employee wellbeing is not ‘why’, but ‘how’. The benefits are tangible and well-known. 46% of HR leaders have reported an increase in their budgets to address the issue over the last two years, so for many companies, the resource is there. This implies that the demand on companies to deliver with regards to wellbeing is much greater now than in the past. Wellbeing now has to be incorporated into the company culture, something that is built to last longer than the individuals who work there. While wellbeing programs are useful, only fundamental changes to company culture are guaranteed to foster positive wellbeing. This involves aspects of emotional and financial support, social interaction, training, career developments and opportunities and a sense of community and purpose. And most importantly, it is essential that it delivers value.
Josephine Chia / Tom Boughen for Continental Search Alliance.
Continental Search Alliance recruits for mid-level to C-suite executive positions from scalable startups to the world’s largest tech firms, combining tech and digital expertise with extensive reach across EMEA and APAC.