Wellbeing at work: Developing real leadership buzz
When we talk about a good leader or leadership skills, buzzwords are often strong, communicative, inspiring, innovative and all focus around working practices. These traits are all vital for good leaders, however one aspect is always missing; how they create and sustain worker wellbeing. This, says Professor Andrew Sharman, is real leadership buzz.
Good leaders should embrace workplace wellbeing practices and create a workspace that is safe and open for their employees or team members to address any issues that they are having.
Depression is predicted to be a leading cause of disease burden by 2030. It starts young: 50% of people suffer their first bout of depression in adolescence or early adulthood, and 75% of people before they reach the age of 25.
Nearly 50% of employees with a current health condition feels that it affects their ability to do their job. And a report by the Institute of Leadership & Management concludes that only two in every five employees are working at peak performance.
In the UK, 131 million working days are lost every year to sickness absence – that’s almost five days for every worker. Musculoskeletal conditions (such as back and joint pain), coughs and colds and stress, anxiety and depression account for more than half of these days.
Why is this not being addressed?
It’s true that more organisations today are beginning to realise that good wellbeing at work can increase productivity, employee engagement and build morale. However, what’s the true reason businesses investing in work wellbeing? The simple answer is money. Poor health costs money. With the cost of work-related health and associated productivity losses now standing at around five percent of global Gross Domestic Product (‘GDP’), the economic incentive for businesses has never been greater. Investing in your employee’s wellbeing is a win-win for everyone.
What should the new wave of leaders do?
In a meta-analysis of ninety-nine cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, psychologists Julia Boehm and Sonia Lyubomirsky find that:
‘Happy people are more satisfied with their jobs.
They perform better on assigned tasks than less happy peers,
and are more likely to take on extra role tasks such as helping others.’
The Institute of People and Performance suggest that happier people are:
- 47 times more productive than their least happy colleagues;
- Set themselves higher work goals;
- Work with 25% more efficiency and effectiveness;
- Contribute a day and a quarter more every week than unhappy workers;
- Embrace task objectives with more optimism and clearer visions of anticipated success.
What do you think about the wellbeing of your people? If your team members were asked how you’re implementing practices for workplace wellbeing, what would they say?
The ideas are limitless and can range from mindfulness training to chill-out rooms, from open offices to collaboration spaces. Community volunteering, health lunch clubs and walking meetings can all boost cohesion and interaction amongst teams. Onsite gyms or yoga classes, and bike-to-work schemes help to encourage physical wellbeing. Similarly, remote working, flexible work hours all help to increase mental capacity, creative thinking and a sense of being in control.
In the first half of 2015, just 30% of American workers felt enthusiastically engaged in their work activities, compared to 52% not feeling engaged, and 18% actively disengaged. This emotional disconnection saps personal happiness and wellbeing, and reduces the impact and effectiveness of the worker’s contribution. Workers who feel engaged maintain a positive mood throughout the week and benefit from steady levels of happiness compared to their colleagues, and report feeling as good on weekdays whilst at work, as they do on the weekend. What a buzz!
Given the volume of anticipated benefits for individual employees, teams and departments, and the organisation as a whole, by now you might have ready ideas on deploying a range of interventions in the workplace. In order for wellbeing interventions to be effective, the organisation must be ready to implement change. Contextual factors, such as organisation stability or turbulence, industrial relations climate, and work demands may all, of course, impact upon the effectiveness of interventions so it’s worth thinking ahead before acting.
A realistic intervention strategy will provide a comprehensive wellbeing program that utilises a range of interventions at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, with both subjective and objective outcome measures. Conditions for successful interventions are complex and will often hinge on local or organisational circumstances – so, interventions should be developed through robust assessment of problems and opportunities, based on robust evidence gained through your own analysis.
Objective work conditions – such as working hours, workload, job grade etc. – have all been studied to check their impact on wellbeing (Spector, 1997). Up to 90% of the variance in the way in which people perceive and rate their work environment is unconnected with aspects of the objective environment, but instead is based on social cues, concurrent mood, attitude and personality and other factors which are not related to the construct being measured. This underlines the important role of corporate culture in influencing the wellbeing or subjective happiness of employees. Prevailing cultures, especially at local levels, may also cause an ‘optimising bias’ to drift into play – we all like to make ourselves look or feel a little better sometimes, and it’s easy to check a box on a survey to do that. Despite growing interest, the relative effectiveness of wellbeing interventions remains difficult to assess, due in part to methodological deficiencies and the lack of adequate evaluation techniques.
A study by financial services firm KPMG and IDH, the sustainable trade initiative, indicates that capital investment in improving working conditions through the application of workplace interventions can pay off within four to 20 months. The report, which followed interventions in 70 organisations and analysed 99 academic studies suggests that positive interventions can reduce employee turnover by as much as 40% and may also impact the bottom line, with margin improvements of up to 0.4% achievable.
The KPMG/IDH report offers a useful perspective on return on investment – however, typically methods used to analyse costs and benefits will vary between employers and industries, making it difficult to benchmark or generate a shared definition of success. The scientific research that does exist tends to be theoretical, looking at how and why work and wellbeing may be related, rather than empirical, looking at what is actually happening. There are limitations in many of the theories and models that are presented with the aim of improving wellbeing, as most are based on cross-sectional – rather than longitudinal – studies that look primarily at the process in place in an organisation, and, therefore, do not permit the establishment of casual inference. Most data are gathered using self-report tools, which are open to bias and may misrepresent outcomes – for example, where healthy employees take up interventions a comparison of participants and non-participants may suggest interventions are improving wellbeing more than they actually are. Accordingly, reflecting the true impact of wellbeing interventions is likely to be challenging.
Measuring the effectiveness of interventions is a subjective process, reliant on perceptions of the individual management and others. There is little published research that explains how to assess the effectiveness of intervention strategies and approaches. Although self-reports are prone to the limitations explained above, they can help us to learn about people’s subjective perceptions of their work, and these perceptions are central to our understanding of wellbeing, however they remain insufficient on their own to truly gauge the effectiveness of interventions. Accordingly, choosing to adopt wellbeing interventions in the workplace may come down to simply being a caring and compassionate employer keen to be ‘doing the right thing’ to help people feel more comfortable, more satisfied, happier, and, hopefully healthier at work and in their lives generally.
Five questions to build real leadership buzz:
- What are the main causes of absence in your workplace? What trends or patterns do you see when you review absence data?
- How do you measure employee engagement in your workplace? Do you consider employee wellbeing, happiness and job satisfaction in these measures?
- If you currently implement wellbeing interventions in your organisation, what is the desired aim of these programs? How do you measure their effectiveness? Are you measuring outcomes or process?
- How does your organisational culture encourage positive emotions or happiness at work? Where can you create opportunities to boost workplace happiness in your organisation?
- If your employees were asked if they felt wellbeing at work gave them a buzz or was just the use of buzzwords, what would they say? And how would you feel?
Professor Andrew Sharman is a consultant to the world’s top leaders at Apple, Burberry, IKEA, Heineken, MercedesBenz and more. In The Wellbeing Book you’ll find 50 ways to Master your Mind, Boost your Body and Supercharge your Soul. Get your copy of the book with an exclusive 25% discount by using the code SHP25 at www.TheWellbeingBook.info.
Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series, here.
Hear Jonny Wilkinson share his mental health struggles
We all know Jonny Wilkinson for his exploits on the rugby pitch. But what you might not know is that he has long struggled with his mental health and wellbeing, dealing with depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
In his honest, unguarded speech, entitled ‘Success on the field and mental health: a personal account of understanding what matters’, Jonny will recount how his focus and dedication to the sport he loves meant overlooking important parts of his life.
Learn more about the exciting inspirational speakers exclusive to Safety & Health Expo 2019 | ExCeL London | Thursday 18 June | 11:30 - 12:30