Contrary to opinion, a big budget is not what’s necessary to drive workplace wellbeing. It is more important to have management support, and give people in your organisation the time to plan and implement a robust wellbeing strategy. Here are some ways you can start today, with no budget (although we will never refuse financial support!)
- Do a wellbeing audit
The best place to start is always from where you are at. But when it comes to workplace wellbeing, we often don’t know where that is. As a leader or wellbeing champion in your organisation, you might have a “feeling” about the health of staff, how health promoting your premises is or what facilities are on offer in the vicinity. But you don’t have the data to support your hunch (Cooper, C. & Leiter, M., 2017).
A wellbeing audit will gather all these pieces of information for you so you can get a really good grip on your starting point, and what is priority for you to work on. There are numerous free, standardized tools out there that you could use. The British Heart Foundation has a downloadable “Workplace Environment Audit” form that you can adjust to your needs.
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) also provides what it calls the “Worksite Scorecard”, which is useful in prioritising high-impact workplace wellness activities.
If done properly, this strategic approach to wellbeing in your workplace can ensure the best impact of any wellbeing activities you decide to run.
- Survey staff
“Not another survey” I can hear you shout at your computer screen. But there is a reason that surveys are so pervasive – they can provide great insight into what employees want and need for their wellbeing. I have spoken to managers on numerous occasions who wanted to implement something like lunchtime fitness classes or bring in expensive speakers as part of a wellbeing program or event.
However, when we surveyed staff what they really wanted were healthier lunch options, or more opportunities to build camaraderie with their colleagues. We can sometimes misinterpret what we think people want (Agrawal, S., & Harter, J.K., 2009).
There are various options available for surveying also. If you already have some data available to you (it could be absence data, or results from an employee satisfaction survey) use this to guide what questions to ask employees. For example, if employees are absent due to back problems, you can include an option to offer a back-strengthening program. Or a stress management intervention, as stress can sometimes manifest as back pain (Ellegaard H. & Pedersen B., 2012). Your satisfaction survey may have returned some feedback about colleagues feeling like they don’t know each other. In this case, you could give employees choices in the survey around ways to promote camaraderie in the office (for example, job shadowing, coffee mornings etc.)
- Develop a strategy
Once you have completed steps 1 and 2 above, I suggest sitting with management to develop a strategy around your workplace wellbeing offerings. Wellbeing is not just for 1 day or week in the year. It is about what is done the other 364 days. And while benefits like Health Insurance and EAP’s are fantastic, you ideally want your staff to be at a stage where they don’t need to avail of these on a regular basis.
Investigate ways that your company can be health promoting. Are there areas outside the building that could be made amenable for walking with a little effort? Or is there a culture around emailing that is causing stress, which could be addressed with some adjustments to the communications policy?
Whatever you decide to do, take a strategic approach – and ensure that you have buy-in from at least one person on your management team. They should be in the position to bring up the topic of wellbeing at management meetings and give it the same weighting as the company’s health & safety policy or marketing strategy (Done, P. & Forbes, 2019).
- Update meeting guidelines
The way we are currently remote working, which involves a lot of virtual meetings, often means we sit for extended periods of time, have a lot of coffee or tea, we try to multitask and the day can be stressful (Lehmann-Willenbrock, N.K., Allen, J.A., Belyeu, D., 2016).
Small changes to this meeting structure can be very beneficial. Regular meetings can be 50 minutes instead of an hour to avoid back-to-back meeting fatigue. It is also worth reviewing your meeting attendees. Who needs to attend meetings, or who can be updated via email or a document update? Are smaller group meetings more effective for some objectives, rather than large groups? Is there a way to use some of the virtual meeting functionality to engage people working from home, or to get a better overview of how they are coping? There are lots of options, so I suggest making meeting decisions with your team(s).
In addition, Healthy Ireland has developed a handy document which you can print and put in meeting rooms, or email out to employees. There is no need to reinvent the wheel as they can also be used for virtual meetings.
- Offer flexible working options
Before the lockdown, remote working was a modest but growing option in Ireland. Around 18% of people reported remote working in 2018 (CSO, Census 2021 Pilot Survey, 2018), which compares with 60%+ reporting working from home since March 2020 according to numerous sources. The 4 day work week was becoming something of a trend earlier in 2020, with the Finish Prime Minister having floated the idea before she was elected. And the appetite for this type of flexibility hasn’t gone away.
Due to the unforeseen circumstances of the lockdown, it has been shown that remote working can work (although not for everyone, and if we’re honest our current mode of working is more “survival mode” than true “working from home”). If remote working is to continue, it will likely involve additional rostering efforts, high levels of trust and potentially a change in services offered.
But this isn’t the only flexible working option out there (McLouglin, G. & CPL, 2019)
If work time flexibility is something that employees are requesting, then it should be looked at seriously. And if you want a great case study on how the 4-day work week can work, then look at the what ICE Group in Galway did last year.
- Optimise your people
When I work with companies, what often comes out in discussions is something like “oh yes, John qualified as a yoga instructor a few years ago” or “Mary took some time off last year to get her coaching qualifications”. But we get so used to the people we’re working with 5 days a week that we overlook them when it comes to what they can offer in terms of wellbeing.
A strong suggestion I have here is to include a question in your employee survey around employees’ skills and interests outside of their working lives, which they could bring to the office. There is no onus on your employees to do this, of course. Just because John is a qualified yogi, it doesn’t mean he needs to be running lunchtime classes 5 days a week on Zoom. However, you do find that people often want to share their skills and knowledge with their colleagues.
You can combine all this information once you have analysed the survey feedback, and include the option for people to bring their skills to the workplace in your wellbeing strategy in the form of time-in-lieu or some other incentive.
So there you have it, some ways that you might not have thought of yet that can help bring real wellbeing to your organisation. Commitment, consistency and a supported strategy can bring you a long way.
Agrawal, S., & Harter, J.K. (2009). Employee engagement influences involvement in wellness programs. Omaha, NE: Gallup.
Cooper, C. & Leiter, M. (2017). The Routledge Companion to Wellbeing at Work. Taylor & Francis Group. London and New York.
Corona Study Wave 1 results (2020); http://www.nuigalway.ie/corona-study/results/
CSO, Census 2021 Pilot Survey, 2018
Done, P. & Forbes (2019). Why it’s time to rethink your employee wellbeing strategy”. Retrieved on Jan 28, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdone/2019/06/04/why-its-time-to-rethink-your-employee-wellbeing-strategy/#4f1902ca632c
Ellegaard H. & Pedersen B. (2012). Stress is dominant in patients with depression and chronic low back pain. A qualitative study of psychotherapeutic interventions for patients with non-specific low back pain of 3–12 months’ duration. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 13(1), 166.
Lehmann-Willenbrock, N.K., Allen, J.A., Belyeu, D., Social & Organizational Psychology, & Ibba. (2016). Our love/hate relationship with workplace meetings: How good and bad meeting attendee behaviors impact employee engagement and wellbeing. Management Research Review, 39, 1293-1312.
McLouglin, G. (2019). How flexible working can benefit your business in 2019. Retrieved on Jan 28, 2020 from https://cpl.com/cpl-insights/insight-retain/how-flexible-working-can-benefit-your-business-in-2019/