Post No.: 0869
A business depends on its furry employees, and healthier employees are more productive, creative, resilient and happier, which means they’ll want to stay and give their best for the organisation. It’ll likely earn the business a reputation for being a great employer too, which will help them to attract more top talent.
So we must foster well-being in the workplace – we can gain some short-term performance results if we just merely drive people hard to hit work objectives, but this will soon lead to the team burning out and producing sub-par results, and key staff leaving, in the long term. And well it’s a fundamental duty for employers to care for the health, safety and welfare of their workers.
It’s not about one-off initiatives but more about a holistic approach based on the unique needs and characteristics of the organisation and its workforce. The approach should consider both physical and mental health and safety. Millions of working days are lost due to employee absence stemming from work-related ill health – with stress, anxiety and depression accounting for almost half of these.
Many people try to work even when unwell or during their holiday leave (presenteeism); or use flexitime, annual leave and other leave entitlements to have time off when they’re in fact too unwell to go to work (leavism).
One of the easiest things a manager can do is simply make time to talk about well-being. Employees will then feel more comfortable about discussing their own well-being openly and frankly. Not only will this encourage them to make connections and share their successes but also, critically, to not be afraid to ask for support if and when they need it. Remove the stigma around mental health. Woof.
Managers must have a clear understanding of their company’s health and well-being policies, and have or seek to gain the skills needed to implement these policies sensitively and fairly. Many aspects of well-being initiatives are positive and fun, but some aspects require conversing with individuals regarding some difficult topics and making tricky decisions. Managers play a central role in shaping and enhancing employee well-being, although it involves a careful balancing act between promoting and supporting positive behaviours and delegating responsibility onto the individuals themselves, since everybody has a responsibility for well-being.
Line managers need to be open, fair and consistent. Be positive, appreciative, kind and respectful. Avoid unhelpful criticism or blame. Elicit and be open to other perspectives. And remain calm under pressure.
Deal with conflicts and harassment early, effectively and impartially. And use all of the appropriate support that’s available.
Make time for people to provide them knowledge, clarity about roles and expectations, missions and objectives. Give feedback, advice and guidance, and follow up on matters. Be reliable and decisive, and take responsibility for solving problems.
As always – lead by example. Build and sustain relationships. Show concern, empathy, compassion and dignity, and take an interest in your employees as people. Be friendly, sociable and available for them to speak one-on-one with you.
Explore and actively support employee development and offer opportunities for career progression. See Post No.: 0859, which discussed employee coaching.
Uphold values, principles and ethical standards. Demonstrate a corporate social responsibility towards wider society.
Look at the work environment – is it ergonomically well-designed for both the body and mind? Are the roles and their work demands, working hours and the level of autonomy afforded well-designed for a healthy work-life balance? Are the financial and non-financial (e.g. recognition for good work) rewards fair with transparent remuneration practices? Are women going through menopause and people approaching retirement being supported? Is there inclusivity and diversity, and are the voices of employees consulted and heard?
Examples of well-being initiatives include discounted gym memberships, lunchtime yoga sessions, charity walks, cooking clubs, private health plans, volunteer events in the community, financial advice and support, employee assistance helplines or signposting to external sources of free advice. They could be simple things like regular check-ins with each employee, setting aside a quiet space for employees to take time to reflect, encouraging staff to always take their breaks away from their desks, taking walking meetings in the fresh air, or providing healthy menu options in the canteen. This list is hardly exhaustive. Find out from staff what they believe would help improve well-being in the workplace too.
Flexible working is a popular initiative – this can be in the form of staggered hours/shifts (having different employees start, have breaks and finish at different times compared to others), flexitime (choosing when to start and end one’s work whilst completing a set number of hours), part-time working (reducing one’s hours and/or days), compressed hours (reallocating the work to fit fewer but longer contiguous blocks of the week or fortnight), job sharing (having two or more people share the responsibility for a job at different times), or hybrid working (commuting to the office some days and working from home on other days). Note that if you make permanent changes to shifts or working hours though, you’ll need to follow the rules governing contractual changes.
Absence is frequently a consequence of sickness, which is related to health. Organisations that manage absence effectively, which includes doing as much as possible to prevent ill health from arising in the first place, can save money, time, stress and reduce their exposure to risk, especially because the absence of one employee can have knock-on effects across the organisation – whether because of the cost of covering for their work, losing business or for not being able to maintain a high standard of customer service, the increased pressure on the rest of the team, or for simply socially missing someone as a colleague, which could affect team morale i.e. there are both financial and non-financial costs.
The majority of absences are likely to be genuine, so you should promote a culture whereby employees feel supported when they’ve been genuinely ill/injured, both during their illness/injury and when they return to work; whilst being clear that any non-genuine absences won’t be tolerated. The absent employee may be feeling terrible anxiety about letting their team down or about how to return to work and get back into the stride of things after falling behind on what’s been happening whilst they were gone. Thus they need reassurance.
Common reasons for short-term absences are minor illnesses like colds, flu, upset stomachs, headaches and fuzzy migraines. These are the most dynamic thus can be the hardest to plan for. Most longer-term absences are due to back pain, musculoskeletal injuries and chronic stress. If a prolonged absence is foreseen then make a plan about how you’ll keep in touch with the individual before they leave. An absence can also be due to personal circumstances like bereavement, caring for a sick family member or other caring responsibilities, unexpected domestic emergencies, or being unable to arrange childcare. There are of course authorised reasons for absence like annual leaves, flexi leaves, and maternity/paternity leaves. And then there are non-genuine reasons for absence when an employee is able to attend work but makes a conscious decision not to.
Having a good return-to-work programme after an absence can help an employee settle back into their work, especially if other team members have been looking after their responsibilities and things have changed since they were absent. Key relationships may need to be re-established or introduced. A line manager’s expectations from the returnee may need to be lowered for a period of time before they readapt. Remind them of their strengths and co-create a plan with them, but make sure your expectations are explicit so that it gives the returnee certainty and an opportunity to renegotiate if they think the plan is under or over-stretching them. Give praise for even small wins to reassure them and boost their confidence. Tap the thoughts of the returning colleagues too as they may see things with relatively fresh eyes.
Stress is one of the leading causes of sickness absence around the world. That’s why managing it is fundamental to the well-being of your team. Firstly, treat those who perform poorly or are irritable (especially those who were previously usually reliable and composed) with utmost compassion. Support your staff! Multiple varying factors will affect an individual’s own perception of what’s stressful, including their current work environment, past experiences, future outlook and personality. We want the optimal level of pressure or challenge – too little will lead to boredom, too much for our ability to cope and it’ll lead to stress, and too much for too long and it’ll lead to burnout. So consider the workload of each member of your team – do they have too much or too little to do?
Set a good example. If you send emails outside of normal work hours but you work flexibly then add a note to let the recipients know that you don’t expect them to respond until their own normal working hours. Take your own annual leaves. Be aware of presenteeism when you’re unwell. Working when unwell can lead to making more mistakes, taking a longer time to recover, it can make others unwell if you have something contagious, and one won’t be as productive anyway.
Line managers need to reduce the likelihood of stress arising in the first place. They should learn to spot the symptoms and early signs of stress or mental ill health (e.g. physical signs like fatigue, appetite/weight changes, joint or back pain; psychological signs like tearfulness, loss of motivation, lapses in memory; or behavioural signs like withdrawal, inconsistent performance, (increased) drinking or smoking), and intervene to take the necessary preventative action before a worker becomes absent from work. Be careful not to make assumptions however – have an open conversation with the individual directly to discuss what’s up and to talk about the best support you can provide. Know what support is available to give through the organisation and its policies, and through external sources like charities.
Conflicts between team members can be another source of workplace stress. So handling any disputes – or discrimination, bullying, harassment or poor punctuality – is a core responsibility for any manager. Any serious incidents or forms of gross misconduct must be properly investigated and dealt with. More subtle forms of tension can arise from taking credit for other people’s work, using other people’s contacts or information without their permission, being discourteous or ignoring people or their views. And line managers can also be the cause of these conflicts and tensions! Management style is the primary cause of stress at work, thus managers need to watch out for their own behaviours too.
Mediation between the relevant parties can be a solution. Talk to each party individually. Then bring them together to communicate. Find common grounds and be solution-oriented. Remain neutral throughout. Gather ideas from other team members too. Continually monitor the team relationships – any underlying tensions must be addressed when small, by being decisive and initiating a discussion about it, and not be allowed to fester or grow (e.g. watch out for if when friendly banter or disagreements turn nasty). Lead by a good example again! And keep employee issues private and confidential too.
The immediate response to a flare up might be to physically separate someone from the source of aggravation before they do something that’ll make matters worse. Persistent personality clashes between workers might require permanently moving an employee elsewhere. Follow up all parties involved after the resolution to check if things are indeed fully resolved. An informal process towards resolution is preferred but escalating matters to a formal disciplinary and grievance process may be appropriate if the conflicts continue.
…Overall, think about what steps you’ll take to create a positive culture of well-being within your team? Think ‘what can I do to support my employee?’ ‘What support can my organisation provide?’ And ‘what external sources can the employee utilise?’ Please use the Twitter comment button below if you think I’ve missed anything crucial.