Wellbeing at work: prevention is better than cure
The topics of wellbeing and burnout have come to the fore of the corporate agenda over the past 18 months. This comes as no surprise: as the reality of the pandemic has taken its toll, many employees have struggled with their physical health and arguably many more with their mental health.
Figures from the CIPD show that stress continues to be one of the leading causes of short- and long-term absence at work, with 79% of organisations reporting stress-related absence over the past year (and 91% of organisations with over 250 employees.)1 Meanwhile, the ONS reports that the most recent annual declines in personal well-being in the UK were the greatest seen since measurement began for life satisfaction, anxiety and happiness.2
These are concerning figures. Unsurprisingly, many organisations are keen to understand how this is affecting their employees – and what can be done about it.
One thing we know for certain is that prevention is better than cure. Taking the steps to stop employees from suffering ill health is much more desirable than needing to ‘undo the damage’. And ENGAGE has developed a radically different approach to help businesses do exactly that, by addressing how to proactively think about and tackle wellbeing. Here’s how.
Tackle root causes, not symptoms
We believe that wellbeing needs to be thought about holistically and the root causes addressed rather than the symptoms.
The World Health Organization references it as a keyword in its definition of health: ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’, while the UK Department of Health defines it as comprising ‘an individual’s experience of their life; and a comparison of life circumstances with social norms and values’.
So, what is it that causes a poor state of workplace wellbeing in the first place?
This is what organisations need to both be aware of and be working to prevent. We believe that there are some fundamental root causes to workplace wellbeing that are tied much more closely to the employee experience and day-to-day role than organisational leaders would believe. For example, how work is distributed, whether people are able to make decisions to deliver on their work and how clear they are on their own goals.
Maslach, who has researched burnout extensively,3 has also developed an ‘Areas of Work life model’ which describes six areas of the work environment most relevant to people’s relationship with work (workload, control, reward, values, fairness and community). Maslach explains that a mismatch between people and their work environment in these areas reduces capacity for energy, involvement and sense of effectiveness and could play a role in whether they are experiencing burnout.4
All of these can be impacted by how effectively organisations and leaders tackle the root causes of poor workplace wellbeing, rather than by responding with a quick and easy way out that essentially puts a plaster over the symptoms.
Stop being tactical about wellbeing, start being strategic
Free fruit bowls, yoga classes at lunch time and subsidised gym memberships are all examples of now familiar wellness initiatives. They have their place and are perks that many organisations offer. But what purpose do they serve? Are these perks enjoyed by the less stressed, the not burnt out, or those who would say they’re happy at work, the engaged?
Nike have recently followed in the footsteps of others, in giving their staff a week off work, but is it really going to ‘fix’ burnout or prevent this in the future? LinkedIn did the same, but they also used data to understand employee challenges, and implemented timely workshops for managers and employees as a result.
To really address and work to improve employee wellbeing, organisations need to start being strategic about wellbeing solutions rather than merely tactical.
Inevitably, there will be some external influences on employee wellbeing that will be difficult or even impossible for organisations to control. But focusing on what you can control as an employer or leader, and ways in which you can lessen the burden that employees feel from outside sources, can go a long way.
Make it less about policies, more about culture
Arianna Huffington recently suggested that we are no longer in a ‘why wellbeing’ world, but a ‘how’ one.5 It is no longer enough for the ‘how’ to be about ping pong tables and free fruit, but about tackling wellbeing head on and introducing mental, emotional and physical wellbeing policies.
Alongside policies though, there are things that employers and leaders can do to encourage healthy working environments, and this comes down to culture. Just as values cannot merely be words and instead need to be behaviours that are lived, so ‘ideals’ for enabling employees to have a positive state of wellbeing need to be implemented and encouraged.
Google recently introduced a wellbeing manifesto that laid out things they believe ‘it’s ok to’ do, such as ‘say you’re not OK’ or ‘put your family before your work’. However, this will be meaningless if these things aren’t encouraged, validated or role-modelled by line managers and leaders.
Use data at every step
Measuring perceptions of wellbeing is vital to being able to put in place methods to prevent burnout in the first place.
Our ENGAGE Wellbeing Index ensures that wellbeing is measured holistically, so that organisations can clearly see where their challenges lie and the warning signs they need to be aware of. We use a range of advanced analytics to further understand which elements of wellbeing are most important in your organisation.
Not only does a full and accurate measurement of wellbeing allow us to understand the current state of wellbeing in your organisation, but the analytics we employ mean that we can help you put solutions in place to improve wellbeing (and prevent burnout) in your organisation.
The ENGAGE Wellbeing Index enables you to measure elements of the employee experience that contribute to poor wellbeing. Not only will it give you a measurement of wellbeing, but as the elements that contribute to poor wellbeing can be improved, the data you’ll get back will be entirely actionable.
And given that wellbeing is something that everyone can be impacted by – even leaders – our Burnout Risk Indicator can be used alongside the wellbeing tool, enabling senior leaders and leadership team to evaluate their propensity to be burnt out so that wellbeing is addressed from the top down.
Long term prevention for long term success
As with every other element of organisational process, being strategic about employee wellbeing rather than tactical is the only way to drive long-term, positive and sustainable change.
Data delivers the critical evidence to drive this change, giving organisational leaders and HR teams the insight they need to design, implement and manage wellbeing approaches that are targeted at the right areas, in the right way, at the right time.
Want to know more about how ENGAGE’s Wellbeing Index could help you spend your time on prevention rather than cure? Feel free to download our PDF factsheet to see how it works.
Better still, get in touch to talk to one of the team about how ENGAGE’s approach to better workplace health could be of help to your organisation.
1 Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report, CIPD, April 2021
2 Personal well-being in the UK, Office for National Statistics (ONS), April 2020 to March 2021
3 Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry, World Psychiatry, Leiter and Maslach, June 2016
4 Six areas of worklife: A model of the organizational context of burnout, Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, Leiter and Maslach, February 1999