In times of austerity, it may seem odd to devote an article to the importance of employee wellbeing. However, evidence suggests that boosting wellbeing in the workplace can also boost the bottom line.
In 2008, researchers at Carleton University in Canada looked at the relationship between employee happiness and the level of workforce productivity reported by directors. It not only found that happier employees were more productive in general – but productivity went up and down on an individual level, depending on how happy that particular employee was on any given day.
So what can actually be done to improve wellbeing in the workplace?
One of the easiest ways is to give employees the opportunity to work flexibly. This means, where possible, allowing employees to shift their hours to suit their life; introducing a flexitime arrangement; or allow working from home from time to time. According to figures from Badenoch Clark, 82% of people with access to some kind of flexible working arrangement described themselves as happy at work, compared to just 73% of those who did not. More dramatically, if you looked at people who were allowed to work from home occasionally, the figure rose to 90%.
Flexible working can be good for business, too. Obviously, there are some cases where an employee absolutely has to be at their station at a certain time; however, where flexible working is possible, it tends to reap dividends. The government’s Second Work-Life Balance Study found that 69% of employers surveyed thought flexible working policies had a positive impact on employee commitment and motivation, and 71% found that such policies had led to improved relationships with employees. Furthermore, 66% of organisations that responded to a Work Foundation survey in 2002 reported that flexible working helped reduce absenteeism.
Companies can also commission professionally conducted “wellbeing audits”. Some employers baulk at this idea; however, the goal is not to chastise managers for failing their employees – which, in any case, would be counterproductive – but to identify the barriers to people achieving a sense of wellbeing at work. Professor Cary Cooper led such an audit of Somerset County Council. The audit discovered that the employees with the lowest levels of wellbeing worked in the council’s mental health service. An in-depth analysis of that department identified employee overload as the key barrier to wellbeing. As a result of the analysis, the council employed 22 extra social workers and provided more services to its employees, such as stress management courses. Although the changes cost the council £500,000 over two years; it reduced absenteeism by roughly a quarter – saving an estimated £1.9m.
Then there is management style itself. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has noted that the behaviour of managers is a key determinant of workplace stress, as Professional Manager has touched on. Based on its review of the academic and business literature, HSE has issued best practice management standards. These have been tried in many organisations, and found to have positive effects. For example, when the retail company QVC applied the HSE standards it saw a 20% decrease in the number of employees on long-term sickness absence in 2008/09.
The evidence is clear – improving employee wellbeing is not just good for employees; it makes good business sense, too.
Name Jo Swinson
Party liberal Democrat
Seat East Dunbartonshire
First elected 2005
Current majority 2,184
Parliamentary roles Culture, media and sport spokeswoman (2005-06), Scotland spokeswoman (2006-07), women and equality spokeswoman (2007-08), foreign affairs spokeswoman (2008-10), Parliamentary private secretary to business, innovation and skills secretary Vince Cable (2010 to date)
Political compass Centre-left
Advancement of big business Moderately against
Public service nationalisation Moderately for
Capping civil service pay Strongly for
Jo Swinson MP chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing
Economics. For more information on the HSE’s analysis of manager behaviour and its relationship to workplace stress, click here
For further hints on employee wellbeing, click here