Keeping staff happy and healthy at work is one of the modern working world’s greatest challenges. With the latest ONS report citing 137 million working days lost every year due to ill health, many business owners are making health and happiness at work a primary goal.
For a long time the main focus has been on what employers are legally obliged to do, such as looking after employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, providing a safe system of work, carrying out health checks for night staff, and ensuring staff aren’t asked to stray outside the legal limits on working hours.
But these are all legal minimums employers must observe. Sometimes we forget that going further can have significant benefits on workplace morale & wellbeing and, subsequently, productivity.
Here are five key areas employers can look at to help their staff meet physical and emotional health needs and, in so doing, create more productive and committed teams:
1. Don’t Micro Manage
Although sometimes this is necessary, for example with underperforming employees, when the going gets tough some managers make the mistake of placing even greater scrutiny on members of the team, rather than less.
This can lead to a lack of trust and can be counterproductive, and see employees spend more time ‘justifying their existence’ and less time focusing on the task in hand.
The key is letting those staff you know that you can rely on to get on with the job.
Focus your scrutiny on those you can’t.
2. Provide Feedback
Providing regular and consistent feedback will help employees understand how the organisation is working, where they fit into it, and how their contribution counts towards the overall goal.
Research has shown that employees react more positively to non-financial symbols of reward than financial ones.
But let’s be realistic: few of us would say no to a bonus, although a regular pat on the back goes a long way to enhancing motivation and helping staff feel recognised.
3. Exercise and Wellbeing
There is no doubt that if the body feels right then the mind follows. Many employers now actively promote health at work, with some offering subsidised gym memberships or discounted purchases on bikes.
The more affluent even have their own on-site gym (lucky people), but even small things can go a long way to helping employees improve and maintain their health.
Our working lives are, for the most part, now very sedentary. We sit at desks; perhaps stand or walk around a little; we drive. Few of us have the physically active jobs of our parents or grandparents.
Employers can help by encouraging staff to take regular breaks and switch off at home. Some employers even offer free shoulder massages to those stressed-out office workers.
At the extreme end of the scale some employers have reportedly installed treadmills at desks, but is that just going a bit too far?!
4. Build Trust
Trust is one of the most important parts of the working relationship, but it can break down easily, leading to reduced productivity and low morale.
Being honest with staff is one of the best ways to build trust – even if it is bad news most staff prefer to know rather than be kept in the dark. Holding back bad news or not being completely straight with staff makes them ‘fear the worst’.
Eventually the truth will come out, and if it differs from the official position then it generates a sense of having been lied to.
Openness and honesty is always the best policy.
5. Work Life Balance
Research shows that many employees value job flexibility over other terms, such as pay.
There is no doubt that striking the right balance between work and home life is a very important aspect of modern life. Some employers offer career breaks or sabbatical leave, while others offer informal or formal systems of flexi-time.
A valuable flexible benefit is the option to either ‘buy’ additional holiday entitlement or indeed ‘sell’ it, meaning staff can tailor their package to suit their own particular needs.
Reaping the benefits of a happier workforce
Keeping staff happy and healthy not only means better productivity, it also develops a greater sense of commitment to a business and happier clients.
Committed staff tend to be more loyal and hence stay longer, resulting in lower recruitment costs. It also means skilled employees are not easily lost to competitors.
Making staff healthy and happy at work needn’t cost the earth. As we can see, there are some low – or even no – cost ways an employer can achieve this with some creative and out-of-the-box thinking.
Tom Muirhead is HR policy consultant at Moorepay