Make me happy: wellbeing in the workplace

Over the past few years, a growing number of businesses have begun to focus on wellbeing. Continued research in this space has created an ever evolving understanding of what drives the productivity of staff.

There are many reasons why wellness pays back. Put simply, healthy employees perform better because they have less to worry about. Even something as basic as providing fresh fruit promotes healthy lifestyles and makes people feel more valued. On more than one occasion, our colleagues have been chuffed with the bountiful offerings in MBS’s fruit bowl.

As an executive search firm, we strive to facilitate open dialogues about mental health. It’s important for us to know that once we’ve placed a candidate, they’ll be well looked after. However, in a world where people aren’t entirely comfortable talking about mental wellness, companies aren’t best placed to provide appropriate support.

Workplace health and wellbeing programs not only have a positive impact on employees wellness, they can also lead to a significant positive impact on commercial decisions. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe argues that there is a need for big business to take an active leadership role on wellbeing issues. Sainsbury’s Living Well index has set out to help people internally and externally lead happier, healthier lives.

Image credit: Sainsbury’s

“The Index will help to inform how we run our business and will also help us uncover and engage more boldly on the issues that concern people most in their everyday lives.” Sainsbury’s is able to draw on these findings, which are updated every six months, to actively engage with its customers and employees in areas that matter most to them.

John Lewis Partnership has developed an approach to employee wellbeing that reflects the values of its business priorities. The retailer’s services support around 84,000 employees across 400 sites and include physiotherapy, counselling, fitness for work advice, among many other benefits.

Companies willing to focus on wellbeing may see a boost in their bottom line as well – so why have some organisations been so slow on the uptake? It can certainly prove more difficult for SMEs to lend time to wellbeing initiatives. Around 28% of small to medium employers state that they are too busy to think about supporting mental health in the workplace, with 48% believing they could be doing more in this area.

Dan Ariely, professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University found that rather than focusing on financial incentives, companies would do better to reward their personnel by providing greater flexibility. For example, having a healthy work-life balance is crucial for your mental and physical health and can help stave off stress. Around the clock WhatsApps to employees may facilitate time-sensitive business driving decisions but also business crippling burnout.

Perhaps a bit of flexibility could spawn new approaches in salary management too. In some businesses, employees can access 30% of their salary, interest free, before being paid at the end of each month; this flexibility is designed to help staff better cope with unexpected expenses and avoid debt.

Photo credit: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s, the American grocery chain with shelves overflowing with unique products, has often been cited for promoting staff wellbeing through workplace flexibility. There isn’t any stigma around requesting a shorter work week because you’re tied up with other commitments. On the flip side, if you can take on more work, all you need to do is ask. It’s no coincidence that the business has such a high demand for expansion and customers often mention the happy, brightly dressed store staff.

Retailers, marketeers and even psychologists have a long-way to go in understanding the inner workings of the brain and what drives happiness. In the meantime, we can all agree that the welfare of employees and customers is important to all consumer-facing businesses. So, it feels prudent to track progress in this space.

Encouraging wellbeing in employees and also among customers is a key focus for some of the world’s most successful and innovative organisations. These companies invest great time, energy and resources into creating workplaces and products that embrace wellness and consider it a vital part of their business strategy. Studies and experiments will continue to show that companies with a genuine desire to provide wellness will be much better positioned for the future. | | @TheMBSGroup