Employee wellness, both physical and mental, has never been more important or more under focus. We all know that a happy and healthy workforce is a more productive one, and that the wellbeing of our people has a positive impact on the recruitment, retention, and loyalty of our teams.
A mistake made by many small to medium-sized employers is programmes that enhance employee wellbeing are the realm of the largest businesses only, that employees of smaller firms do not expect such “luxuries”. Whether they expect it or not is almost irrelevant. Wellbeing activities and programmes can decrease absenteeism, boost productivity, spark creativity, and enhance collaboration and interpersonal relationships. Only the foolhardy overlook these opportunities to attract the best talent, keep them, keep them happy, and get the very best from them.
Some ideas will work better than others, depending on the size and nature of the business and workforce. There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution here. However, one thing that is universally fundamental to employee engagement, confidence and mental wellbeing is communication. A culture of open, two-way communication will result in teams with faith and trust in their leadership, a confidence in the business, and an affinity to and understanding of the business’s purpose, strategy and values. Despite this, CIPD’s Good Work Index, which has been measuring the UK’s experiences at work since 2018, reported that a third of employees defined their manager as being poor at keeping them informed about management decisions. Nothing will make your people feel less valued than keeping them in the dark about the things that will ultimately affect their work lives. Similarly, feeling siloed or uninformed will only increase stress levels across your population. And that's never good for attendance or productivity. If you’re not sure that your internal comms are hitting the mark, then an independent health check can be invaluable.
Once you’ve got this most fundamental of strategies in place, you can look at some of the other options for boosting wellness in your workplace.
For mental health, investing in discounted mental wellness or therapy sessions, or mindfulness classes, can be really beneficial to both wellbeing and team bonding. Having a suitably informed mental health first-aider on the team can also help.
For physical health, organising some fun exercise for your teams is another great way of increasing wellness whilst enhancing inter-team relationships. From football friendlies to office yoga or pilates, encouraging your people to share some physical exercise is great for mind, body and soul! And these don’t have to cost much, if anything, to arrange or host. You may even have someone on your staff who can lead this. You could also run friendly competitions around total steps walked in a week or month, or arrange a team treasure hunt, to encourage some low impact but valuable activity.
A slightly more “out there” but quite fascinating option is to turn your meetings into walking meetings! Research by Stanford found that walking improves creativity by 60%. And if the weather won’t allow for a walk in the fresh air, just walking inside still boosts those creative juicers!
Providing some healthy snacks is a great way of keeping your people fuller and healthier (both great for concentration and productivity). From fruit bowls to a healthy-choices breakfast club, there are plenty of ways of showing that you care about how your people are feeling, physically and mentally.
The provision of hot drinks is a pretty basic requirement, and I’ve never had the displeasure of working somewhere that didn’t provide a kettle and some branded tea bags and instant coffee. But going just a little step further by extending the offering to different varieties of tea, some decaf’ options, or even a hot drinks machine with multiple options, will make more of your people feel catered for and valued. And many of us don’t drink nearly enough water throughout the day, which is terrible for concentration and fatigue, so water coolers are another really basic prerequisite.
Don’t forget to pay a little attention to your physical workspace. Plenty of natural light, windows that open, heating that works, adequate space to move, ergonomically sound desks and conformable chairs and fully working and maintained tech’ all make up a bare minimum. Plants can make a huge but inexpensive difference, and a comfy, relaxed break-out area is a worthy addition if space allows. Some bright, contemporary art on the walls can also make an office feel more inviting. (Nothing is less welcoming than decades-old warnings from an ex-office manager about washing up your own mug, peeling off the walls with the dry, yellowed Sellotape carrying a top layer of cracked paintwork with it.)
A more relaxed dress code is almost always well received and has been shown to improve productivity. It can also encourage more activity around the working day, as it’s easier to walk or cycle to work if you’re not in an expensive suit or a pair of heels (or so I’m told!)
Social events are a great way of letting your team blow off steam, and to build stronger relationships – great for collaboration, creativity, and mental health. If you don’t want to go for away-day options, consider movie nights, a book club, a bowling night, or even hiring a motivational speaker of some sort.
Recognition and appreciation are also hugely important when it comes to our people feeling valued. A peer-to-peer recognition scheme allows people to express their gratitude to their colleagues for a whole host of reasons, be that recognition for professional or performance-related achievements, or more personal gratitude for support, guidance, or something else that would otherwise be off-radar. Either way, the emotional boost to both the sender and the receiver of the recognition is wonderful for wellbeing, and it can have a contagious effect on all who see it too. Celebrating the most notable nominations with regular awards or rewards is also a great way to celebrate the positives, encourage more of the same, and boost everyone’s spirits with some office love!
And finally, a shout-out for modern working practices. Flexible working hours and/or locations, where they can be offered, are a huge boost to employee wellbeing and loyalty. They advocate trust and a respect for work/life balance, and they are known to increase productivity and to help to attract talent. Similarly, offering a more flexible approach to annual leave (such as a buy-&-sell-leave scheme) is a great way of making your people feel more valued and in control.
These are just a few suggestions that can make a difference to the wellbeing of your people. And that difference can be huge for the wellbeing of your business and its bottom line. So, start with your communication strategy, and then look at what else you can reasonably do to bolster the health and wellness of your people.