The buzzword “culture” and the pivotal concept of “well-being strategy” are currently at the forefront of concerns for businesses globally. Organisations worldwide are placing significant emphasis on these factors.

However, despite this emphasis, recent studies indicate a concerning trend: staff well-being is experiencing a decline in the aftermath of the pandemic. So, in a landscape where both culture and well-being are highly valued and invested in, a perplexing question arises: What has led to this downturn?

Your current strategy

So, you have a budget or even an idea to focus on employee experience in the workplace. You enrolled your employees on gym memberships and introduced an all-expenses paid lunch every Friday, but, staff seem to keep leaving complaining of poor wellbeing. The positive to this is that you care about your staff, which means in turn they will care about their work which translates into high performance. However, the challenge to introducing such wellbeing initiatives is that it proves to be a waste of money, and worse, employees feel underappreciated.

The HR Habitat 2022 study shows that employees want higher pay checks over job perks such as gym memberships and private medical insurance. Perhaps it is time to stop spending money on low impact wellbeing initiatives and focus on strategies that will work.

The damages that comes from poor wellbeing is both superficial and deep level. First, poor wellbeing results in poor performance- employees are unable to apply themselves to their roles to meet the targets set. Over time, you may find that poor performance is the subject of conversation which may end in either termination of contract or the employee handing in their notice. Then of course you then have the added pressure, time constraint and financial burden of replacing them.

The deep level impacts of poor employee wellbeing is that you risk losing your best talent. If you are seen to under value their wellbeing then you may just lose your best talent to your competitors while adopting a negative reputation along the way.

Who is responsible for employee wellbeing?

Believe it or not, some lawful provisions instruct the employer to seek out declining wellbeing and mental health, however, employees are also expected to take some consideration for their own.

Employers have ‘a duty of care’ toward their staff and if it is found that the internal processes are causing harm or risk to health and safety or mental health, then this could be lawfully classed as work-related stress, which means the employer will have to provide added measures to this employee in response – this could be by proving reasonable adjustments to roles and responsibilities or removing certain heavy workloads without a deduction of pay. So, why wait for matters to get this far when we can be preventative?

Poor wellbeing sometimes results in high levels of stress, and while stress is not classed as a disability in the provisions set out in the Equality Act 2010, it can lead to mental health conditions, which are protected under this Act.

In the first instance, we advise that employers are able to spot the signs of poor mental health and chronic stress. These signs can be the following:

  • appearing tired, anxious or unusually withdrawn
  • increase in sickness absence or being late to work
  • declining focus on tasks
  • a change in performance
  • less engaged than normal
  • unwilling to speak to others when usually they are open to interaction
  • mood changes, being distant
  • any changes in usual behaviour

But it is also about business owners

The flip side that nobody talks about is – what about you?

Ultimately, any strategy is a good as those leading it. Take your wellbeing strategies for example, are you fully invested into ensuring that all employees, you included, can be applies to their positions with pride? If as a business owner, you are in dire stresses dealing with challenging employee matters such as grievances or investigations, or perhaps you are under huge amount of pressure to close a client deal, or maybe you have been up all night for the past two weeks innovating to get a new service off the ground – all of this has a knock on effect to your employees.

In my line of work, I see first-hand how business owners or c-suites inadvertently treat employees differently when they are under copious amounts of stress. As mentioned earlier, imagine all the best gym memberships in the world and the best private health care – none of it will have any positive impact if the leadership teams are not well equipped in dealing with stresses while having to daily manage employee matters.

So what should I do?

Another 2022 HR Habitat survey showed that the number one reason why people leave their jobs is due to bad management. Now taking this into consideration some effective strategies are:

  • Invest in developing leadership teams: no person knows how to manage others. It takes a certain skill to know how to deal with employees to encourage and built confidence and motivate. The benefit: employees are more applied to their roles always wanting to reach targets to satisfy their ‘good boss’
  • Conduct internal surveys: don’t just implement a one size fits all solution. Take time to establish what those in your business seek. It is not to say you will implement every idea suggested, but it gives you the upper hand in understanding what different employees are attracted to and then you will be able to draw insights per category of people. You may find that a younger crowd are interested in working in quirky spaces while older employees prefer enhanced pensions benefits. The benefit: you stay competitive if you know how employees think. You will also be able to retain your best staff while positioning yourself to attract more. Staff also feel valued as their voices matter.
  • Mental health: invest in mental health apps and feel good forums that allow employees to tap into the system if they need extra help. The benefit: happy employees work harder.
  • Interaction: if the pandemic showed us anything its that being isolated affects wellbeing. Whether you operate in-office or remotely you should consider social initiatives.
  • Development: consider thorough HR strategies such as career prospects or new skills learned. The benefit: as humans we are more engaged when things aren’t tedious.

The takeaway

As much as individuals should take care of their own wellbeing, employers also have a duty of care towards each employee. This means they should spot the sigs of declining wellbeing and stress as mentioned above.

Oftentimes, job perks are not enough to increase wellbeing of staff and the only sure way to know is to ask. Consider internal surveys and open routes to two-way communication to truly understand what wellbeing means to your employees. The aim is to ensure you are fulfilling your legal duty as well as taking care of employees and bringing out the best in them – after all, salaries are often one of the largest overhead of any business.

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Tina Rahman
Founder at HR Habitat | + posts

Tina Rahman is founder of HR Habitat, an employment law and HR consultancy firm in London. HR Habitat works with businesses of all sizes all over the UK and all industries including NHS, hospitality, construction, recruitment, celeb fashion PR designers, retail and charities to name a few. HR Habitat's ethos is to prevent employee tribunal claims and disputes by protecting clients via lawful and ethical HR practices, that also win them enhanced reputation as well as increased profits.