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Workplace wellbeing: change must come from the top

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Did you know in 2014, 11.3 million working days were lost due to anxiety and stress in the UK? Thankfully the concept of workplace wellbeing has grown significantly in the last few years encapsulating both physical and mental health. But what more can be done by you the employer? Lucy Whitehall explains further.

Foresee the need for support

Whether the health problem is caused by circumstances at home or at work, the impact on the employee and those around them can be significant. As an HR professional, you can help your business prepare for these circumstances and be ready to support any affected employee in a professional capacity. This can be a difficult situation as the needs of the individual must be balanced with the needs of the business.

The health of the employee must come first in these situations, as in the long run it is best to ensure their happiness and health, even if that means making a compromise in the short term.  Below are some essential ways that HR managers can ensure their employees are looked after.

Encourage physical activity

As business has become 24/7, our working lives have started to mirror this pattern. No longer can we leave the office knowing that we can’t check our emails until the next morning, and many employees feel under pressure to respond to emails wherever, whenever, however. With all this accessibility, we sometimes sacrifice our work/life balance in order to get ahead.

Working in HR, you have a responsibility to guide employees to make healthy choices. Physical activity is a good way for employees to look after themselves, and you should not feel worried about reminding them about the virtues of building strength and resilience. Regular breaks from desks and walking meetings can be a good way to build exercise into the working day.

Encouraging employees to be active outside of work also helps with stress relief. Being active outdoors may be particularly beneficial to employees, as many studies suggest there is a positive relationship between exposure to daylight and mental health. Sending gentle reminders that switching off for an hour to go for a walk or squeezing in a gym session is beneficial could help boost your employees’ productivity.

You could try adding an employee incentive for the most active employee, or providing health tech devices to encourage physical activity. Appointing a 'Health Champion' to act as a role model for employees can also provide the necessary motivation to get employees engaging with their physical health.

Nutritious nibbling

The old phrase rings true, you are what you eat. Employees eating lots of fat or sugar will experience lower energy levels and while the delicious sweets may perk them up temporarily, they won’t get them through the day.

HR can help influence employee eating habits by promoting healthy foods in canteens and providing nutritious snacks in meeting and break out areas. Staff need to have the option to make good food choices, and thinking carefully about the foods you provide can help them along this path.

Spot the signs

Recognising the signs of stress, anxiety and depression is a vital skill for HR managers. You are the first port of call if someone is struggling, so while you may be able to spot and solve physical problems, you need to be ready for psychological ones too. This isn’t necessarily easy, as all employees will work best under different levels of tension, and respond differently to additional pressure. It can also be tough for managers to know about difficult situations in the employees’ home. Each individual will have a unique breaking point and put up with a different level of stress before they feel that they can’t control all the demands placed on them.

Individuals suffering from prolonged stress will experience a drop in productivity, and also in motivation. Should the issue persist, the employee may be at risk of developing a mental health problem or suffering from burnout. The signs of impending burnout include isolation from others, an inability to complete routine work to the usual standard, and exhaustion that cannot be relieved by sleep. 

It is crucial that HR professionals take steps to reduce overbearing pressure, and recognise employees that may be at risk of poor wellbeing. Making sure managers have thorough awareness and a proper process in place to manage struggling individuals is key. Ensuring that this is the case will help your managers, your employees and the morale of your team, as well as keeping the bottom line of the business healthy.

Employers have a duty of care towards those who work for them. HR, being such a pivotal function, needs to lead from the front and ensure employee wellbeing is top of the agenda. Making simple changes or tweaks can help boost employee performance, along with that of the business.

Lucy Whitehall

By Lucy Whitehall

Wellbeing Consultant at CABA

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