HR needs to value wellbeing

Written by
Mark Winwood

04 Jan 2017

04 Jan 2017 • by Mark Winwood

Business success is also dependent on employees whose performance and productivity are heavily influenced by three key factors – their physical, mental and financial health. And it is with these key components of wellbeing that HR has a critical role to play – especially in helping employees to deal with difficulties or challenges that may arise in managing them. 

We know from our own research* that physical, mental and financial health are or have been an issue for a considerable number of employees. For example, nearly a third of the employees we surveyed say they have struggled with their physical health (30%). 36% say they have experienced mental ill health and 52% say they have had financial difficulties.

There is, moreover, a clear association between health and wealth, with a sizeable proportion of employees saying that, when they have struggled financially, their mental health (76%) and physical health (50%) have also been negatively affected. 

In a similar vein, most employees who say they have experienced difficulty with their mental health say they have also struggled with their physical health (81%) and with their finances (52%).

Likewise for those affected by problems with their physical health, with 71% saying that, when they have struggled physically, their mental health has also been adversely affected and 40% saying their finances have taken a turn for the worse.

While it may be tempting to keep quiet about such sensitive personal matters, doing so does little or nothing to help employees address the issue. Worse still, those who follow this approach may be missing out on the very help and support they need to deal with their difficulties. But help is at hand and, with the support and commitment of their business leaders, HR can be instrumental part in helping employees to break their silence.

First and foremost, HR and business leaders should work together to create the positive, supportive workplace culture that’s critical for success – a culture where employees can be confident to open up and talk about their concerns. And a good way to help reassure employees that it is okay to do so is for business leaders and senior managers to be open and frank about difficulties that they have encountered. This can set a powerful precedent. For example, KPMG director Nick Baber has been forthright in speaking openly about his own experiences and, by doing so, helped to reassure colleagues that they too can secure suitable support and without being judged.

It is also important for HR to ensure that line managers are suitably supported, trained, vigilant and know what to do when they recognise employees who are experiencing difficulty – for example, appearing withdrawn or downbeat or are behaving out of character. This may sound simple but, for some managers, it may not be the case. For example, in a recent survey of managers dealing with employees affected by cancer,** 21% of those we polled said they don’t feel comfortable speaking with employees about any illness – let alone cancer.
Having what can be difficult conversations is a big but necessary ask of line managers, however, and needs to be done in a professional, constructive way, with HR at the ready to provide further support if necessary. Gaining employees’ confidence will help mangers to get to the bottom of what’s troubling them and, in turn, guide them to suitable support. This may include accessing in-house resources such as an employee assistance programme as well as external resources such as the helplines provided by the mental health charity Mind or the National Debtline or their own GP.

Good employers understand that it’s in their – and their employees’ – interest to create a work environment where employees know they can be open and honest without fear of being judged or disadvantaged. Equally, employers need to ensure that managers are properly trained and supported to enable them to ask employees about how they really are. Otherwise, too many will needlessly continue to suffer in silence.

*YouGov online survey of 4183 adults of whom 2470 were employed. Fieldwork was undertaken May 2016. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

**OnePoll survey of 500 managers who have managed an employee with cancer undertaken September 2016.