We’ve all heard of greenwashing, and more recently, the phrase techwashing has come into business language to indicate those who put new labels on legacy solutions. Now, following the global pandemic, wellbeing-washing also sits in a triumvirate of challenging pitfalls facing businesses. As wellness climbs the strategic agenda, Nivek Dove, HR Consultant with HR Now, asks if employers are putting the balance sheet behind the talk?
The issue of Wellness
As employers and HR professionals, we’ve absolutely got this, haven’t we? We’ve stats and insights filling our inboxes every day. We understand the concept because we’ve been discussing the benefits of wellness in the workplace since the 50s, it’s nothing new. It has however taken on an even greater significance as globalisation creates more connectivity, availability, and digital transformation for a modern workforce that has not only been impacted by a worldwide pandemic, but the constant threat of war, dramatic impacts of climate change and an ever changing digital landscape. So, as employers, we know why this is important, but have we got it right yet?
The workplace wellness reality
It seems we haven’t quite got it right. Reports of well-being washing are rising as employees are increasingly told their wellness is a priority, without the balance sheet investment.
The CIPD Health and wellbeing at work 2022: Survey report (cipd.co.uk) reports rising levels of stress and mental health related absences, and post-pandemic predicts this will increase with the next generation, yet only half of employers report taking a strategic approach to health and wellbeing.
- 67% of employees are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress
- 28% had seen their productivity negatively impacted because of stress within the last two years
- HR professionals observed employees displaying presenteeism and leavism at 81% and 67% respectively as we work through illnesses or use leave or flexitime to manage workloads.
Why are wellness concerns not working?
There’s no doubt that employers say they think employee wellness is important, but many are falling short of expectations and needs. So, how can we ensure we are doing the best for our people and the sustainability of our businesses?
With fewer than 26% of employers reporting that they provide training for line managers responsible for health-related absence, it’s not surprising that a high percentage of employees report line managers as part of the problem.
50% of employees said that they hadn’t received health and well-being support from their employer during the pandemic. This provides a great opportunity to develop motivation, loyalty and productivity in what is increasingly a tight labour market.
A 2022 Poll by Champion Health of 2000+ employees reports:
- over 50% said they felt fatigued, and tiredness was impacting their productivity at work
- only 5% said their employer had put in place extra support services to help Return to Work (RTW) on a more normal pattern compared to 73% who did not (22% didn’t know)
The way to make Wellness in the Workplace happen
The CIPD reports that over 70% of line managers have primary responsibility for managing short term absence in organisations and only half of the participating organisations take a strategic approach to employee wellbeing.
It appears that whilst social media is highlighting how important the health and wellbeing of employees is to employers, it’s actually our line managers who are taking the weight.
The key link in the employee wellbeing chain is the supportive role that line managers play. Managing people, and supporting their health, is a critical role. Line managers are under considerable pressure in the current climate, and no doubt have felt the pressures and effects of those they manage. The continuing impact of the pandemic and other health-related issues means they will be managing a potentially complex mix of personal situations in their teams.
As a priority, we need to ensure our line managers have the confidence and capability to nurture trust-based relationships with their reports. They need to feel comfortable to talk about work and wellbeing.
To perform this role effectively, managers need the behaviours, training, and skills they will only gain from receiving effective training, support, and expert guidance.
They also need the time and space to devote to people management, which should be a core part of their role. Making sure the budget is both available and prioritised is critical to ensuring line managers can be proactive.
This is one of the compelling reasons why the attention of senior leaders needs to be firmly focused on health and wellbeing. Even if it already is, HR professionals should continue to build the business case for ongoing commitment and investment from the board by demonstrating the impact of their health and wellbeing activity.
It is an employer’s responsibility to think about wellness
The environment and culture you cultivate in your workplace is critical to everyone’s wellbeing. If it is one of competitiveness, bullying, and a lack of diversity, then you are going to find your staff impacted mentally and ultimately physically. That will feed to your bottom line, quite apart from your moral duty; and then there is also the legal onus on you as an employer to look after your staff and abide by workplace laws. For example, you have a legal duty of care under the Health and Safety legislation, to look after your staff’s mental health. Many businesses don’t even have a mental health policy for their workplace, and this can result in claims going to Tribunal, or even the Royal court.
Where do you start?
As with many things in the employee employer relationship, the starting point is talking about this. Talk to your line managers. Ask them what they are feeling, hearing, and seeing and agree with them what you’ll do together.