Why workplace wellbeing is as easy as 1, 2, 3…


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Professor Sir Cary L Cooper explains the three different approaches to organisational wellbeing, and why you should be incorporating all of them to increase employee health and productivity at work in the latest entry from the Business Healthy team.

During and since the 2008 financial crisis the number of people suffering from the common mental disorders of stress, depression and anxiety has risen substantially. The latest CIPD sickness absence report on UK plcs shows that stress and mental ill health combined are the leading cause of sickness absence.

The OECD estimates this cost at equivalent of 4.5% of our GDP, and the Office of National Statistics at 15.2million lost working days to the UK economy.

The direct costs to the economy are enormous, but the indirect costs of lost productive value are also very high, with Bupa reporting that only two in five employees are working at their peak performance.

Presenteeism, which is employees turning up to work either ill or dissatisfied with their job and therefore contributing little added value to their product or service, is soaring in many sectors.

Volumes of research have been published (and are referenced in The Handbook of Stress and Health) which have identified the major causes of what ‘bad work’ is doing to people’s health.

The evidence is clear that consistently working long hours, in bullying or command/control management style, with inflexible working arrangements, unmanageable workloads and unrealistic deadlines, will damage employees’ health and wellbeing.

Many HR and occupational health professionals are now seeing employee wellbeing as a bottom-line issue, and they are developing strategies to enhance organisational wellbeing.

A comprehensive approach to wellbeing should contain primary, secondary and tertiary approaches. Primary interventions involve carrying out wellbeing audits to identify if there is a problem, where it is, and what it is.

There is also an element of prevention, which is crucial to addressing issues before they become problems. Organisations can use data, collected from staff surveys, or questionnaires such as Britain’s Healthiest Workplace to help identify organisational stress and wellbeing issues, enabling targeted interventions to be carried out.

Secondary approaches are about training people to cope with the pressures of work. Programmes that include elements around prioritising workloads, managing conflicts with colleagues, etc, are found by many organisations to be effective and successful.

Finally, tertiary approaches – designed to ‘pick people back up’ – involve employee counselling and EAPs (employee assistance programmes), and Mental Health First Aiders.

Evidence suggests that if companies engage in primary, secondary and tertiary approaches to reduce stress and enhance wellbeing, they will increase employee health and productivity at work.

Businesses with a long-term, integrated and sustained health and wellbeing programme, supported by senior members of staff, can experience reductions in sickness absence, staff turnover and accidents, and productivity increases.

This clearly demonstrates that improving the health and wellbeing of employees is not only good for the individual employee but also for the organisation.

A piece of age-old advice, advocated by Victorian social thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin in 1871, states:

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.”

Sir Cary L Cooper is the 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester; director of the University of Manchester spin-off company Robertson Cooper Ltd, and president of the CIPD.

Business Healthy is a City of London Corporation-led initiative to unite the Square Mile’s business leadership in meeting the health and wellbeing needs of their workers. It provides members with access to an ever-evolving online library of resources and runs expert-led events throughout the year for City businesses.

Business Healthy’s online platform and events provide original information and guidance on health and wellbeing best practice, covering mental, physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, among other areas of interest.