The government and those influencing public policy are encouraging employers to take employee wellbeing seriously. That sounds good, and “wellbeing” is one of those words we hear a lot these days, but what does it actually mean in practice, in the workplace?
Wellbeing is essentially how someone feels about various aspects of their life – their home life, their health, their relationships with others, their job and other activities. It’s about whether they feel well and happy.
In the workplace, wellbeing used to be a question of health and safety at work, in other words limiting and addressing health and safety concerns related to injuries or health problems caused by the workplace.
These days wellbeing in the workplace is a much broader issue. In health terms, as well as directly work-related health and safety, it’s about improving the health levels of employees more generally. Employee wellbeing is about more than physiological or mental ill health – it’s about optimising the health of all employees, not just reducing the numbers of staff who are diagnosed with medical conditions. Employee wellbeing also extends beyond health, and into happiness as well, and job satisfaction.
But what factors can affect employee wellbeing? There are of course plenty of personal factors outside the employer’s control which can have an impact, such as family circumstances, home environment, personal attributes and characteristics.
But there are many factors affecting employees’ wellbeing which can be influenced by the employer. Many of these factors centre around the job itself – does the employee have a degree of control over their work, clarity about their responsibilities, variety of tasks, training and support? Do their working hours give them sufficient rest or flexibility?
Other factors controlled or influenced by the employer include the workplace environment, HR policies (including fairness and transparency over pay and promotion decisions) and relationships with colleagues.
People spend a large proportion of their life at work, and employers have the potential to have a significant impact on their employees’ wellbeing with the factors above, but actually employers can also influence the wellbeing of their employees outside those workplace-controlled factors as well. In forward-thinking workplaces, focusing on employee wellbeing involves initiatives to improve the health and happiness of employees even outside the workplace completely, such as schemes to increase the number of employees who cycle to work, or give up smoking.
It’s crucial to understand that a focus on employee wellbeing involves a holistic approach, taking into account the numerous factors shaping how employees feel at (and about) their work, and considering how as an employer you can influence these for the better.
If you’d like more advice on employee wellbeing do get in touch.