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Wellbeing at work

Video with Professor Wendy Loretto, Business School, University of Edinburgh, on employee wellbeing
Wellbeing sells. Many businesses have realised that they need not only keep the customers happy but should also pay attention to the wellbeing of their employees. We hear from Wendy Loretto, who is professor of organisational behaviour at the Business School of the University of Edinburgh about the research evidence in this area.
Why should employers take the wellbeing of their employees seriously? Well, I think there are two very important and interconnected reasons. First of all, there’s the business case. It’s good for their business. And secondly, because the should. The moral case. The welfare of their employees. We know that employees with higher wellbeing have higher job satisfaction, they’re healthier, and they also tend to attend. So it prevents problems such as poor attendance and poor performance. We have ageing populations across many countries now. So people are going to be working longer than ever before. And keeping people in good health is going to be increasingly important.
We have employees of all ages looking to employers to help them to achieve their wellbeing in their life and to achieve a good work-life balance. So Generation Y or the millennials, who by 2020 will compose 75% of the workforce, in particular, are looking to employers to help them be all they can be and to achieve higher wellbeing. A final reason is in relation to mental health and wellbeing. A very recent survey by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development of over 2,000 employees indicated that a third of those employees had suffered from poor mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and are looking to employers to help introduce initiatives to help them.
So what can be done to improve employee wellbeing? What seems to work? What doesn’t? What are some of the common pitfalls in implementing a wellbeing strategy? Well, based on this two-pronged approach, I think approaches that emphasises mutuality are the key to success. And the initiatives that work best and the policies that have worked best have adopted this mutual perspective. And the other side of that is where there have been problems– in particular with implementation– is where this mutuality has not been emphasised. So to give some examples from research that we’ve conducted with a range of employers and employees across Scotland, some of the common pitfalls, first of all, are lack of visibility.
So there has been greater visibility associated with what we would call hard practises, whereby an employer conducts a survey, for example. But then less attention paid to the so-called softer practises. That can be something very simple, such as managers showing an interest in employees and their health and their wellbeing. Another key pitfall is when gaps appear between policy and practise. So this may come up, for example, with a lack of joined up thinking. So one example we had was from a vet who had just completed a case of cognitive behavioural therapy that was paid for by her employers.
But then that very same employer immediately put her into a disciplinary case, which undid any benefit that might have arisen from their support. Another aspect of that lack of joined up thinking and follow through is where a policy is put in place, but then employees come to access the practises and find that they cannot access those. And key here is involving the employees themselves in the design and the implementation. That seems to be key to improving the success. A third issue that we’ve come across in our research is where the interventions have been poorly designed. Employees talk, for example, about sticking plasters.
So one organisation that had put in an enormous amount of money and resource into organising a wellbeing day, but then had no follow up after that, didn’t address the underlying problems. And one employee talked about the elephant in the room, saying this organisation has Tai Chi in the car park but doesn’t address the underlying issues of large scale redundancies, not enabling employees to take breaks, et cetera. And I think another issue, in terms of an implementation with pitfall, is how they’re delivered and who they’re delivered by. So we came across examples where employees who were on shift work or part-time hours couldn’t access some of the wellbeing initiatives. So thinking about everybody. And also who delivers the initiatives.
Line managers are often at the forefront here. But who trains and supports these line managers? We come across frequent instance of managers who feel ill equipped to do these, who are simultaneously concerned about the welfare of their employees but also having to manage performance issues. So supporting them, training them is absolutely key to successful implementation and delivery. Thank you very much for sharing this insightful new research with us.

A veritable wellbeing industry has emerged in recent decades. However, it’s not only important for businesses to try and ‘sell’ wellbeing to their customers, but also look after the wellbeing within their companies.

We hear from Wendy Loretto, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Business School of the University of Edinburgh, why employers should take the wellbeing of their staff seriously and what has to be done to improve employee wellbeing.

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