By Professor Hew Gill, Associate Provost, Sunway University,
Ensuring the well-being of your employees is critical to maintaining competitive advantage and promoting profitability. Organisational success depends on being able to attract and retain employees who can respond quickly and flexibly to new business challenges, and well-being is emerging as a key organisational differentiator for attracting and retaining talent.
This means it’s essential to have a clear strategy to prioritise the factors necessary to develop and maintain a healthy, happy and productive workplace.
An effective well-being strategy needs to have clear and measurable organisational objectives. These may include boosting productivity, reducing absenteeism, improving staff retention, increasing engagement, making employees advocates for the business, etc. Once your objectives are clear the best way to discover how to achieve them is to seek ideas and inputs from across your whole workforce so you develop a customised well-being strategy that addresses the unique needs of your organisation.
Good well-being strategies need to be holistic and to cover the physical, psychological and social well-being of your workforce. Focus groups, town hall and departmental meetings are good ways to encourage the open and frank communication that enables everybody to raise any point or opinion that they think is important for their well-being. It’s likely that many of the issues raised around individual employee health, safety and support will be relatively small, but they are also likely to form clear patterns that can be tackled through larger scale changes.
Developing an effective strategy also means thinking about the longer-term and putting in place the positive and preventative systems which will help individuals to reach peak performance at work.
This means it may be necessary for leaders to guide discussions about well-being to ensure that key areas are covered comprehensively and that the link between well-being and organisational objectives is very clear to all involved.
Many physical aspects of well-being may already be covered in existing health and safety plans. However, physical well-being is much broader and may also include aspects of health promotion, so you need to be clear about the limits of your well-being strategy.
For example, ensuring employees stay hydrated is relatively easy, but access to healthy food or pro-active programmes to promote exercise, reduce smoking or encourage good sleep patterns come in many forms with different costs so it’s important to be clear about what you think is necessary and possible in your organisation.
Psychological health i also very important, and in its broadest sense well-being is about the so-called “psychological contract” between organisations and their workforce. This is very different to the formal terms and conditions of employment because it’s about the implicit expectations and mutual obligations between employees and employers around things like the organisational culture and values, the ways in which people are treated, assumptions about the intentions of the company and its plans for individual workers. Employees want to feel valued and valuable, they want a sense of purpose at work, and they need to feel secure about the future.
This means that a well-being strategy might provide immediate psychological support through employee assistance programmes, but may also include opportunities for job-enrichment, individual coaching and personal development, alongside longer-term financial and retirement planning. Getting colleagues to talk about their anxieties will usually help to identify the areas where policy action may be needed.
The social aspects of well-being are obviously concerned with relationships, but not necessarily or exclusively those within the organisation because for most people the really important relationships are with family and friends outside work. Depending on the make-up of your workforce an effective well-being strategy may include family friendly policies, flexible working times, or community volunteering opportunities through corporate social responsibility programmes.
Seeking and listening to a diversity of opinions will take time and it is very likely that there will be many more ideas and suggestions than it is possible to implement in a single well-being strategy. However, the consultation process will enable people to identify and agree about a particular set of issues that provide a good basis for an initial strategy with some actionable proposals.
When you begin to implement your new strategy you will find there are people across the organisation who want to champion specific aspects of well-being and these individuals can help to drive success. They can also be brought together in working-groups to review feedback from colleagues and drive continuous improvement so the well-being strategy becomes increasingly effective over time.
Once the well-being strategy is in place you need to assess its impact in terms of your original organisational objectives. It’s important to keep communicating about successes to increase impact and also to highlight where the strategy needs to evolve as organisational objectives change. Over time an effective well-being strategy will become an increasingly important and integral part of what makes your organisation distinctive, attractive and competitive.