How to benefit from a healthy workforce

27 September 2017 | By Mary Sisson

A workforce that is led by healthy leadership teams and supported by a workplace wellbeing culture is good for business, says Mary Sisson.

Our research at Awbery suggests there is an indisputable link between employees with healthy bodies and minds and their capabilities and performance in the workplace.

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, with evidence indicating that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.

Thankfully, awareness and understanding of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is now on the rise, with a growing appreciation of how stress, anxiety and depression can contribute to burnout, which has a major impact on the performance of the individual, team and business as a whole.

Increasingly, it is recognised that there is a clear business benefit from enabling a culture of positive employee wellbeing. In one global organisation we saw a 13% improvement in overall wellbeing scores among 32 senior executives who took part in an 11-month leadership and wellbeing development programme.

“Role-model behaviour should be consistently demonstrated by the leadership team from the very top level. Two key examples of this include attitudes to sleep and general awareness of the importance of wellbeing.”

Recognition of the benefits of wellbeing in the workplace is great news for the employees in these forward-thinking and people-centric businesses. But to see a positive impact on business results, initiatives need to be aligned with the management style and accountability – and the senior team needs to be heavily involved to ensure this happens.

Fundamental to this change is that role-model behaviour should be consistently demonstrated by the leadership team from the very top level. Two key examples of this include attitudes to sleep and general awareness of the importance of wellbeing.

Sleep is a key factor to health, fitness and wellbeing, but few of us are actually getting enough of it. According to the NHS, one in three of us is not hitting the daily target of eight hours. In most cases this is down to stress, computer use and taking work home with us. The reality is that a lack of sleep has an impact on performance, and operating in a sleep-deprived state leaves your mind more likely to misinterpret or misjudge.

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To help combat problems with sleep, try shortening the working day whenever possible – look at policies covering travel, email, work time limits, and introduce a “no contact” policy between 6pm and 6am, so no emails or working at home. This will allow the “switch-off” that leads to a better night’s sleep. If this approach is to be taken seriously, it needs to be led and adhered to from the top of the organisation.

Similarly, it is important to develop awareness, knowledge and understanding among the teams of what wellbeing is and why it is important to them. Support managers and team leaders and equip them with the confidence and competence to communicate, direct, lead and manage performance, so they can coach their team to release potential and discuss all matters of mind, body, health and wellbeing.

This type of approach resonates with staff: we have received positive feedback from participants in wellbeing programmes. One said: “It has made me think about how to improve my own health and wellbeing as well as everyone around me,” while another commented: “Participants are eating better, exercising, and sleeping better – and thus are better at work.” 

Changing the workplace culture

So, what more can we do to embed a wellbeing culture? Here are some examples:

Engaging leaders and employees to embrace and bring to life a wellbeing culture won’t happen overnight, but supporting this development, through a coaching and mentoring style delivered by well-informed leaders, will go a long way towards encouraging and enabling employees to identify their own personal wellbeing goals and objectives, and progress on their own personal journey.

Mary Sisson is business development director at Awbery, which specialises in leadership and management, HR and coaching solutions.

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