Employee Wellbeing: Policy Driven or Just “the Right Thing to Do”?
14 February 2023
Paul Hamlin, Business Advisor at the GC Business Growth Hub, explains why and how firms should promote employee mental health and wellbeing.
As an operational leader, I have seen my fair share of initiatives come and go. Some have created frameworks for culture change, others introduced with little impact despite making sense to everyone who heard about them, and numerous in between.
I decided to pause and think about something that has recently created a seismic shift in organisational thinking across the UK, which is around employee mental health and well-being.
Around three years ago, my team introduced a specific programme focused on a male-dominated employee base. We first helped everyone to understand and be aware of what we described as “mental wealth” across the team. After understanding what support mechanisms are in place, we asked affected employees what “great looked like” and how we would drive the process together. We introduced a phrase “how you doin?” and irrespective of role or position, we would ask the question every day. More importantly, we knew what to do if the answer was not the one we generally expect.
No one asked us to do it, and we had no specific well-being policies other than those you would expect around good HR employee support mechanisms. Interestingly, the drive, however, was still a legal one and the process began through our health and safety (Zero Harm) committee. We had a strong team-based culture developed through leadership and supervision which significantly reduced physical harm incidents to almost zero. Our programmes of employee ownership and inclusion have been regularly audited. They were working, but we wanted to push ourselves and look deeper into how we could support each other as we move forward.
Why is employee wellbeing important?
In 2017, it all began when we examined the stats. We were initially shocked that suicide was the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, it equated to 16 deaths per day in the UK. It is believed this is significantly underreported through coroners and some families’ pressures and reluctance to assign this as the true cause accurately on their reports. More recently, it is estimated that around 15% of all employees, irrespective of gender or age, have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. The cost? Recent Government estimates say that the cost to the economy is somewhere between £74bn - £99bn/Year, and the cost to employers is somewhere between £33bn – 42bn/year.
Whilst we did not focus on costs, we did focus on the impacts that could be measured and understood by our workplace community, including employee engagement, empowerment, absence, productivity and support provision uptake. By utilising the numbers or KPIs we already had, we could get more people talking about it as it was more relevant to our daily operation. Our localised stats made this more meaningful for our people. What motivated us to implement a new programme has transformed into a measurable format.
So, what are my conclusions at this stage – Policy or Just the right thing to do?
I believe we have enough policies in place and are in danger of creating leaders and managers who spend their day working through “how” they fulfil their roles. I understand legal frameworks have to be in place, and time has to be spent to ensure they understand these are essential.
However, the reasons they do what they do is cultural. If tomorrow’s leaders, managers and supervisors are to flourish but, more importantly, enable their teams to flourish, then their behaviour needs to be developed. We need to understand our people and get them involved in looking after each other, including leaders. By doing that, whatever your KPIs are, I am sure it will have a positive trend. I focused my team on a strengths-based approach in the workplace, looking at what people are good at, what energises them, and what they can do well with positive affirmations. The approach is proven to help people’s well-being and performance. We did not ignore weaknesses or when performance slipped but understood this was part of supporting each other and dealing with it as necessary, with discipline a last resort, and very rarely used.
From my experience, employees who are part of a successful team will deliver their best and feel good about it. When things are not going well, and inevitably that also happens, we should support each other naturally and without prejudice. These are cultural and leadership behaviours.
A company should have a policy. However, we also need to do the right thing.
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If you’re looking for support on this topic, the following documents are a guide:
Thriving at Work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers
This article was originally published by the GM Leadership Hive: GM Leadership Hive | Employee Wellbeing: Policy driven or just “the right thing to do”?