Workplace Wellbeing – Time for a Reset?

Wellbeing in the workplace — for such a harmless little phrase, it’s surprisingly divisive. In our experience, it conjures every reaction from outright cynicism (“just let me get back to my coffee-and-adrenaline-fuelled day”), through to uncritical enthusiasm (“we’ve swapped all the chairs for stability balls”).

More common, however, is something between the two. Many business leaders would like to do something about wellbeing, but face two problems:

  • They’re not clear on what the actual benefits might be.
  • They don’t know where to start with this whole wellbeing thing.

As one of the few truly data-driven wellbeing consultants, we spend much of our working day analysing how wellbeing affects workers and businesses. What we know for certain — from reading bazillions of scientific papers and from our own extensive research — should be good news for every business leader.

Wellbeing works. Really well.

Firstly, wellbeing is much more than this decade’s buzzword. Real-world research shows that there’s a solid business case for investing in staff wellbeing. There’s now a substantial body of evidence linking improved wellbeing to a whole raft of positive business outcomes, including better staff retention, lower absenteeism and improved productivity.

To give just one example, our own research showed that working in a cool light setting was associated with an improvement in cognitive performance of over 5%. So, it turns out that even tweaking an individual’s physical environment can make a big difference to their mental acuity.

Well-meaning, but not wellbeing.

If you were waiting for the ‘but…’, here it is.

Unfortunately, many workplace wellbeing programmes have their hearts in the right place, but only deliver minimal improvements.

That’s because they don’t gather any meaningful data about the actual people they have been contracted to help – that is, the employees – to create a personalised, holistic programme. Without this crucial stage, wellbeing interventions are about as optimal as a two-legged stool.

For example, take a programme that focuses exclusively on mental health, but doesn’t investigate employee sleep quality. We know that after a bad night’s sleep, people are likely to make poorer food choices and take less exercise — and that this in turn is associated with increased levels of stress. Our own research has shown that, for certain employees, achieving over 7 and half hours sleep per night enhanced their cognitive performance by 12%.  So, if employees are chronically sleep deprived, addressing mental health alone is unlikely to effect the greatest reductions in stress and anxiety.

It’s a pity, because there’s now ample science to guide wellbeing programmes. We know that the most effective programmes use data gathering to inform holistic and personalised interventions. Research also tells us that a shared sense of ownership is important, where both employer and employee take responsibility for wellbeing. Taken together, these are the principles are at the core of ART’s methods.

Wellbeing – just for the big players?

There’s a lingering perception that wellbeing programmes are all well and good for the huge corporations, but can’t really benefit smaller organisations. Managers look at their team’s busy schedule and conclude that there simply isn’t enough time or spare capacity.

There’s an obvious irony in exhausted, stressed-out people – including business owners – not feeling they have the time to manage their stress. But more broadly, we think this is the wrong way to frame the problem. Given that staff healthiness, happiness and performance underpin virtually all business functions, wellbeing is not an optional extra. Instead, it’s part of the foundation of any company, regardless of its size.

Why it’s time for a wellbeing reset.

We think there are three great reasons, right now, for businesses to reset their thinking on wellbeing in the workplace:

  • Home and hybrid working are here for the foreseeable future, with huge wellbeing implications for everyone.
  • Wellbeing is now a key part of how staff think about their job, including how long they stay for an employer.
  • Evidence-based wellness methods are now available to guide every type of organisation.

There’s no doubt in our minds: the stars are aligned for businesses to move towards a healthier, happier, more productive future. Let’s get started.

ART Health Solutions is a wellbeing consultancy, providing effective, science-based wellbeing recommendations. Our bespoke solutions are generated by gathering data directly from the organisation and its employees. Having proven our methods working with large, multinational corporations, we’re excited to bring our expertise to small and medium-size UK businesses.

To learn how we can benefit your company, please contact our friendly team.

Dr Paul Smith

Chief Strategy Officer, ART Health Solutions

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