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“Staff wellbeing” has become the new catch phrase in the corporate world, and increasingly, many organisations are starting to recognise its importance. Google, renowned for its staff-centred programs, started a global conversation about workplace wellbeing. From massage parlours, to free bikes on campuses, to nap rooms, to office dogs, to Lego stations… Google set a new convention for the staff experience.

Before you go and invest in office scooters, it’s important to explore wellbeing strategies that will work for your organisation. Small, simple steps towards positive change can go a long way and don’t always require breaking the bank.

What is staff wellbeing and why is it important?

Wellbeing is an indicator of an individual’s psychological, emotional and mental state and it is strongly associated with how contented a person feels about themselves and their life (Australian HR Institute, 2018).

Employers are starting to recognise the value of employee wellbeing as it can significantly impact productivity and quality of work. Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia, and costs businesses between $11 and $12 billion dollars per year (Black Dog Institute, 2017).

Mentally healthy workplaces are considered to be environments where people want to come to work and that contribute to promoting and maintaining mental wellbeing. So far, we know that workplace wellbeing has to been linked to:

  • An increase in retention rates.
  • Decreased staff absenteeism (sick days).
  • Increased work performance and productivity.
  • Improved workplace morale and culture.
  • Decreased costs associated with staff turnover, presenteeism (at work but not productive), recruitment and training and compensation claims.

What are some first steps to improve wellbeing in my workplace?

The key is to start somewhere and keep it consistent. Small, regular actions show your employees that your organisation takes mental health seriously, and also encourages individuals to contribute to a mentally health workplace.

Here are our top 5 steps to improving staff wellbeing:

Start the conversation

  • Increase awareness of mental health and provide access to mental health information. Some great organisations include the Black Dog Institute or Heads Up, but you may find local organisations that you can partner with.
  • Openly talk about mental health and reduce stigma around it.
  • Participate in events like R U OK? Day or Work Mental Health Day.
  • Undertake regular mental wellbeing screening checks.

Create a sense of belonging

  • Keep staff informed and involved in company activities. This can be via a regular newsletter or regular staff meetings.
  • Establish an ‘open door’ policy and involve staff in decision-making or in how work is delivered (listen to ideas and concerns).
  • Consider a group ‘debriefing’ forum (a safe space) for employees and management to engage in open, transparent discussions when required.
  • Consider establishing a staff representative group to provide a supportive role in delivering creative solutions to organisational issues.

Establish a social community

  • Establish a social club and social activities calendar.
  • Introduce a book club and/or a book exchange program.
  • Host trivia nights or weekend family camping outings.
  • Participate in company sporting or charity events.
  • Organise fund-raising events such baking competitions.
  • Organise lunchtime physical activity groups such as a walking, running, yoga or dance.

Create a flexible and supportive workplace

  • Review job design to consider the demands of the job, resources provided, the level of work engagement and potential exposure to distressing situations.
  • Ensure flexible working hours.
  • Encourage staff to take allocated breaks and monitor staff workloads.
  • Ensure physical environment is safe, flexible (i.e. standing desks) and has aesthetic appeal.
  • Introduce quiet spaces for staff to work with minimal interruption.
  • Provide mentoring and coaching.
  • Ensure staff have a professional development plan and are supported to attend additional training, courses or conferences.
  • Establish a peer support network of self-nominated staff members (‘companions’) who receive training in recognising distress, providing referral points and acting as a first point of contact etc.

Advocate positive relationships

  • Encourage staff to have conversations with people who are of concern.
  • Implement a mental health policy, e.g. zero-tolerance of bullying and discrimination.
  • Take time to share a laugh with your employees over a coffee.

What next?

Improvements won’t happen overnight. Once you start implementing some changes, give it some time. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff what is working and what isn’t working. Be adaptive and flexible.

If you can stretch your budget, don’t be afraid to financially invest in staff wellbeing as the returns are invaluable. Consider implementing an employee assistance program, providing subsidised counselling services, inviting guest speakers to present on wellbeing or providing regular training on mental health strategies, i.e. mindfulness, meditation etc.

References

  • Australian HR Institute. (2018). Health and wellbeing. Retrieved from https://www.ahri.com.au/assist/health-and-wellbeing
  • Black Dog Institute. (2017). Workplace wellbeing. Retrieved from https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/workplace-wellbeing
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