Why promoting wellness in the workplace benefits all

What you need to bear in mind to make sure you end up in the best possible working environment

Allowing workers to be flexible in their hours or work from home may help with greater productivity, employee happiness and create greater goodwill towards the company. Photograph: iStock

Allowing workers to be flexible in their hours or work from home may help with greater productivity, employee happiness and create greater goodwill towards the company. Photograph: iStock

 

What makes a healthy workplace?

Most of us will spend one third of our adult life at work. It’s a big chunk of time and how we feel about it impacts every part of our day: the way we greet our friends for the after-work pint; how we sleep at night; and how we face into those Monday mornings. The mantra ‘do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ is all well and good but even if you are doing something you’re passionate about, if you can’t communicate with your manager, are afraid to make a mistake, or can’t see a pathway for progression, then it may very well turn into actual labour rather than a labour of love.

Healthy expectations

Creating a healthy workplace is something employers are becoming much more aware about and realising the benefit of. While offering lunchtime yoga, gym membership, free healthy snacks and stand-up desks can all help create a healthy work environment, there are a number of other factors that can really make employees feel good about coming in to work and in turn can ensure employers are getting the most out of their staff.

“The most limiting factor in any workforce is people’s energy. If you don’t have the right energy you won’t scale, you won’t come up with new ideas, you will be too cautious to make mistakes,” says Richard Murphy, chief executive and founder of Zevo Health in Dublin.

A wellness company, Murphy’s team offers a range of tailored workshops and solutions to create healthy workplaces and improve employees’ overall wellbeing, with clients including Cpl, Google and Grant Thornton.

When assessing the wellness of any workplace, Murphy says the biggest sign is engagement. “If employees are coming in and moping, doing the basics, not thinking outside the box, no enthusiasm in meetings, that’s not a sign of an overall healthy workplace. The kind we would perceive as healthy are people that are not afraid to put their hand up, not afraid to ask questions, are energetic and enthusiastic. They come in wanting to work and they leave satisfied after a day’s work. That’s a healthy workplace.”

But how do you know if that’s the kind of environment you are in?

“Flexitime is one of the biggest factors in terms of a healthy environment,” says Murphy. “That thing of having 9-5.30 in a workforce is nearly gone.” Allowing workers to be flexible in their hours or work from home may help with greater productivity, employee happiness and create greater goodwill towards the company, even if it’s as simple as being allowed to choose between starting work at 8am or 9am, or having one day a week where you can work from home.

Good communication and managing expectations

Good communication in the workplace is key and this comes from having effective management. “When a graduate comes in and they have their direct manager, this manager might not be very good at their job. They might be a fantastic coder who was promoted to manager but they may not know how to work on emotional side.”

Having “people skills” and emotional intelligence; being a good communicator, listener and having empathy are key skills needed for managers, says Murphy. Being able to manage employees’ expectations and providing clear routes to career progression are also very important in creating a healthy workplace.

“We see sometimes graduates coming in and within two years they want to get to that director level, they look at the mountain and they see the top but they don’t see what it takes to get there,” says Murphy. Management needs to make clear to employees from day one, “this is the structure, this is your path, here are the different routes you could go down”, leaving nobody in doubt as to how to achieve their aims, and ensuring everybody knows exactly what opportunities are available.

Make mistakes, build trust and empower employees

Being able to make a mistake and learn from it is also key to a healthy workplace. Employees should be able to embrace that and know if they do make a mistake their job isn’t on the line, says Murphy. While making the same mistake over and again will be a competency issue, making mistakes, learning from them and improving on technique and skills is a valuable lesson that can greatly benefit the worker and company in the long run. However, management building trust is key to making people feel comfortable enough to make a mistake, to ask for help when they need it and it also feeds into making employees feel empowered, which is another positive sign of a healthy workplace.

Empowerment

“Millennials and graduates coming into the workforce don’t want to be micromanaged. To a degree, they need guidelines but you have to leave them off to make their own mistakes sometimes. It is that sense of empowerment saying ‘Okay what are we going to work on this month? Is there anything you need help with?’. Then you know there is a good trusting relationship with that and [if the employee has a problem] they are not just sitting there and stressing about it. That is where stress comes into it: ‘Am I going to get sacked or a warning because of this?’ But if they are telling you what they are going to do, there is a big sense of empowerment and ownership with that,” says Murphy.

Mental health

Trust also plays into creating a positive attitude towards mental-health difficulties, as people need to feel comfortable to go to their leader with a problem if they have one. However, ensuring management knows how to respond appropriately to an employee if approached is also hugely important.

One of the programmes Zevo offers is training managers to be Mental Health Champions, enabling them to spot the signs of someone going through a mental-health difficulty and also knowing how to respond correctly if someone approaches them. The training also ensures the manager understands the line between responding appropriately and acting as a counsellor.

“We’ve seen cases where employees have been on stress leave and the manager is going to their house and checking on them, which is the wrong thing to do as there is a very fine line between what a manager does and what a trained health professional will do. The manger gets emotionally involved and that can affect work life and life outside work too.”

Structured programmes

There are also a number of programmes that companies can put in place to help employees feel their best at work. However, having a one-off workshop in any given wellness area probably won’t do much to build resilience and health, says Murphy. Therefore, a structured programme over, for example, a six-week period with different modules around communication, anxiety management, resilience and coping skills can go a long way towards achieving this. It is something that tech and service companies really see the value in doing, says Murphy.

“With graduates, this is a whole new world to you. Explaining ‘this is how the company operates’, ‘this is how you would speak effectively to your manager’ but also ‘this is how you cope with certain pressures that are going to come at you’ are all important.” Therefore, coping skills – be they exercise, nutrition or mindfulness – are all vital, says Murphy. Taking a holistic view of all aspects of what can impact on employee health will go a long way towards making for a healthy workplace.