Looking after staff pays off in many ways
More Irish companies are prioritising staff’ wellbeing, and see benefits through their ability to attract and retain talent
Staff dining at the Google offices on Barrow Street, Dublin. “Companies like Google want to create something that is not just good for the company but that supports their employees’ lives as well”
John Grant: “A lot of organisations place a bit too much focus on health checks and so on, but there is not enough thought about people at work being knackered by 4:30pm each day”
According to research carried out by UK health insurer Bupa, organisations that invest in wellbeing experience a 46 per cent reduction in the cost of employee turnover, a 19 per cent reduction in the cost of sick leave and increased creativity and innovation.
Those were among the startling statistics presented at Ibec’s second annual KeepWell Summit held in Dublin last week.
KeepWell is a workplace wellness accreditation programme developed by Ibec to assist companies achieve best practice in this increasingly important area. The KeepWell mark incorporates eight different standards by which organisations can measure themselves.
“When we decided to develop the KeepWell mark we went out and looked at best practice in the area internationally”, says Ibec director Sharon Higgins. “The Health at Work group at Liverpool City Council had already done a lot of work on developing a standard, so we adapted that for the Irish context. We have now enrolled over 100 companies to the programme, and 40 of them are already accredited to the KeepWell mark.”
She says the standard was developed in response to a new wave of workplace wellbeing which is being driven by employees demanding better work-life balance.
“As a result, more and more Irish companies are prioritising their staff’s wellbeing and seeing the benefits directly through their ability to attract and retain talent. Our community of KeepWell companies is a testament to this shift in business culture. The interesting part now is seeing what Irish employers will do next that will make the difference to the lives of the people they employ, and indeed to the wider community.
“We’re at an incredibly exciting time, and the dynamics of our workforce are changing, but we really need to speed up the process,” says Ibec’s Kara McGann. “We’re not going to have this window of opportunity for very long, so we all share collective responsibility to make things happen faster.”
Among the speakers at the KeepWell Summit was John Grant, author of Better, a book which explores the concept of free-range workplaces with human-centred architecture and processes, flexible working, and other non-traditional features such as mindfulness classes.
“These things aren’t just nice, they produce better work,” he says. “A lot of organisations place a bit too much focus on health checks and so on, but there is not enough thought about people at work being knackered by 4:30pm each day.
Open-plan offices are examples of this. Ninety per cent of people who work in them say they’re terrible, noisy and so on. Lots of companies have very expensive architecture and have spent a lot on lean office concepts but that is like putting an ant in a jam jar. It’s been shown that where you introduce plants to a workplace productivity increases by 13 per cent.
“People want a bit of autonomy and individuality. They like having their own space with pictures of their family and plants and so on. That’s not possible with lean offices and hotdesking and things like that.
“Companies like Google want to create something that is not just good for the company but that supports their employees’ lives as well. I am working with Dyson and Ikea on how to create places where people can thrive, and which encourage collaboration.”
He says the physical standard of the office is not necessarily that important.
“I used to work for a charity when I was a student. The office had terrible brown carpets and its physical condition was awful, but I was proud of the fact that we weren’t spending people’s donations on the offices.
“When I worked for an accounts office in London with offices in a similar condition I thought it was terrible because it reflected what the company thought about the people working for it. It’s what the office says about the culture of the organisation that counts.”
Location isn’t all that important either.
“Dyson’s office is in the middle of nowhere, and they are competing with top companies in London when they are recruiting. But when people go there and see what an amazing place it is to work, they have no problem moving.”
According to Grant we are seeing a change from one type of health and wellness culture to another.
“Wellbeing 1.0 was about health and safety and programmes which targeted individuals to be healthier so they could spend more days at work. Wellbeing 2.0 has seen a shift to a healthy workplace where people are engaged with what they are doing.”
The overall aim of wellbeing 2.0, according to Higgins, is to enable people to leave work feeling better than when they arrived.
“The new generation of workers is looking for better work-life balance, and for more meaningful work in organisations with a purpose they can support,” she says. “They want workplaces that support them physically and emotionally. Companies which have been accredited to the KeepWell mark are seeing quite significant improvements in areas like staff recruitment and retention and productivity – the feedback is very good.”