3 steps to improving employee wellbeing

A 5-minute guide for business leaders

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to bring health and wellbeing into sharp focus.

Whether you’re operating in public spaces, behind closed doors or remotely, the physical and mental wellbeing of your people has never been more important. And if you’re grappling with how to improve your wellbeing approach, you’re not alone.

According to research by Aviva, only a quarter of employees believe that their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing, and the CIPD found that employees are 40% more engaged at work if they feel positively about wellbeing.

So we know it’s worth paying attention to. But where to start?

First of all, its ok to be unsure about where to start. Wellbeing is an enormous topic and there are many factors to consider – from what to provide to how much it costs – and an infinite number of ways to approach it – from daily workouts to benefit apps or counselling.

If you’re starting from scratch, consider that a strength.

Your success when communicating about wellbeing will come from being humble: showing that you’re human, that you’re not striving for perfection and that you genuinely care.

Here’s a quote for you.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Transcendentalist poet, philosopher and essayist, 19th century.

I love this quote. Although simplified from the original*, it perfectly reinforces the contradiction that can exist between our words and our actions, leading the audience to question whether we really mean what we say.

This is important because in my experience, making a difference to the wellbeing of those around us comes down to three things:

  1. Genuinely caring
  2. Showing that you care
  3. Practising what you preach

1. Caring

For things to noticeably improve you must genuinely care about people’s wellbeing. Of course we care about many things when it comes to our businesses –  the bottom line, staying afloat, how to operate amongst the covid-19 restrictions, what the future looks like – and with so much going on its easy for our time and attention to be directed away from the topic of wellbeing.

But you also care about your people.

Did that last sentence make you squirm? If so, it may be because seemingly ‘weak’ emotions don’t have a place in the world of work according to Mary Portas in her book Work Like a Woman. Historically, businesses have been built on individualistic financial goals, rather than collective objectives but, as Portas says, “Work is personal. Really personal. Through it, we can create a sense of progress, accomplishment and community.”

We can no longer separate our work selves from our personal selves. Whatever our role or level in a business, work makes up a large part of our lives and it’s in your interest to help your employees to make work work for them. And whatever you do, don’t assume you’re already getting it right. A client of mine who was ironically in the wellbeing industry hadn’t focused on the wellbeing of their own staff and the impact was obvious.

Employees face similar hopes, fears and pressures to you. So step into their shoes. Think about what you would want in their situation, or if it helps, imagine what you would say to them if they were your best friend or a loved one. What do they need to feel more balanced, more energised? Even better, ask them! More of that in step two.

Also, reflect back on what you do as a business and the kindness that already exists. All businesses care about something, and as you reflect on your purpose you’ll start finding ways in which you already enhance the wellbeing of others. Whether it’s providing a solution to a problem, a tool for a job, a rewarding experience or a contribution towards wider society. You’re caring in some way every day.

So have faith – you already care and now you need to prove it.

2. Showing that you care

You should provide straightforward, easy ways for people to improve their wellbeing. Simplicity is key. People are busy and they’re already finding it difficult to prioritise themselves, so whatever you do needs to be easy for them.

Try Action for Happiness

Talking of easy, have you come across the Action for Happiness calendar? Often wellbeing can feel overwhelming – like a list of ‘shoulds’ that can never be completed. With this freely available online calendar, people can easily complete one positive task each day in a way that suits them. I’ve found this to be very popular among employees.

This is a small effort–big reward option. There’s no financial commitment and it runs itself. However, all company cultures are different and we can’t always know what people will like. My advice is just to have a go – its low risk so why not? You can read more about the ‘have a go’ approach to wellbeing in my previous blog.

Offer bitesize options

Try adding easy-to-join, practical wellbeing activities into everyday life. It shouldn’t feel like another thing for the to-do list.

For example before starting a meeting, run a 5-minute relaxation session for everyone (look on YouTube for options like this one). You could introduce walking meetings or a new ‘daily mile’. You could provide healthy food options where people would normally choose unhealthy ones or ask for suggestions for a playlist then play music occasionally in work areas.

You may not always get a big uptake, but by trying things out over time you’ll a) show that you care and b) discover what people like and don’t like. Give people the space to try and decide what they like in their own time.

Make it safe to speak

Communication is fundamentally two way. Keep that principle in mind and find ways for people to tell you how they feel.

As a society we’re rapidly learning how important the psychological side of wellbeing is. At work, people need to feel that they can talk about their mental health without it having a negative impact on them.

You can do this formally through a regular ‘check-in’ survey, or informally through conversations. A combination of both is ideal, as it gives you a richer picture of how people are, while also giving employees with different communication styles a choice about how they’d prefer to feed back.

Give employees the floor

There’s only so much the company or its leaders can say. Wellbeing is personal. People like to hear from those they can relate to, so find a way to share employees’ stories. This creates more of a connection and is instantly compelling. Stories about how people have overcome adversity in their lives, especially if their workplace has been a positive force for them, are extremely popular. You might be interested in reading about a wellbeing campaign I ran where we shared a poem written by an employee. People responded incredibly well to it.

Place value in kindness

It’s scientifically proven that doing good does you good. There are real health benefits to being kind.

As a business you could decide to support a charity that matters to you. This gives people a worthy focus beyond their immediate role, which may help to provide perspective in challenging times. It also brings people together. An initiative I’ve seen work well is for the business to donate a certain sum to charity each time an employee completes a wellbeing activity, such as their daily mile.

You can also promote kindness by recognising the contribution of others. When times are tough people go out of their way to make things happen. Don’t let this go unnoticed. Even better, encourage your employees to come forward with examples of where colleagues have made a difference for each other. It will give them the feelgood factor too.

3. Practising what you preach

You can make a good start with steps one and two. But the real power comes with this last step. Like Emerson said, actions speak louder than words so if you’re serious about promoting good wellbeing, commit to it and make it part of everything you do. As little as 15 minutes of your time per day will make a real difference.

Every time you communicate, think about how you personally can convey caring, kindness and wellbeing.

If you’re organising activities, take part. And schedule the activities regularly enough that they become a habit, not just a short-term fix.

As a leader, give a bit of yourself. Opening up about your own challenges will help to strip away the façade of how people ‘should’ behave at work. Hold an ‘ask me anything’ Q&A session. And don’t take yourself too seriously – it will show others that it’s ok to be human.

In his renowned book Good to Great, Jim Collins says: “Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organisation and its purpose, not themselves.”

Hopefully this gives you some pointers to get started.

If you need anything else, you could try this great website by mental health charity Mind called Mental Health At Work which is funded by the Royal Foundation. Or get in touch with me and let me know how its going. I’d love to hear how you’re getting on and whether I can be of any help.


* Emerson’s quote was simplified. What he said was: “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

#wellbeing #care #kindness #kindnessmatters #haveago

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