On average, employees in the UK work 36 hours a week. This means that for the majority of us, 46% of each waking day is spent at work. Workplace practices, culture, environment and wellbeing programmes are therefore instrumental to our overall quality of life.
While more and more businesses are prioritising workplace wellbeing, we still have a long way to go. The UK faces a “significant mental health challenge at work”, a recent review commissioned by the government found. The annual cost of long-term mental health problems in the workplace is £99 billion, with the vast majority of this coming from presenteeism. Employees may be physically present but their productivity levels are low due to stress and poor mental health.
Our own findings support this claim. We recently completed a stress and wellbeing assessment at an engineering company with premises in Eastbourne and Brighton. The results showed that on average, 32% of employees across both sites were experiencing stress levels that were approaching or exceeding coping limits. This is common in businesses of all sizes. What’s more, if no intervention measures are put in place, this level of stress could lead to employee burnout.
What is employee burnout?
Occupational burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of depression
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
When in a state of complete burnout, employees are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level. As a result, stress and burnout now account for 47% of short-term absences and 53% of long-term absences in the UK. Luckily, there is a lot businesses can do to create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace, and prevent burnout way before it becomes a problem.
Why is workplace wellbeing important?
It’s estimated that the cost of replacing employees who leave can range between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary. These figures only take into consideration recruitment, hiring and training costs, whereas additional costs such as the long-term impact on the wellbeing and productivity of the whole team are much more difficult to estimate.
On the other hand, businesses that have a highly engaged workforce have the potential to reduce staff turnover by up to 87%. Engaged, happy employees make productive teams and, ultimately, profitable companies.
So, how can you make workplace wellbeing a priority?
Carry out a Wellbeing Assessment
Carrying out a thorough employee wellbeing evaluation is vital to understanding your current situation and the areas that most need improvement. From here you can create a workplace wellbeing programme that is tailored to your business and the needs of your employees. When it comes to health and wellbeing, one size does not fit all.
For businesses with offices in different locations, it’s important to treat each site separately, as there will likely be different stressors, which are dependent on the location. Environment, commute, quality of life, are all factors that can considerably impact stress levels.
For our engineering client, the results were surprising. Employees in their Brighton office reported higher levels of stress – 42%, in comparison to 22% at the company’s manufacturing site in Eastbourne – but on the whole had less sick days. 16% of employees in the Brighton office had taken over 8 days sickness in a year, compared to 28% in Eastbourne. In fact, 7% of Eastbourne-based employees had taken over 15 days off in the previous 12 month period.
So while their Brighton-based employees were at a higher risk of burnout, it appeared that physical health and lack of engagement were a more significant problem for the Eastbourne-based workforce.
Bespoke Workplace Wellbeing Programmes
Once you have a more accurate understanding of your employees’ overall wellbeing, you can create a workplace wellbeing programme designed to meet their specific needs.
We put together a stress management programme consisting of burnout prevention and nutrition workshops specific to each site. Both workshops were interactive and included actionable tips that employees could immediately apply to their everyday lives. These included eating more protein to sustain energy levels throughout the day, increasing intake of water, using breathing techniques to manage stress and learning to eat more mindfully.
What is the benefit of a stress management workshop?
The stress management workshops taught employees how to recognise stress in themselves and their colleagues. It also addressed the basic physiology of the stress response and the impact this can have on health and wellbeing. It then gave practical tools for dealing with stressful situations and improving overall resilience, including healthy lifestyle habits and mindfulness.
Out of 42% employees at the Brighton office who initially reported higher than average stress level, nearly half showed a reduction in stress scores one month after the workshop. None of the employees reported extremely high level of stress after the workshop (compared to 4% prior to the workshop) and only 25% still had moderately high stress level.
All employees at both company sites implemented one or more lifestyle changes and stress coping tips discussed in the workshop.
The majority of employees across the business increased their overall water in-take post workshop. In Eastbourne, 71% got more sleep (7-8 hours a night), yet 0% increased their exercise levels and only very few started taking more regular breaks or talked to someone about their difficulties. In contrast, while only 47.5% of employees in the Brighton office got more sleep, 37% started exercising more regularly, 30% started taking more regular breaks and also talked to someone about their difficulties. Brighton-based employees were also more open to practising mindfulness – 35% of them reported using mindfulness techniques after the workshop, compared to just 14% of their Eastbourne-based colleagues.
This again was interesting and highlights the importance of a tailor-made approach to workplace wellbeing – responses across the two locations differed drastically in several instances.
What is the benefit of a nutrition workshop?
The nutrition workshop was designed to educate employees about the relationship between nutrition, cognitive function, energy levels and chronic inflammation. The workshop provided practical tools to counteract the effects of chronic stress and unhealthy eating habits.
One month after the workshop, approximately half of the employees in Brighton who had initially reported low energy levels mid-afternoon (the mid-afternoon energy dip typically seen in workplace settings), showed improvement.
Eastbourne-based employees started off having higher energy levels on average than their Brighton-based colleagues. After the workshop, their energy levels were increased further and the mid-afternoon energy dip was reduced. This was not surprising, considering that they reported having relatively high level of knowledge about nutrition during the baseline assessment, and were also more willing to implement the different tips provided at the workshop, such as eating more protein and vegetables, and fewer processed foods.
We often see the same wellbeing issues arise in businesses of all sizes. Here are some easily actionable tips to help improve wellbeing in your workplace:
- Encourage employees to take regular breaks – this especially applies at lunchtime when employees should be encouraged to move away from their desks entirely
- Carefully tailor a wellbeing programme around your employees’ needs but also taking into account their existing habits and openness to change
- Invest in management training around how to deal with stress in the workplace
- Provide nutritional support
- Encourage mindful eating
- Monitor energy levels of individuals and teams
- Organise team bonding events and opportunities for employees to laugh and play
Are you looking to make workplace wellbeing a key focus of your 2018? Get in touch to see how we can help.