6 ways to prioritise wellness in your workplace

Taking care of the customer has long been considered good for business. Now global competition and access to technology are pushing us to work harder and longer, companies are recognising that they also need to take care of the employee. So, how can you boost the wellness of your staff?

SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read says the key is to take a preventative, open-minded approach and to seek evidence-based programs that can be rolled out in modules over time.

Here are six ways to prioritise wellbeing in your workplace.

  1. Ask and Listen

Organisations that foster a great culture of work-life balance understand there’s no one-size-fits all approach, Read says. She suggests the organisation and individual share joint responsibility for creating meaningful, workable boundaries that support the needs of both parties. “Work-life balance needs to honour more than just rhetoric around flexible working hours or a one-off yoga class,” she says.

Ben Morris is the Co-Head of HR at ASX-listed property company Mirvac. Before the company implemented a deliberate employee engagement strategy in 2012, engagement was at just 37%. Now their research shows it’s among the highest in the world at 90%. In the same timeframe, earnings have been boosted by almost 50%, distributions are up 5% per annum and its active Return on Invested Capital has grown from below 10% to 18%.

  1. Strong Policies and Programs

Setting up policies that show you value your employees and recognise their needs can go a long way towards better wellness. These could include genuine diversity and inclusion policies, gender-neutral carer’s leave policies and Employee Assistance Programs, or clear targets around gender and diversity.

Read says almost half (45%) of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime so poor management of this issue can be costly to a business. She says it’s important to acknowledge the role relationships play in our wellbeing.

Some companies, like global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon, have volunteers trained as mental first-aiders to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health issues in their colleagues while promoting support and understanding. Telehealth video access to trained medical professionals can also be a valuable resource for those in regional and remote locations.

  1. Ditch the Rules

Too often, flexible work schemes are hampered by strict rules around who, where, when and how they can be used.

Aurecon’s recruitment manager for Australia and New Zealand, Sean de Nys, says in 2015 a lack of flexibility was one of the Top 5 reasons people left the company. Now 92% of employees say they have the flexibility they need, and clients have reported no negative impact on service. He says it’s important to establish a platform based on trust and respect.

Aurecon introduced a ‘Yes Flex’ policy offering flexible work conditions for every employee, without needing a reason. Staff are managed on output, not clock-in, clock-out hours. “When you are trying to introduce cultural change there’s a natural starting point from some managers to say ‘that won’t work for my team because…’ but our policy is to say yes and then find the ways to make it work,” de Nys says.

Read says what’s important is that both parties feel satisfied, validated and productive. A case-by-case approach can be ideal. “Balance can’t be defined by a third party, or a list of rules in a manual,” she says.

  1. Don’t underestimate the simple

People often make one of two mistakes when trying to increase engagement—they either overcomplicate it, or over-engineer the solution, Morris says. He warns companies shouldn’t forget to keep doing the things their employees love.

Mirvac’s biggest game-changer for the culture around flexibility was its My Simple Thing strategy. The company asked all staff to identify the one thing they could change that would make a difference in their work-life balance, then found a way to implement it. Whether it was around family, fitness, study or the commute, whatever their ‘simple thing’ was, the company made it happen.

  1. Spruce the Environment

The physical work environment can really have an impact on an employee’s happiness, too. Depending on your brand, you may be able to instill a sense of fun and interaction through your furnishings.  A social club can strengthen relationships or it may be as simple as ensuring the place looks clean and well maintained. No one wants to be distracted by the broken air conditioning duct teetering above their head.

Aurecon opened an office in Brisbane in November 2018 that was designed entirely around the wellness of its staff. It considered everything from the number of plants in the office and amount of fresh air and natural light, through to a kids’ room to support busy parents, exercise programs and a Zen room to recharge. In recognition that many of its staff were skipping breakfast, Aurecon offers a kitchen stocked with free healthy breakfast supplies.

  1. Learning and Leadership.

There’s little point telling employees it’s OK to want work-life balance if company leaders are putting in the long hours at the office. It needs to be role modelled.

Mirvac discovered its employees highly valued career and learning, so it set about creating the Mirvac Learning Academy to help people define clearer career paths and enhance job satisfaction.

What’s Holding You Back?

Some employers worry wellbeing programs are too expensive and that they will reduce the time employees spend at their desks ‘doing’ work. Others fear health programs will uncover challenges they don’t feel equipped to deal with. Sometimes it’s just a case of not knowing where to start.

But with many of us spending more than 40 hours a week working, Read believes it’s almost impossible to cultivate a sense of wellbeing if we ignore health in the workplace. She says many employees now place wellbeing high on their ‘must-have’ list, so employers must establish a culture of wellness if they want to attract and retain productive, motivated and skilled staff.

“Be proactive, but don’t expect to have all the answers as an employee or manager,” Read says. “Seek professional support to guide the process and recognise that even small changes can create meaningful change in the health and wellbeing of your workforce.”