create a winning wellbeing strategy for your workplace
by Olivia Kennaway, Paws in Work blogger.
We are nearing 300 million people worldwide diagnosed with depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and that statistic was published pre a world pandemic and, of course, only accounts for those who are actually diagnosed. Depression in British adults has doubled during coronavirus crisis with female, younger and disabled adults most affected, especially those living in cities and towns and the male suicide rate hits two-decade high in England and Wales. (If you need someone to talk to, we are here for you).
No one could know the full extent of mental ill health across the globe. In many countries it is still a completely taboo topic and it is only in recent years that it has become a more comfortable conversation here in the UK. A quick google search for the history of company wellbeing departments shows it is only in the last few years or so that it has truly started to become a dedicated role. Often those responsible for staff wellbeing still sit within HR, Facilities, Management or an organisation’s voluntary networks that depend on passionate people who do it as an ‘extracurricular’ activity so to speak.
SO, hurrah if you work for a company that cares enough to have a dedicated wellbeing role, or you are the person that brings that role to others! We are here to help give you direction on what to consider when implementing a wellbeing strategy within your workplace or, if you are at the start of your company's wellbeing journey, here are some suggestions to kick-start your campaign!
where to start?
Here are some examples of how you could implement items at work to promote employee wellbeing (we’re not biased about puppies, BUT cuddling a puppy is scientifically proven to make you feel better…). We have listed various methods of introducing a wellbeing strategy through staff culture, events, training and employee benefits to name a few. We have split these ideas into five categories to help give you structure to your strategy:
At Paws in Work we truly believe that Physical and Mental wellbeing should all come under one umbrella term of ‘health’. Our mind is part of our body so why should we treat it differently to our physical being (but that is probably another blog!). With this in mind, (no pun intended) we have split our wellbeing strategy into; mental, physical, social, giving back and working environment.
As a necessity in your workplace, you should promote mental health awareness to help smash the stigma and ensure employees feel safe, able and comfortable to discuss their mental health at work. You could do this by having a confidential and qualified team of Mental Health First Aiders that employees can turn to, whilst also being trained to spot the signs and triggers of those in need of help. This will give staff members the reassurance that their mental wellbeing is just as important to you as it is to them. Knowing that they have a structured support network around them at all times, and there is always someone to turn to, will give employees the confidence in knowing that if the stresses and strains of everyday life are getting a little too much, help is always available.
Remember, if you have any systems in place such as Mental Health First Aiders, Employee Assistance Programmes or any other support scaffolding, ensure all staff know that they exist! This is sometimes overlooked and not widely published when it is actually a huge benefit of working for your company. A couple other things you could implement to show you care about mental wellbeing are:
- encourage employees to practice mindfulness such as meditation or yoga (without puppies we hasten to add).
- physical sickness isn't the only reason to have time off - therefore allow employees who are struggling mentally and need a bit of time off to stay at home (it is not a sign of weakness taking a sick day - we have them there for a reason and they are often our mind or body’s way of telling us to STOP!)
- If staff are taking some time for their mental health, let them know not to check emails, be on call or to feel anxious for being away from work (you’ll see this one twice!).
- puppy therapy.
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways for companies from the COVID-19 Pandemic, is that employees' health is the most important thing. As previously mentioned in the ‘mental’ category, it is not a sign of weakness taking a sick day - we have them there for a reason and they are often our body’s way of telling us to STOP! It is also incredibly important to protect other members of staff from getting ill, which is easily done by insisting that unwell employees stay at home and should not feel anxious about doing so.
Another way to promote that you care about physical health in your company wellbeing strategy, is to consider the various aspects of physical health that your employees need to take care of such as nutrition, exercise and sleep.
A healthy attitude to a healthy diet in the office is an important example to set. Good nutrition can help energy levels (and therefore production levels), peoples' mood (someone in a good mood can easily motivate, just as someone in a bad mood can bring a whole team down), it helps to maintain a healthy body weight and most importantly, a healthy diet can reduce the risk of some diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers) and promotes healthy pregnancy outcomes. Alongside a healthy diet we need to encourage regular exercise to maintain our own fitness levels and therefore be able to work to our best ability. Whilst the puppies take care of our oxytocin levels, we also need physical exercise to release endorphins into the body which trigger a positive feeling in the body. These endorphins help us to cope with stress and pain. A successful wellbeing strategy should also highlight the importance of a good night's sleep - most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. So no 2AM sessions to meet a deadline. Have a safe space for staff to admit they need more time or help to complete a task.
A few more ideas for your physical wellbeing strategy are:
- have office fruit and healthy snack deliveries available in the office
- consider making team breakfasts and lunch available where all staff members can sit together and enjoy each other's company in a family, ‘non-work’ environment (this is crucial for building positive employee relationships which we will come onto next).
- introduce standing desks for those who would like them to prevent hours of sitting which can lead to bad posture and low energy levels.
- have team fitness and inter departmental challenges.
- have a zero back to back meetings policy (1 hour meetings become 45 mins) so people have time to get lunch, have a refreshment break, stretch their legs and walk to the next location for a meeting.
- office sleep pods are a thing...
- puppy therapy.
A university study found that groups of friends working together performed far better than a group of acquaintances (across all age groups). Therefore, it is crucial to encourage this attitude in your workplace, and allow the time and space for employees to develop true workplace friendships. You could aid this by making recognition and praise part of the company’s culture.
One non-negotiable for any workplace when considering the social dynamics between all employees is to implement a zero-tolerance policy on bullying. But is it enough to just say 'no bullying allowed'?
Companies must be prepared to break down social barriers and create an environment where employees are able to be themselves and bring their 'whole selves' to work. Fear of judgement, harassment, prejudice or discrimination at work will only serve to create a nightmarish working environment for those affected. Ask yourself...could I flourish professionally and produce my best work in that sort of environment? It's only by educating ourselves, our employees and entire organisations on complex social issues that we can begin to understand each other and develop bonds which reach far beyond the typical 'water cooler' small talk or awkward trips in the elevator.
Here are a few examples of small things you could implement to help build strong working relationships outside of work tasks:
- set up a kindness corner, with books, inspirational quotes, a PositiviTree where staff write a kind note about their colleagues or a motivational message to make someone smile.
- have a team in charge of social events such as Puppy Therapy, or who organise staff trips out/evenings together.
- acknowledge awareness days - mental health awareness week, world suicide prevention day (even National Puppy Day) are all opportunities to get in a motivational speaker, or look within your company and see who may want to share their stories. Everyone has a story and it doesn't need to cost a penny to hear!
We are lucky to live in a time where giving back is acknowledged to be just as important (if not more important) as working a 9-5. This means allowing your staff to give back as well as you giving back to them. Perhaps you could implement volunteer programs and volunteering days that either you set up or allow employees to choose their own volunteering opportunity/charity to support. Some companies give up to 40 hours a year to employees to volunteer, bringing value to the company and community as part of their benefits package.
Having ‘giving back’ as part of your wellbeing strategy is almost code for ‘show that you care’. You can do this through numerous ways (we’ve listed a few below), but one very close to our hearts is the ability to empathise and acknowledge pet bereavement. For many people, grieving a pet can be similar to mourning the loss of a family member with some owners (your employees) experiencing feelings of deep loneliness and isolation. Have systems in place to support staff for this possibility - this could be something your Mental Health First Aiders are trained in.
- offer pawternity leave to new pup owners such as BrewDog, one of the first to do so!
- grant sabbaticals to deserving employees, extend company trust with more flexible working programmes, give christmas holiday days off in addition to staff contracted days or give all employees their birthdays off as a free holiday day!
- have a green hour once a month. Most staff work over their contracted hours, so why not give them one of those hours back if you do not give time in lieu as a general rule - so all staff have to use that chosen hour to do something for them only. Whether it is to leave the office early, pop out to the shops, call a friend etc that is their decision.
- puppy therapy.
We are aware it is easier for us to say “renovate your office to bring in more natural light” to your wellbeing strategy, than it probably is for you to get permission to knock down a wall or move to a new floor. But trust us, (we are in a different office everyday), usually the best working environments we go to have a lot of natural light. If you are unable to physically add windows to a windowless room, see if you’re able to get creative and build a feeling of more light than there is.
Arguably one of the most important things to add to your strategy is to actively encourage a good and fair work/life balance. For example, if you are on holiday, be on holiday, not half checking those emails. This also means ensuring that colleagues still working respect these boundaries. It can be unfair to expect 100% output if staff do not have time to recharge.
- have an anonymous ideas box, people love their voices to be heard.
- have quiet places for phone calls, encourage staff that are on long calls to either WFH that day or go somewhere more private so others are not distracted (which may save some frayed nerves).
- yup, you guessed it, puppy therapy.
healthy & happy = more productive.
The most important thing to think about when organising your wellbeing strategy is what you want your staff to take away from it. What is the end goal and the reason you are putting it on? Is it to educate? To inspire? To give back a little to your staff? To say “thank you”? To encourage change? Wellbeing events are often still seen as ‘nice to haves’ when actually they are critical when done for the right reasons. Remember, you may need to adjust your wellbeing strategy during and after Covid-19. Things will change. Are you prepared to adapt and change with the times? Considering all options now will help you in the long run. Transitioning more of your wellbeing strategy to online platforms is now a necessity.
Happier, healthier staff means more than you may think, it means less staff turnover, less sick days, less cost and less worry for all.
If Paws in Work can help you with your events, wellbeing strategy or mental health training then please get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also listen to our very own Jamie Hardman (booking executive) discussing wellbeing strategies, mental health and all things puppies on the “No More Long Talk” podcast.
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