Wellbeing is an abused term but it simply means mental and physical health. Ensuring wellbeing at work can have huge benefits for your businesses, beyond just employee satisfaction and can really make or break a business…

A good wellbeing at work strategy encourages and enables employees to manage their own health and has massive benefits for employers. Occupational Health is the promotion and maintenance of good wellbeing; ensuring the highest degree of physical, mental and social health at work.

“A dedicated OH service can get to know the culture within a small business and tailor their advice into practical support to help in the smooth day to day running of the business, minimising the high costs associated with absence through sickness and developing a workplace health strategy to manage health risks,” says independent Occupational Health Consultant and Business Health Coach, Jeremy Smith.

However, wellbeing at work can still be a significant problem in both small and large organisations. Jeremy explains: “According to the Health & Safety Executive, every year, across all industries, 1.5 million workers suffer from ill health caused or made worse by work. Evidence suggests that Occupational Health (OH) is often poorly understood and many small businesses don’t know where to turn when an employee becomes too ill to work. Many smaller employers rely on advice from the patient’s own GP and, although GPs do a fantastic job, their purpose is to advise their patients, not their patients’ employers.”

A holistic view is often the best strategy for businesses in terms of workplace health and wellbeing, encouraging the right environment, the right culture and the right management style. However, the big picture is inevitably the sum of a wide variety of smaller details. Get those relatively minor elements right and they come together in an overall positive way and often result in employers attracting the right people.

Here is a run-down of these often overlooked, but important elements –

Looking long-term: A statutory approach, whereby the employer ticks only the boxes they have to, is inherently short-sighted. You miss out on opportunities to fix issues at source, as they only become apparent when problems emerge – you’re late to the party, so to speak. Ultimately, try to be proactive rather than reactive: identifying issues early so they can be dealt with relatively simply. In terms of recruitment, it’s important – especially for small enterprises – that you employ the correct people; those who aren’t going to be taking sick leave every other week and who won’t kick-start a high employee turnover rate. Pre-placement screening (pre-employment is a bit ‘old hat’) can identify potential employee health issues beforehand, as it’s important for employers to avoid hiring those with large sickness absence history/ poor attendance record.

Equally pre-placement screening can be used to assimilate disabled employees into the workplace. The disabled often have very simple expectations and a great work ethic, but face barriers from employers who presume the adjustments needed are greater or more involved than they actually are.

Don’t make – or act on – assumptions: It’s equally important for management never to assume they know what wellbeing needs their business requires. This has been a common mistake for small businesses in particular, who can then focus on entirely the wrong things. Rather, they should speak to their staff as often as possible, ask open questions and genuinely listen to the answers. When employees feel their opinions count and that their concerns are being addressed, they feel valued and their productivity improves as they engage more with their work. It’s worth doing this on an ongoing basis so as to build up a series of snapshots of perceptions and analyse your progress over time. Don’t be afraid of what you might hear – the more brave and ready you are to address issues, the greater the pay-off in terms of productivity and things like reduced absence.

Provide training: Training is really valuable. When people are trained they are happier and more confident in their work and more efficient, so training courses and packages are great – but don’t stop there. View training as an ongoing process and follow up on it by finding out how staff feel about it afterwards. The trainee determines the effectiveness of any training – it is far better for an employee to tell you ‘I am now trained’ than it is for you to tell them ‘You are now trained’.

Investing money in the right places: Your wellbeing expenditure needn’t be sizeable. Big outlays (such as those you might commit to with an incentive scheme) may be well meaning but don’t necessarily pay you back in terms of productivity or staff engagement. Smaller, more focused initiatives on the other hand, often pay impressive dividends. Making minor, positive adjustments to the physical environment can make a big difference. Simple things like fixing a draught or replacing a window pane can turn a dingy, cold office into a really nice place to work. It’s about the small details. Simply having an occupational health intervention process shows that employers value their employees enough to spend money on their support. This creates good feeling and inspires loyalty from staff.

Be flexible: Small businesses should look closely at flexible working and whether it can work for them. Things like jobshare schemes mean you don’t compromise a certain function because the only employee with the necessary skills is on leave – their colleague covers, at least in part. When you allow people flexibility, they allow you flexibility too. They’re able to run the kids to school or to their dental appointments and they can deal with their lives the way the hope to. There are big mental health benefits – staff are less stressed, they’re at work and they’re more productive.

To learn more about workplace health, or find an expert who can support and advise, visit the Better Health at Work Alliance website: www.bhwa.org.uk

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