Wellbeing and wellness initiatives have become increasingly vital to retaining staff in recent years. Even more so, as many sectors face ongoing skills shortages and become more candidate-led, with frequent job changes.
Having recently discussed wellbeing in relation to attracting top talent, global wellness speaker and coach Suhail Mirza and Olly Harris, Page Resourcing’s global managing director, discussed how companies can better retain staff utilising wellness as a key element of their retention strategy
Wellbeing: not just a trend
Mirza said that while global economic downturns had placed more focus on the need for wellbeing in workplaces, this need isn’t new – The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust found that by 2017-2018, 7.3 million UK adults were already on anti-depressants. “This isn’t just some new ‘work/life balance’ phenomena,” he said, adding that reported cases of work burnout had been increasing for some time.
Harris concurred. He said that while many companies were looking to cut costs to react to market difficulties, he agreed with Anthony Klotz, associate professor of organisational behaviour at University College London, who has warned of the dangers of this. “This period will tell the difference between employers that will win or not,” Harris said. “Because it’s tempting to claw back these so-called ‘soft’ benefits. If you do that, you’ll lose in the medium-term.”
With members of Gen Z – who tend to be more demanding of wellbeing initiatives at work than older generations – set to make up a third of the workforce by 2030, cutting back on wellness means potentially cutting off your chance to retain top class staff, particularly younger workers.
“One in five members of Gen Z in Europe report that they're emotionally distressed,” said Mirza. “This is a live issue and their expectation, as they become a larger part of the workforce, is to have meaning and purpose from their working lives and be supported in their wellbeing.”
Communication and clarity
“If you create the right working environment for people to prosper, you get happier employees and lower levels of attrition,” said Harris. “But for that, you need a clear policy that’s publicised frequently.”
Positive wellbeing measures, he said, need to be written “in black and white” into company policy, giving the example of PageGroup giving its staff an extra half-day off for their mental health and wellbeing. Harris: “You need to really drill in the message: ‘We do this, this and this’, so staff know about it.”
Mirza added that when wellbeing measures are communicated in companies, it’s important to have a unified voice. “You can’t have a ‘silo-ed’ approach,” he said. “You don’t want a diversity champion speaking from one corner of a company and wellness champion in a different place. If you separate these things, you end up with big problems in terms of making staff know about the wellbeing initiatives taking place. You see inclusion and wellness as distinct imperatives at your peril.”
Earlier Harris talked about the importance of leading by example when it comes to communicating wellbeing messages. “Black and white policies, clear and frequent communication through all parts of the business, then leading by example: those are the key points if you're going to successfully disseminate your wellbeing initiatives,” he said.
The changing face of wellbeing
Companies should show flexibility when managing their wellness and wellbeing structures and initiatives, so they can react to the needs of their employees. This has come to the fore with the recession and cost of living crisis. Now more than ever, wellness encompasses financial wellbeing; the mental health challenges arising from our current economic conditions are ever more ubiquitous and for many potentially devastating.
Mirza said that companies need to create a culture in which difficulties such as these can be raised without fear. “Good employers give the freedom to speak up about such fears in an organisation,” he said. “You have to have a safe space to be able to do that formally, if there are challenges that need to be raised.”
Harris said that companies that listen and react to the changing wellbeing needs of their employees can create environments employees are more likely to stick with. “We’re seeing a lot of companies step up and support employees with financial wellbeing,” he said. “I’ve seen winter support packages, companies offering zero interest loans for travel… given things like the energy crisis, wellbeing is becoming even more closely linked to financial issues.”
Harris and Mirza said that to maximise retention, companies need to react to the variegated nature of the labour market as well as the general needs of employees. Mirza said that with regards to staff retention, firms should be working to increase wellbeing for contractor, temp and freelance staff, and not just focus on full-time employees.
He said that despite the rise in the gig economy over the past decade and the long standing presence of temporary workers/contractors, in general companies have been slow to do this. “Contractors are arguably the lifeblood of recruitment,” he said. “But often, not much is done to offer wellbeing support to these workforces. I’ve seen that change in some companies, but these workforces are only going to become more important to retain, given skills shortages across many verticals within economies.”
Don’t forget the little things
Mirza and Harris both said that companies should be implementing the most comprehensive, widespread, well-communicated wellbeing initiatives they could afford to – for obvious moral purposes, and to make their top staff want to remain in a positive environment. They agreed that small, personal wellbeing measures shouldn’t be forgotten in the midst of bigger plans.
Harris said: “I see more and more great examples of how the world of work is evolving in terms of wellbeing. Before, if people played golf or went for a walk mid-week, they were sneaking off to do it. Now they can do it as part of an approved, encouraged wellness initiative.”
He added: “I had an email this morning, and at the bottom there was a message saying, ‘You don't need to respond to this now or out of hours’. Little things like these, as well as bigger-picture things, show where we’re headed.”
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