Bernard Ginns: Workplaces should embrace new guidelines on staff wellbeing

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SOME OF you might be sceptical at the merits or otherwise of someone professing to be a ‘workplace wellbeing consultant’.

But after considering the numbers, you might like to change your minds.

According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, more than a million working people in the UK experience a work-related illness, costing employers 27 million working days a year, or the equivalent of £13.4bn. You might know someone who has been affected.

Most, if not all, companies have had to go through painful restructuring exercises since the financial crisis.

As well as fighting for share in a shrinking economy, many companies have also had to deal with rapidly changing consumer habits and disruptive new entrants. All this upheaval will have had an impact on the health of your staff.

Jo Denton, a former civil servant, has set up a wellbeing consultancy with the aim of engaging business leaders about the benefits of taking wellbeing at work seriously.

She believes that workplace wellbeing gets confused with gym membership and holistic treatments.

The founder of York-based Wellbeing4all has spent many years looking at the constructs of the workplace that negatively impact on employees.

Ms Denton said: “The result can be that employees are demotivated, disengaged and end up with psychological distress which emanates in physical ill health such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary behaviours and depression.”

She said one of the biggest factors that affects employee health is job uncertainty, a mainstay in many workplaces since the economic downturn.

NICE has just published a set of guidelines on workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees.

The non-departmental body urges those with a remit for workplace health to develop policies that support workplace culture such as ensuring respect for work-life balance. Line managers should be flexible wherever possible about work scheduling, giving employees control and flexibility over their own time, it adds.

Senior leaders should act as role models for leadership, and proactively challenge behaviour and actions that may adversely affect employee health and wellbeing, says NICE.

Dame Carol Black, a Government adviser on welfare in the workplace, said: “When its influence eventually comes to be measured – in terms of the quality of service and product, workplace efficiency and productivity, and staff morale – this new guidance from NICE might well prove to be the most significant ever. There is abundant evidence that the health, especially the mental health, and overall wellbeing of employees depends greatly on their relationships at work.

“That means their relationships with each other but particularly their relationships with employers, from line manager to the most senior executive and board member.

“These relationships are encapsulated in the concept and practice of engagement – a concept that reflects the culture of an organisation.

“The precepts contained in this guidance are simple and plainly put. They are already observed in exemplary organisations. It should not be difficult to translate them into practice in all.”

Sadly, some workplaces are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to embracing more enlightened attitudes towards wellbeing, places where bullying, overwork and macho attitudes rule the roost.

Instead of dismissing wellbeing as a ‘first world problem’ and telling staff to ‘man up’, these companies should embrace the new NICE guidelines. The business benefits are clear. Happy and healthy staff tend to be more productive. Greater productivity often leads to greater profitability.