The importance of treating staff well

An increasing number of people are now suffering ill-health at work due to the demands of their jobs. Workadvisor.co.uk director Jeremy Skidmore argues that companies need to do more to look after their employees.

My father was a senior partner in a large firm of accountants and, consequently, worked hard and was sometimes under stress. But he was nearly always back home for his dinner at 6pm and very rarely contacted in the evenings. He went into work for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning but aside from that, it would probably have taken a full-blown crisis for him to be called on the weekend.

Working life is now very different. We are instantly contactable at all hours of the day and night, on everything from urgent issues to trivial matters that could easily have been saved for the working week. Many of us work with clients in different time zones, so are used to being called or emailed on an evening or weekend. People used to expect an instant response to text messages; now it seems they expect an immediate reply to an email. But what impact is this having on our wellbeing and mental health?

At WorkAdvisor, we are seeing a worrying increase in the number of people absent from work through illness. In London alone, the statistics are shocking. According to the Mayor of London’s office, sickness absence costs London businesses £10.4billion every year. An organisation of 250 employees loses £250,000 a year due to sickness absence. Companies have a dilemma. They can’t afford to have workers off sick, but in today’s climate they need to squeeze as much out of them as possible. As a solution, many are examining ways to look after their employees better – the buzz phrase is ‘wellbeing in the workplace’.

When I started off in the cut-throat world of journalism, looking after an employee was a laughable concept. It was up to you to show your worth and prove you were good enough. You got paid, so what else did you expect? That was before the demands of 24-hour communications and thankfully much has changed.

But what exactly does ‘wellbeing in the workplace’ mean and what should companies be doing? According to wellbeing expert Anni Hood, the founder and managing director of Well Business Solutions, it’s not enough to pay lip service to looking after clients. “Wellbeing in the workplace doesn’t begin and end with a fruit basket, a fitness tracker or a ping pong table,” she said. “People need to feel that they matter and this has become even more important in a highly urbanised area where people do not have a friends and family network around them.”

G Adventures, Hilton and Forte are just some of the companies that have worked hard to create a team spirit, make everyone feel included, and promote physical activity and healthy eating. The statistics for those that take wellbeing seriously are encouraging. According to the Mayor of London’s office, in a study of organisations that initiated employee wellbeing programmes, 82% reported lower sickness absence and 33% reported lower staff turnover as benefits.
Other studies show that employee wellbeing initiatives can lead to a 10-13% increase in productivity. “Some bosses may not feel this is part of their remit, but displaying genuine care and nurture for employees will retain teams, increase productivity and drive more successful businesses,” said Hood. Expect more companies to follow suit with programmes for employees as they see the benefits transfer to their bottom line.