The Boardroom series: Cost-free investments in wellbeing

The cost of poor mental health in the workplace is now estimated at between £53 and £56 billion a year. That equates to a cost to employers of between £1500 and £3710 per employee in the workforce, depending on the geographical location. 

More than this, what surprises people even more is that the majority of this cost is not the result of absenteeism or unnecessary staff turnover. Instead, it is the cost of presenteeism: the lost productivity or impaired performance from team members who are attending work when they have poor mental health.

While there are many ways companies can invest better to improve employee engagement, wellbeing and performance, our experience tells us that some small, simple steps will almost always produce quick results. 

Knowing where to start

Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive return on investment when organisations optimise the well-being of their teams. Yet, 68% of C-suite acknowledge that they are not taking enough action around employee and stakeholder health. So, what is stopping them? 

In a challenging market, and as economic uncertainty looms, perhaps it is unsurprising that some organisations are hesitant to invest in what they see as discretionary activities with uncertain returns. This is despite the greater than 5:1 return on investment that a well-developed wellbeing programme can deliver. However, the most common cause leaders cite for not starting a comprehensive and organisation-wide initiative is that they either don’t know where to start, or don’t feel qualified to do anything. 

With that in mind, in my next three articles, I am going to share insights from our research and identify a few practical steps that leaders can take right now to start improving the well-being of their workforce. And, without spending a penny. 

These are simple, quick and actionable ways to enhance team motivation, engagement, and wellbeing, and lead to the associated benefits of stronger organisational performance, improved talent attraction and retention, cost savings and a healthier bottom line.

Micro-habits of culture

Many organisations rely on staff engagement surveys to assess the well-being of their team and the quality of employee experience. But studies have shown that a typical survey covers less than 20% of the organisational-health elements that correlate with value creation. Therefore, when we work with clients, we not only dig into survey data, we also explore the 80% of contributing factors to optimal performance and results that aren’t covered by the typical survey. 

In this work, we consistently see that the same small things that leaders can do to have a big impact on employee experience, engagement and psychological wellbeing. We call these small things the micro-habits of culture. 

Small investments for big results: Spotting success with the 3S

In this, the first of three parts in this series, I outline the 3S’s for smarter employee recognition.

Employee recognition, defined as a ‘non-cash reward’, has been proposed as one of the most neglected areas of talent management

Progressive companies are increasingly following the advice of psychologists and economists to adopt reward systems that emphasise nonfinancial motivators, rather than focusing on financial rewards. The reason is that the motivational benefits of financial rewards are estimated to last an average of 2 weeks, whereas nonfinancial rewards, which aim to inspire intrinsic motivation, last months, and often years.

Furthermore, while many leaders and organisations believe that supporting their teams through challenges or periods of low health is most important for team loyalty, extensive data suggests the opposite is true. Studies show that more trust is created when people celebrate the successes of those around them than when they support others through difficulties. (That may seem counterintuitive, but the data backs it up.) This is not an either-or, of course, it is important to do both. Supporting teams and individuals in times of challenge remains essential.

Amongst all the research around rewards and recognition, one thing that stands out is the impact of saying “well done” and “thank you”. But yet, in a predominantly hybrid or remote workplace, when many workers can feel isolated, time poor, meeting-laden, and under pressure, not enough people take the time to make this positive 30 second investment in their teams and colleagues.

Our studies show that there are three important factors to boost employee wellbeing when giving praise and thanks:

  • Seniority: The benefits are strongest when senior team members take the time to celebrate the personal success of a team member, or expresses their gratitude. Interestingly, this goes equally when senior leaders recognise excellence in their peers. A quick phone call to a team member or peer may be the best investment of time you make today. We know that giving or receiving positive feedback does not always come naturally, and we work with many teams to help them do this comfortably. But it is a step worth taking.
  • Surprise: When recognition is unexpected, the impact is accentuated. Whether a private, hand-written note or a public announcement at a townhall, making time to recognise and acknowledge the success of employees, outside of normal pathways of recognition, enhances the benefit and longevity of impact.
  • Specific: Ensuring clarity and detail when expressing positive feedback is essential. Bland, generic, or vague statements seem inauthentic or meaningless. To support your sentiment, make sure you share the details of what you have seen and why you are impressed or grateful (The Situation-Behaviour-Impact model and Suzie and James Pawelski’s work in the field of effective expression of gratitude offer good insight into how to do this better).

The backdraft benefits to the giver of positive recognition

Recognising the success of others and sharing positive feedback in this way also benefits the person who gives the feedback. 

That’s right, the neurotransmitters associated with expressing appreciation towards others mean that the well-being benefit for the person who chooses to take time to share praise or celebrate success, can actually exceed the well-being benefits to the recipient, including enhanced immunity and cardiovascular function, reduced stress, and greater job satisfaction. 

Simple, quick, and proven

An integrated wellbeing strategy and a coordinated cross-enterprise approach remains the best way to improve wellbeing, engagement, and performance. 

But when 70% of C-suite executives and senior leaders are considering quitting their job for a role that better supports their well-being, finding quick and proven ways to support leadership wellbeing has never been more pressing. 

I hope that this article has demonstrated that improving your own well-being and that of your colleagues, doesn’t require a huge financial investment or a major life change, it simply requires a micro-investment of time – a small investment of time that may save you money and save your health.

Final thoughts

Wellbeing is not just about asking your team how they are or knowing how to support someone who is struggling. It is definitely more than offering webinars, wellness days, or yoga. Workplace well-being is about building a workplace culture which promotes optimal psychological and physiological well-being so employees and leaders can think, feel, perform at their best. 

In a workplace, everyone is responsible for building that positive culture, not just HR or leaders. I want to finish this article by inviting you to take ownership for your role: who can you call today to recognise their input, celebrate their success, or thank for their effort? 

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