How staff wellbeing can help you gain a competitive edge

At a glance

  • Businesses are paying closer attention to their employees’ wellbeing – and reaping the rewards of doing so. Increased investment in wellbeing has been linked to greater productivity and staff retention.
  • Employee wellbeing shouldn’t be viewed as a tick-box exercise – instead, business leaders should create a culture of wellbeing within their organisation in order to see the benefits.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – ask your employees how they would like to be supported. And don’t underestimate the power of the basics: fair pay and a respectful, positive working environment.

One positive outcome of the pandemic has been companies’ increased focus on employee wellbeing – and these initiatives have been so beneficial that the trend looks here to stay.

A significant number of organisations are incorporating employee health and wellbeing measures into their operations, according to 2022 research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)1. A third have increased their budget for wellbeing, with the most common initiatives being more tailored support to individuals (81%), focus on mental health (81%) and support for working from home (72%).

Companies have noted strong benefits from these initiatives, including better morale and engagement (46%), productivity (27%) and staff retention (24%).

Employee wellbeing leads to better business performance

Andrew McNeill, Founder of Lines of Sight Consultancy, says hard-working SME owners may feel they don’t have time or money for wellbeing initiatives, but many have now realised the value for their business.

“Wellbeing goes hand-in-hand with financial and commercial success,” he says. “In an unwell business, people leave rapidly, creating a huge problem for leaders. In an environment where people are happy, they stay despite adversity.”

Robert Stevens is Managing Director of digital marketing agency Optix Solutions, which won Campaign’s Best Places to Work award (for businesses with 15 to 24 employees) in 2023 after introducing several wellbeing initiatives. He says: “In the middle of Covid, we nearly went bust. But our leaders thought, ‘Do we want to be the firm that sacked everyone or do we find another way?’ We realised the happier your team, the more likely they will stay, learn and grow.

“In marketing agencies, staff attrition rates are about 30%. Attrition at Optix Solutions is now just 10%, which means we spend less time recruiting and training. That also improves consistency for clients – a key factor in client retention rates, which for us are roughly twice the industry average.”

Robert says wellbeing initiatives can be a competitive weapon for SMEs. “The larger the business, the more removed decision makers often are from the people who look after customers and deliver the work. Our three owners work in the business daily so face the same challenges as our team and understand what improvements are necessary. We also introduced a shadow board of staff who work alongside the ownership team to represent other team members’ views.”

How to implement a wellbeing strategy

According to the CIPD, wellbeing initiatives often fall short of their potential because they are siloed – implemented separately from the everyday business.

Andrew says just getting somebody in to do a talk about wellbeing “won’t touch sides” and could even have a negative impact by raising employees’ hopes then dashing them. Instead of viewing it as a tick-box exercise, wellbeing should be embedded as part of a culture of inclusivity, respect and support.

Simon Ursell, Managing Director of environmental consultancy Tyler Grange, says having mental health first aiders and a wellbeing app won’t cut it any more. “You have to take this seriously, and if you do, you will see some serious benefits,” he says.

Tyler Grange’s wellbeing initiatives include a three-day weekend; a mentorship programme; and counselling services, including workshops and one-to-one sessions with a clinical psychologist and a resilience consultant. This has resulted in a 66% reduction in employee absence, plus a boost to productivity, with the team generating more work over four days than it did in five.

Staff wellbeing has to be at the core of a cohesive culture of support, Simon says. That creates a feel good effect that is valuable for talent attraction and retention, as well as profitability.

Katy Foster, Senior Human Resource Consultant at Cream HR, says you can achieve better integration by keeping lines of communication open so employees feel they are heard. This could include a sealed box for staff to share ideas or frustrations, or focus groups with representation across seniority, departments and social groups.

Charlotte Dudill, HR Manager at heritage textile mill AW Hainsworth, says successful wellbeing initiatives must also be continuous. AW Hainsworth supports employees with monthly activities, including mental health and wellbeing sessions, counselling, occupational health support and other resources. “It is also important to track and analyse the success of wellbeing initiatives where possible,” she says.

How best to support your employees’ wellbeing

Which wellbeing initiatives you choose for your business will depend on the needs of your employees. It could be anything from help with rising living costs to more flexible working, mental health support or access to a financial adviser. So, ask people what matters to them.

Katy says it can be hard for individuals to leave their personal lives behind when they come to work, so managers should try to understand their issues and be accommodating. “Encourage people to share their concerns, and discuss ways of supporting them – for example, a temporary change to their work duties if they suddenly have to care for an elderly relative,” she says.

Robert says: “Listen and personalise your efforts. If your team wants goat yoga sessions, go for it. But most people just want fair pay and for their manager and owner to treat them with dignity and respect. If you don’t get the basics right, no amount of goat yoga will help.”

It’s also worth entering “best place to work” awards, as they will provide you with a full audit of your team’s feelings, wants and needs, he adds.

How financial advice can help

Financial wellbeing is often part of the overall package. With the cost-of-living crisis impacting households, support for financial wellbeing has moved centre stage in many firms.

“Providing access to a financial adviser is a great service employers can provide,” says Katy. “Tips and solutions on managing debt, investing, pensions and other financial decisions are great gifts. But never pressure employees to take this up, as they may wish to deal with their issues privately.”

To discuss how financial advice can benefit you and your staff, get in touch with us.

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1Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, ‘Health and wellbeing at work 2022’, April 2022 (Based on a survey sample size of 804 HR professionals)

SJP Approved 28/07/2023