When Employee Benefits Hurt Wellbeing

Have you ever considered whether your employee benefits truly are benefits? Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, some benefits really do not live up to their name, in reality being far more harmful than beneficial to employees.

An increasing number of organisations are offering seemingly impressive options to their workers, such as free meals at the office, a company account to order food deliveries after 6pm, and taxis home for late evening journeys.

But ‘benefits’ such as these reinforce the underlying expectation that employees should need them, and therefore should frequently be working long hours, kept away from their home lives and happy to carry on working as long as they are catered for. Well-meaning or not, providing dinner and a taxi home is no substitute for healthy working hours and time away from the office, yet somehow it is dressed as an office perk.

Research points to workplace culture as being the biggest obstacle to employee wellbeing, and this is no surprise when even schemes put in place to benefit workers can have the opposite effect in the long run.

Even things like meditation or yoga classes provided to employees can backfire if not promoted carefully and with the right message – is the organisation suggesting that if employees are doing their jobs well, they should expect to be stressed and to require help to alleviate this? Or are some employees feeling so pressured to take part in a ‘wellness’ activity that is simply not the right fit for them that it is actually adding to their stress levels?

Whilst there is no easy solution, there are a couple of questions that can help you to evaluate your employee benefits in this respect, whether existing or new ideas.

  • Is there an ulterior motive underlying this ‘benefit’? (e.g. provisions for late nights in the office to encourage long working days)
  • Might it seem like there is an ulterior motive to employees, even if that was not the intention?

If the answer is yes to the first question, then it isn’t a benefit and it is unlikely to have any positive impact on employees or the business long-term. If the answer to the second is yes, then it will be important to consider exactly how this benefit is introduced and positioned to employees to ensure that it is seen in a positive light.

If in doubt, start with the basics. Elaborate benefits are only going to do so much if employees are struggling with excessive working hours, a toxic culture and poor pay. Giving people choices in a wellness programme is also advisable; wellbeing is personal, and what helps one person will not necessarily help another.

In a time of both growing interest in organisational wellbeing programmes and yet also increasing workplace stress levels, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the true purpose of these sorts of interventions, and miss out on the potential real benefits to both employees and organisations if done correctly.

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.

Wellbeing And Remote Working

Earlier this year, we talked about the importance of role-modelling healthy behaviours in facilitating a culture of wellbeing. At both a team and an organisational level, the influence of culture on employee wellbeing should not be underestimated – yet is often overlooked. Placing the onus solely on individuals to take care of their own wellbeing will only go so far; research has found that employees also need to be operating in a culture of wellbeing to support them and make their efforts sustainable. But how can such a culture be created and sustained when some or all employees work remotely?

Communication is Key

A great deal boils down to communication: both how and when employees communicate with each other, and the sorts of conversations that are encouraged.

Instant messaging – Remote workers can’t just lean across a desk and ask a question to their manager, or run an idea by a colleague in a coffee break. Instant messaging can be a real help in breaking down these sorts of communication barriers. For those quick questions or requests that don’t seem to warrant a phone conversation, the ability to fire over a quick message can be the ideal solution.

Non-work chat – Without the opportunity to spend time together in a lunch break or after work, relationships between colleagues can become solely focused on work tasks and lose any personal touch. Remembering to take a minute at the end of a call to ask a colleague about their weekend plans, for example, can make all the difference to how someone feels.

Make expectations clear – Especially if you have employees with different working patterns within your organisation or team, set clear expectations for when employees are and are not expected to respond to emails. Being isolated from each other can lead to individuals feeling great pressure to respond and appear to be working hard enough, but something as simple as setting (and sticking to) guidelines can really help to alleviate this.

Regular team check-ins – In the absence of everyday face to face contact, it can help to schedule more regular catch-ups than you might have in a typical office environment. Team video calls can be a great way to keep spirits up and foster relationships between employees who may be many miles apart. Try to always bring some positivity to these calls by asking each team member to talk about what is going well for them at work, rather than focusing only on problems.

Constructive and regular feedback – Remember to recognise great work and celebrate employees’ accomplishments, as well as providing supportive feedback when things are not going so well.

Bring people together – Every now and then, arrange a whole team get-together where employees can meet and get to know not just their own close colleagues but those from across the organisation. These don’t need to be frequent to be effective; even just a couple of times a year can make all the difference.

Culture Must be Led by Senior Management

To be successfully embedded and sustained, the above suggestions still need to stem from and be role-modelled by the senior leadership of an organisation. Ensuring that employees feel connected to leaders and up to date about the organisation is also crucial in order for them to maintain a sense of purpose. Establishing a shared purpose within teams will help to maintain this, as well as communicating the business focus or strategy through regular company updates.

Senior management also need to take the lead on things like allowing employees sufficient autonomy and trust, and fostering a no-blame culture that provides psychological safety, therefore enabling individuals to have the confidence to step forward and put themselves ‘out there’. These are just some of the areas that can be diluted when employees work remotely, with less face to face contact or centralisation of communication, systems and processes.

These have just been a handful of ways to foster a culture that will support employees’ wellbeing. None of them are particularly complex or challenging, yet often very little thought is given to them. It can take time to embed changes such as these, especially if they require new technology, but soon enough the benefits will become clear in the form of happier, more resilient and productive employees.

 

To further support your employees, find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops and resources here.

CEO Monthly Magazine Feature

The Wellbeing Project has been awarded the CEO Monthly Elite Business Award for the UK’s Leading Business Resilience Services 2019, in recognition of our excellence in design and delivery of training, coaching and support within a business, embracing personal, team and workplace resilience.

Our CEO and Founder, Sam Fuller, is featured in the June issue of CEO Magazine, offering her thoughts on employee wellbeing as a long-term driver of business success.

https://www.ceo-review.com/issues/issue-6-2019/8/

 

Working With Focus

Most people would probably agree that they would like to be able to work with more focus. After all, when we’re focused, we are able to be more efficient and therefore productive, we are less likely to make mistakes, we can really immerse ourselves in the tasks we enjoy, and time even goes faster for those inevitable jobs that we’d really rather not have on our to-do list.

Yet it’s very common to spend a day flitting between different projects and emails, making gradual progress on various things but not really giving our full attention to any one task. To some, this may feel busy and productive; to others, it can feel hectic and out of control, but either way, it certainly isn’t doing our performance or our wellbeing any favours.

If you think you could benefit from bringing greater focus to your working day, consider how you could implement some of the following simple tactics:

Build breaks into your day – We all know that it’s good for us, but how many people actually take regular breaks? Aim to take at least one short break in the morning and one in the afternoon, scheduling these into your calendar so that the time doesn’t get eaten up by something else. Ideally, use these times to get up and move, have a healthy snack and a drink, and do something to take your mind off of work, such as catching up with a colleague or reading a book.

Allocate time for creative tasks – For those tasks that require creative thinking, block out chunks of time when you can get these done and really get into a state of ‘flow’. See if you can actually remove the distraction of emails during these times. If this doesn’t feel possible, take a moment to consider what you might happen if you did this. The time is being well spent working on a task that requires focus. Consider making it easier to temporarily disconnect by making use of the Out of Office function in your email/voicemail and proactively advising close colleagues that you’ll be temporarily ‘hands-on’ dealing with another task. It also can help to think about whether one particular day of the week tends to be quieter than the others; such a day would be ideal for creative tasks.

Set aside daily time for small odd jobs and admin – Along a similar line, allocate specific time to smaller jobs and admin-related tasks, to keep these under control and prevent them from impinging on the rest of your day. Dealing with non-urgent emails should come under this category too.

Make your schedule work for you – Tailor your working day so that your most cognitively-demanding tasks are at the best time for you. If you aren’t sure when this is, start keeping track of what time of day you tend to be most and least able to concentrate, and you should be able to identify a pattern to work with.

Stick to your working hours – In the age of flexible working, this may not be a traditional 9-5 day, but whatever your hours are, do your best to stick to them. There will always be exceptions when you need to do a little extra to meet a tight deadline, but keep them as just that—exceptions. If you are consistently working too much, your ability to focus will be hampered, making you more likely to make mistakes, to work slower and, ultimately, to burn out.

Some of these ideas may seem straightforward and yet, at one point or another, most of us could do with a reminder. It’s all too common to have the best intentions of concentrating on one particular thing, only to be distracted by an email or phone call, get caught up in other resulting tasks and find that suddenly, hours have gone by with no progress made on the original project.

If this rings true for you, start with just one of the above tactics and make it a priority every day. Try to avoid becoming frustrated with yourself if you do get side-tracked during a period of focus; changing the way you work takes time. Do whatever you need to do to minimise possible distractions and, with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time: feeling calmer and more in control, greater satisfaction with your work, improved performance and productivity, and feeling prepared for whatever comes your way.

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here

The Cost Of Body Image To Mental And Financial Wellbeing

When employers look to identify the drivers behind staff-related pressures, they naturally focus on workloads, team dynamics and perhaps even harassment.  They appreciate that difficulties at home, such as relationships, bereavements and other problems, will affect how an employee feels at work, but we rarely see them considering body image as a drainer for wellbeing. Yet last year alone, one in three adults said they were so stressed about their body image that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.

So how exactly do body image concerns relate to wellbeing at work?

Body image concerns can affect people of all ages and have a direct impact on their mental and financial wellbeing. There is often a perceived or real expectation of how someone should look and dress, both at work and socially within friendship groups, creating significant pressure to fit the mould. Social media constantly reminds individuals of how they ‘should’ look and dress, leading to spiralling anxiety levels and plummeting self-esteem, as people try to keep up with trends and changes. In women, research has even identified a link between body image issues and career aspirations and confidence.

Furthermore, concerns over body image can lead to financial hardship and debt, as individuals overspend on items to build and enhance body confidence, with clothes, make-up and material items used to boost this perception. ‘Fast fashion’ has introduced a rise in throwaway items and the need to replenish them constantly with new brands, colours and shapes. We have seen employees’ clothing/accessory purchasing patterns change, with people now filling their online baskets and pressing ‘buy’ at one minute past midnight on payday. Clothes, aesthetic treatments and even gym memberships may come before food, reflected in the often higher uptake of free fruit or subsidised meals at work towards the end of a month.

This high and fast spend on ‘personal’ items fits with rising concerns over body image. Obviously, not all financial burdens are related to image-conscious purchasing, but this is a more significant factor than meets the eye.

What can employers do to help?

Whilst wellbeing support is now on the radar for many organisations, many offerings remain quite narrow. Financial wellbeing, for example, is often overlooked or not seen as relevant to the workplace, but its impact is so far-reaching that this is absolutely not the case. The promising news is that areas such as this can be greatly improved simply by providing appropriate training to employees.

Enabling individuals to develop and build their own resilience and wellbeing is key to how they respond to rising worries and pressures, such as those around body image. Put simply, those employers who embrace this approach will reap the rewards, with a workforce that is more engaged, connected, happy and focused.

Find out about how The Wellbeing Project can help to support your employees’ mental and financial wellbeing here.

Psychological Safety and Mental Health

Psychological safety – the shared feeling that it is safe to show one’s true self and to take risks in a group – is considered to be a crucial ingredient of team performance. It was even identified as the most important factor in high performing teams by Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’ research, underpinning all other factors. It is also a concept closely interwoven with resilience and wellbeing, laying the grounds for trusting, supportive relationships amongst colleagues.

One area less often focused on is the importance of psychological safety for employees to feel comfortable in raising mental health concerns at work.

The decision of whether or not to reveal a personal mental health issue in the workplace is not an easy one. Whilst some may decide against it based on factors stemming from their own personality, beliefs or preferences, those who do want to share should not have to feel like their choice is risky. To allow this, employers need to foster cultures in which individuals feel supported to talk about mental health openly, without fear of judgement or other negative consequences—in other words, psychologically safe cultures.

Whilst widely talked about, psychological safety does not yet seem to be common in practice. Recent research identified that over 50% of employees in global organisations have felt psychologically unsafe at work. Below are some key considerations for managers who want to increase the overall psychological safety in their team(s):

  • Demonstrate trust in team members – for example, giving people more autonomy in their roles.
  • Own your mistakes, and encourage team members to do the same. Focus not on blame – no one deserves to be embarrassed or punished – but turn them into learning experiences that the whole group can benefit from.
  • Promote honest, open feedback in all directions (including positive feedback).
  • Support team members in trying new approaches, even if it feels risky. Knowing that they have your support will enable individuals to embrace their creativity and bring innovation to their work.
  • Be open to all opinions, responding to ideas and suggestions in a way that shows employees that they are valued and respected. Responding negatively or dismissively can lead a person to feel that they are seen as incompetent, problematic or unaccepted.

As well as fostering a safe culture, it is also crucial to equip team members with a strong understanding of mental health issues and their impacts, through relevant training. This way, everyone will have the knowledge to be able to respond appropriately and have helpful discussions with colleagues.

This combination of psychological safety and well-informed team members should provide the best possible environment for employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health.

 

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.

 

Body Image Comes With A Cost To Mental And Financial Wellbeing

When employers look to identify the drivers behind staff-related pressures, they naturally focus on workloads, team dynamics and even harassment.  They appreciate that difficulties at home such as relationships, bereavements and other problems will affect how an employee feels at work too, but we rarely see them considering ‘body image’ perceptions as a drainer for wellbeing.  Last year alone, 1 in 3 adults said they were so stressed about their body image that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.  

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13th-19th May 2019 #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek) focuses on body image, and CEO of The Wellbeing Project, Sam Fuller, gives her view on how this transcends into wellbeing at work:

“Body image can affect people of all ages and have a direct impact on both their mental and financial wellbeing.  There is often a perceived or real expectation of how someone should look and dress both at work and socially within friendship groups, creating real pressure to fit the mould.  Social media constantly reminds individuals how they should look and dress; anxiety levels can spiral and confidence plummets along with self-esteem and belief as they try to keep pace with the changes and cost to their wallet.

Furthermore, concerns over body image can lead to financial debt, as millennials overspend on items to build and enhance body confidence, with clothes, make-up and material items used to boost this perception. ‘Fast fashion’ has introduced a rise in throwaway items and the need to replenish them constantly with new brands, colours and shapes.  We have seen employees’ clothing/accessory purchasing patterns change, now filling their online ‘baskets’ and pressing ‘buy’ at one minute past midnight on payday.  Clothes, aesthetic treatments and even gym memberships come before food, evidenced by the reported rise in the uptake of free fruit or subsidised meals at work towards the end of a month

This high and fast spend on ‘personal’ items fits with rising concerns over body image. Obviously, not all financial burdens are related to image-conscious purchasing, but we do know that a large proportion of employees are struggling to make ends meet.

We know that wellbeing support is on the radar for many employers, but we’d like to see this pushed to the forefront and made actionable. Mental health will not be disappearing, so enabling employees to develop and build their own resilience and wellbeing is key to how they respond to these rising worries and pressures. Those employers who embrace this approach will reap the rewards with a workforce that is more engaged, connected, happy and focused.”

 

The Role Of Digital Tech In Boosting Resilience

When we think about technology these days, there is a slight undercurrent of scepticism. With many living in an ‘always on’ culture, we are so often reminded to put our phones down, disconnect from the digital world and interact with the real world more. And whilst this is certainly advice worth following, in practice it isn’t always easy and can seem altogether unmanageable.

Instead of simply trying to cut down the overall time spent on your phone, it can also help to take the approach of making tech work for you. Being able to fill every spare moment with something on our phone can make us feel busier than we really are, whilst actually detracting from productivity. But by tailoring what is on your phone so that it best serves you and your individual needs, it can become a helpful tool in improving resilience, wellbeing and efficiency, rather than a drain on these things.

Below are several areas in which tech can be used to support resilience:

Time management – A good time-tracking app can be a hugely valuable tool in maximising productivity and minimising stress. These can be used to plan your day, allocating time for breaks and acting as a timer to ensure you keep on schedule. There are also apps that record how you spend time on your phone, so if you feel like you lose a lot of time this way, these could be a great starting point for knowing where to try to cut down.

Mental wellbeing – ‘Wellness’ apps are everywhere at the moment. If you download too many, you won’t end up using them regularly, so it’s best to pick one or two to really focus on. A combination of a meditation (or other relaxation) app and a mood-tracking app can be highly effective – or you might find the two combined. Together, these practices can not only decrease stress and increase positive mood but also arm you with insight into your own patterns of feelings and emotions and how these are influenced by different factors.

Physical activity – Exercise apps are also plentiful, with many linked to wearable devices. Even without these accessories, these apps can remind you to get up and move regularly, guide you through workout routines, track your activity and coach you to reach your fitness goals. Whether you choose running, yoga, walking or anything else, regular exercise is a sure-fire way to boost your mood and personal resilience – and these apps can provide much-needed support with creating and maintaining a regular routine.

Habit tracking – This one will vary greatly depending on your personal goals, but the principle remains the same. Whatever healthy habits you are trying to cultivate, it can take some time to get into a reliable routine with them. Tracking your efforts can provide encouragement and show you how far you’ve come – whether you’re trying to get more fresh air, read something every day, learn a new language… just about anything can benefit from being tracked, at least until the habit is truly ingrained.

Conscious social media use – Social media’s reputation has suffered a great deal recently. Whilst some people (and companies) are choosing to abandon it altogether, it might be worth considering whether you can turn things around and use it to your advantage. This may take a bit of a digital tidy-up and a spree of unfollowing, to pave the way for meaningful connections on whichever platform(s) you choose. If an account that you follow doesn’t make you feel good or provide something of value to you, consider whether you’d be better off not seeing its posts. Aim to tailor your feed so that it’s filled with positive, healthy inspiration and informative posts from people and/or organisations you care about. Even then, remember not to get caught up in never-ending scrolling – aim to limit your social media time each day.

Spending tracking – Whilst looking at your bank balance may not seem conducive to wellbeing at first, keeping on top of your finances and being fully aware of the state of your spending removes the dreaded feeling of not quite knowing. Apps that track your spending across multiple accounts and cards are really helpful here, highlighting how your income ends up being distributed across different areas such as bills, rent/mortgage, groceries, socialising etc. This can be incredibly enlightening and equips you with the knowledge to make more informed, confident decisions when it comes to budgeting, spending and saving.

In today’s world, the choice of apps can be overwhelming. If something isn’t working for you, it‘s worth trying a few other options – you’re bound to find one that suits you, that you will enjoy using and stick with. If you’re not sure where to start and are looking for some initial ideas, here are a few previous suggestions from us.

Find out about our resilience and wellbeing workshops here. 

Cigna Wellbeing Survey

This week, healthcare provider Cigna has launched it’s 2019 Wellbeing Survey report. CEO and Founder of The Wellbeing Project, Sam Fuller, was invited to join the panel – and she comments on the findings:

“The survey tells us how employees feel about themselves, their roles, their relationships, their working environment, their contribution, their physical and mental health and the huge impact it has on their ability to thrive and consistently perform at work.  This year’s clear and insightful data provides us with the knowledge and understanding to adapt interventions and address some of the common themes and new challenges emerging, it’s not a one-size fits all.   

It is time for organisations to step up and seize the opportunity to put wellbeing in everything that they do – to plan and build tailored wellbeing strategies that deliver far-reaching benefits with consistent commitment and budget. 

Wellbeing is the heart of an organisation’s competitive edge, its sustainability and its employee experience.”

Navigating Uncertainty

Navigating Uncertainty 

This month, our team have been finalising the design for a new 4-day Master Practitioner Accreditation Programme for Wraw, our psychometric tool which measures resilience and its impact on wellbeing.  As well as providing training in how to use Wraw to support coaching, we’ll be sharing slides and facilitation guides, so that Practitioners can deliver their own Wraw workshops. Part of this design process has included a review of our material, selecting the most relevant and impactful tools and techniques to share with our delegates.  There’s one specific exercise that feels particularly relevant in the current climate, and it centres on navigating uncertainty.

While change and flux can herald opportunity, there is often also a period of uncertainty. As certain pieces of the jigsaw start to slide into place, new ways of working emerge. However, when finite answers remain elusive, how do you navigate this uncertainty?

Professional And Personal Uncertainty

For many individuals, the current political climate places question marks over how and where they might be working in 12 months’ time.

Within the 5 Pillars of Resilience which underpin Wraw, Pillar 2 – Future Focus – can provide you with ways of getting back in control and establishing your direction of travel.

Get Back In Control

The first step is to consider your situation and identify which aspects of it are directly within your control; what aspects you can influence and those that are simply outside your control at the current time. The most effective use of your energy and focus will be on aspects of this situation that are within your control.

On a piece of paper, draw three circles, as indicated below.  Start to list what aspects of your current situation would fall into which circle.

In the example mentioned above, your existing skills, knowledge and capabilities at work are all within your direct control.

However, perhaps the current flux has made you less sure of how relevant these will be in relation to changes that might lie ahead?

 Acknowledge What Needs To Change

The next step is to review those skills and identify where the gaps are – what needs to change? Within your skillset, which ones do you draw on the most?  Would any of these benefit from a quick refresh? Technical skills, in particular, can date – do you need to top up your knowledge in any specific area?

Considering your current situation, are there any specific skills you’re missing?  This could be extended technical knowledge or it might even be a case of enhancing your soft-skills. Is there any formal in-house training you can access? If not, consider the plethora of self-development literature available and set some time aside for self-directed learning.

Shoring up your knowledge-base and skill-set will extend your capacity to flex your capabilities and respond to new opportunities as they emerge.

Define Your Future Focus

While change brings opportunity, uncertainty as to which way the dice will actually roll means there will be benefit in thinking ahead. Working with the existing example, what would be the ideal outcome for you, over the next six to 12 months – your Plan A?  How can you channel your skills into this?  Are there any conversations you could have now that might influence that outcome in a positive way?

What’s your Plan B?  While Plan A may be your preferred route, developing a contingency plan will allow you to switch swiftly across to that if things don’t quite go to plan. Again, how can you influence what happens in this space?

Plan Your Route To Success

Now that you know your direction of travel, it’s time to programme your route.  Set a timeline for reaching your ultimate ‘destination’ and identify what this means in terms of when you want to achieve certain key milestones. Create a check-in process either with yourself or a trusted colleague/peer to ensure you stay on course. In this way, if the waters around you continue to churn, you’ll still have a clear view of your own personal horizon.

Restore Clarity And Focus

Navigating uncertainty needn’t be a case of leaving yourself open to the elements. By taking time to understand what you can control and by identifying your most-preferred outcome, you can plan your direction of travel.  Restoring individual clarity and focus will ensure you remain resourceful and resilient through an extended period of change.

 

If you’d like to find out more about becoming accredited to use Wraw, please visit our website: https://wrawindex.com/wraw-accreditation/

Alternatively, if you’d like us to deliver Wraw directly into your organisation, please get in touch and ask us about our client programmes: team@thewellbeingproject.co.uk