Hi everyone, Aaron here from Lilac HR! We thought that given how hot off the press wellbeing and mental health is at the moment it would be a good time to put some thoughts onto paper (or a computer screen!) which will hopefully give you whistlestop tour of the world of wellbeing in the workplace.
So as you may know, wellbeing has never been more present in the world of employment and finally it appears that the stigma associated with this is slowly starting to disappear. There is a long way to go however now more than ever there is an opportunity for employers to really focus their long-term efforts on the health and wellbeing of their colleagues.
Over the course of my ten-year HR career, I’ve worked as several organisations, some small and some much larger. Within those organisations I’ve supported line managers at all levels of management, from a store manager to a senior director or even a chief executive. The one thing that’s always been apparent from a leadership perspective, from my first year to the present day, is that wellbeing and how to manage wellbeing is a scary prospect.
So, what is wellbeing?
Well, if you looked in a dictionary it would tell you that wellbeing is the state of feeling happy and healthy and I think that sums it up perfectly. For me, wellbeing is a feeling, and that feeling can be as a result of so many different variables in the context of the workplace.
It could be that resource is stretched in the team and that’s having an impact on someone’s wellbeing, it could be that there has been a relationship breakdown between two colleagues and that has caused both individuals to become stressed at work, or it could be something as little as someone is commuting to work every day and their bus is always late which has a knock-on effect to their own working day.
Funnily enough, all three of those examples have happened to me and how my line manager supported me during each scenario had a profoundly positive impact on my wellbeing.
The reason examples like this are worth speaking about is because as a leader you will undoubtedly encounter these situations in your business and how you respond and manage those situations will be crucial to the success of your organisation.
Healthy workplaces help people to flourish and reach their potential.
What this means in the real world is that by creating an environment that actively promotes a state of contentment, can only lead to people finding that state of happiness and healthiness.
I’ve spent several years advising line managers and leaders on the complex wellbeing challenges they face in their businesses and when the response to those challenges is done well, you would be surprised at how quickly the likes of employee engagement, sickness absence levels and staff performance improves.
The other side of that coin, however, is that wellbeing initiatives often fall short of their potential because they stand alone, isolated from the everyday business. From my experience, to gain real benefit from this, employee wellbeing priorities must be included throughout an organisation, embedded meaningfully in its culture, and carried out in a top-down manner.
So, where do I start? This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often this is overlooked.
Talk to your people, use general conversation as a means of learning how someone is doing. You would be surprised at what you might learn if you ask someone ‘how are you today?’ during a workday.
Better yet, you could go one step further, and have regular one to one meetings with your teams, they don’t need to be formal meetings, just more of a general catch-up to touch base and let them know that your door is always open if they are ever struggling, whether that’s with personal matters or strictly work-related matters such as workloads.
I’ve had line managers who were great at checking in with me, and some that weren’t so great. I’ve had line managers who were incredibly supportive, and some that weren’t so supportive. I’ve had line managers who have asked me how I’m doing, and I’ve gladly shared with them that I’m struggling, however I’ve also chosen not to share and that is something that as a leader you cannot control.
But don’t forget to ask, because the benefits of doing so far outweigh the benefits of not bothering.
With all of the above in mind, I completely understand that well-being, and in particular how to promote and manage wellbeing in the workplace is easier said than done.
The situations that crop up in the real world are often incredibly complex, almost always highly emotive and it would be foolish to suggest there is straight forward way of handling those situations.
Not to mention, someone’s wellbeing situation is unique to them, however the best advice I can give to any employer is to just start by having a conversation with that person and listening to them.
I would go on record to say that 99% of the leaders I’ve given advice to about how to manage wellbeing related absences, workplace conflict or just situations in general, didn’t know whether they could actually manage the situation in any capacity.
With that in mind, its time for some myth busting!
‘One of my employees are off sick due to work related stress, can I contact them?’
Absolutely. It wouldn’t hurt to be mindful of how you go about this, but until you engage with them you wont know what the problem is and are therefore powerless to help them. Carefully approaching them in this situation may actually go along way to resolving the very thing that has caused them to go off work, they may not be aware that they have options, and a simple conversation could make the world of difference.
‘One of my employees are off sick, will they continue to accrue annual leave?’
Yes. Even during a period of sickness absence, that person is still employed by you and will continue accrue annual leave as normal.
‘A member of my team is currently off sick and wants to return to work earlier than the date on the fit note from their GP. Do I need their GP to confirm they are able to come back to work?’
No, you don’t. This is definitely a common myth, and perhaps understandably so.
An employee must provide a fit note (or a doctors note) after 7 days continuous days of absence and is mainly used to ensure the correct sick pay is paid to that employee. For example, if John hurts his lower back and is off work for 2 weeks, he should have provided you with a fit note which will usually have a start and end date for that period of absence.
However, if John’s lower back recovers quicker than expected, and he wants to return to work early, then he can, and you don’t need to wait for his doctor to give you the green light to let him return. In certain circumstances an employer may need to take other precautions before someone returns, for example if John was a bricklayer, then his employer may have to carry out a workplace risk assessment or consider some adjustments to his role, so bear that in mind.
‘One of my team has a long-term mental health condition, but has had significant periods of absence from work in the last 12 months, can I manage their absence through our absence management processes?
Absolutely. This is another common myth, that there are certain types of absence that cannot be managed under a formal process. There is a huge caveat to me saying you absolutely can manage these types of absence, in that a slightly different approach may be necessary.
For example, if someone has a mental health condition that has affected them all of their life, and impacts them every day in some capacity, the chances are they are covered by a piece of legislation called the Equality Act.
This legislation is relatively well known nowadays which is great, but with that there comes a fear from managers/leaders that they are unable to do anything about absences of this nature.
There are just some legal obligations to consider here and if you are ever facing this type of situation, feel reassured that you can do something, but before doing that something you might want to chat it through with someone first.
And that’s where the team here at Lilac HR can come in handy, as we’re well versed in these type of situations and will be able to give you some honest and practical options for you to consider before diving into the complex world of managing wellbeing in the workplace.
I hope you have found this useful, stay tuned for more….