Cary Cooper: The wellbeing agenda for the future workplace

The last five years in the wellbeing arena have seen increases in stress-related illness and presenteeism, which have an impact on productivity, talent retention and attraction.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Economic Forum, World Health Organization, EU and many other global bodies have highlighted the issues of mental health in the workplace, and the need to try and create wellbeing cultures in private and public sector organisations.

Health and wellbeing ‘puzzle’

Not many companies have a comprehensive wellbeing strategy, let alone a coherent approach to the problem facing businesses and the public sector in these dramatically changing times.

Having an EAP/counselling provision, gym membership for staff, or invitations to participate in the Global Challenge of walking 10,000 steps a day are only very small pieces of a bigger health and wellbeing puzzle.

A wellbeing culture

The good news is that organisations, big and small, now know that their competitive edge depends on engaged, healthy and proactive employees, and that cultures that promote this kind of environment will deliver to the bottom line, as well as sustaining the health of their employees.

Aside from gym membership, nutrition, EAPs, and so on, a wellbeing culture includes line managers at all levels of the organisation who are good ‘people managers’ with enhanced social and interpersonal skills; flexible working arrangements in a world where employees have multiple demands on them; minimal interference in employees’ lives through emails and other communication technologies out of office hours; and providing employees with some autonomy and control over their job without being micro-managed, feeling valued and trusted and being engaged in key decisions affecting their job and their future.

‘Liveable cultures’

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it,” John Ruskin, the social reformer, wrote in 1851.

The prolonged recession has created a workplace where there are fewer people who do more work, working longer hours and feeling intrinsically insecure (as jobs are no longer for life). In this scenario the role of HR and senior management in creating ‘liveable cultures’, where people are managed by praise and reward, not fault-finding, and where employees have manageable workloads and some balance in their lives, is critical for the health not only of employees but also for the sustainability and health of the business itself.

This is the challenge post-recession, post-Brexit and into the near future. As the poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1853: “How prompt we are to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our bodies; how slow to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls.”

This article is written by Cary Cooper, 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health, ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

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