How to incorporate social wellbeing into an employee wellbeing strategy

The definition of worker wellbeing is changing. 

How to incorporate social wellbeing into an employee wellbeing strategy

Traditionally, efforts have been concentrated on improving the physical health of workers, but as the impact of stress has become more widely known and understood, the onus slowly shifted to making provisions for both mental and physical wellbeing.     

Just as mental wellbeing has gained traction in recent years, employers are also starting to place greater emphasis on employees’ financial and social wellbeing. 

Today, employers should ideally be incorporating all four of these components into their wellbeing strategy, to forge a physically thriving, financially secure, emotionally balanced and socially connected workforce.

The social aspect of wellbeing is the most likely to fall down the pecking order, but with employees spending a significant proportion of their time with colleagues, forming meaningful and harmonious relationships and connections is important. 

Social isolation is a key modern-day workplace issue, exacerbated by the rise in the flexible, remote and virtual working, the gig economy, the increase in the number of working caregivers and the hot desking trend.  

If employees do not have a sense of belonging, or feel on the fringe, their output may not only be affected, but their overall wellbeing too.

By creating a supportive environment for employees to foster social connections at work, employers can help reduce workplace stress and build resilience amongst the workforce. 

Making social wellbeing a priority

Promoting social wellbeing is a mutually beneficial pursuit. Whilst employees enjoy a greater sense of belonging, feel more emotionally supported and appreciated, and less likely to suffer stress, employers benefit from a motivated, loyal, productive and socially cohesive workforce.     

There is certainly growing recognition of the importance of social wellbeing amongst businesses. 

More than one third (35%) of UK companies said that social wellbeing was an emerging focus for the business, according to Willis Towers Watson’s Benefits Trends Survey 2019.

The research also found that for three quarters (76%) of businesses, enhancing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and aligning benefits strategies with these policies will be a priority over the next three years – an increase of 33%. 

Furthermore, 88% of businesses said they will focus on strategies to build a culture of inclusion and wellbeing in the workplace that encourages a supportive work environment over the next three years – a rise from the current 57%. 

But in order to effectively incorporate social wellbeing into a wellness strategy, it must be seen as a key priority, on a par with physical and mental wellbeing, rather than being viewed as a ‘nice to have’ and non-essential element. 

As well as working to gain board level support for social wellbeing initiatives, companies can underline their commitment to improving social wellbeing through employee communications, for example, actively promoting buddy schemes, coffee mornings and five-a-side football. 

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A nudge in the right direction

Companies may have the intention, but execution proves trickier. Forging close relationships in the workplace can be a difficult task and something that cannot be forced. 

Employees will have different ways of forming friendships and will connect more easily with certain personalities. For some, it can be an intimidating experience.   

Boundaries may be an issue, but by creating a diverse range of opportunities for social interaction, companies have a greater chance of being inclusive and effectively engaging the wider workforce.

Companies can start with some simple changes to workplace practices to achieve this. Regular, short team meetings can help employees feel a sense of shared endeavour and comradery. As well as being an opportunity to catch-up, these meetings can be a platform for sharing success stories and celebrating company-wide, team or individual achievements and milestones. 

Some changes to the physical environment and working day could also promote social interaction, such as ‘coffee catch-ups’ at the beginning of the day and creating social spaces in the office. This could include a break-out room, stocked with boardgames, a pool table, beanbags and hammocks or even be home to a communal indoor garden. Even creating a suitable space where people can lunch together, away from their desks, can be effective.     

Activities could include monthly lunches and breakfast clubs, baking competitions, book clubs, ‘bring your pet to work’ day, quarterly socials, and quiz nights. 

Leisure activities, such as company sports day, work football leagues, running clubs and group exercise classes, can be doubly beneficial, boosting physical health as well as promoting social wellbeing.  

For CSR activity, companies can put the choice into the hands of workers and build volunteering opportunities around causes their employees feel passionate about. 

Instead of trying to coerce employees into creating connections through ‘forced fun’, employers should instead aim to create a supportive, empathetic and mutually respectful culture, in which employees can bond naturally, on their own terms.

Asking for feedback, analysing receptiveness to initiatives, and measuring engagement with different social activities and voluntary projects will give companies a full picture of what works and what doesn’t. 

Although participation should be encouraged, it should be made clear that activities are not obligatory. But by building social wellbeing strategy around people’s shared interests and passions, the likelihood of disengagement is greatly reduced. 

The author is Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson.

This article is provided by Willis Towers Watson.

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