What’s up with Wellbeing?
By Shelley Jacobs, MSc, MA, BA (Hons), AIRPM, MABP, Director, Michael Laurie Magar
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to” Richard Branson
Wellbeing at work is a hot topic in businesses today. The Health and Safety Executive state that the cost of employee absenteeism linked to stress and mental health related conditions costs businesses 3.8 billion pounds per year in the UK. The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) claim that 8-10 days are lost per year per employee at a cost of circa £650 per day.
Whilst the concept of wellbeing might feel like the next new buzzword, in reality, it’s not new at all. Wellbeing at work has its routes dating back to the 1760s with the advent of the industrial revolution. But that was a long time ago. We’re in 2020. So, what’s going on with wellbeing at work today?
Within the property management industry, we have recognised that our workforce is suffering from the intrinsic stresses and challenges posed by the very nature of our industry which include:
· having to manage the often high and sometimes unrealistic expectations of leaseholders and clients
· managing the complex legislative framework
· combating the general negative perception of managing agents
· a general lack of understanding of leasehold
Coupled with high employee turnover across the sector, it paints a bleak picture about the wellbeing of our people. Whilst we may not be able to change the fundamental causes of stress in our industry overnight, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do more to increase the physical and mental wellbeing of our people at work.
What is wellbeing?
There are two main schools of thought about the definition of wellbeing. The first perspective defines wellbeing as happiness, seeking positivity and avoiding negativity resulting in higher life satisfaction. The second perspective defines wellbeing more as an optimal psychological state including happiness and positive emotions but also includes positive relationships, autonomy, mastery, purpose, self-acceptance and personal growth.
Stress has a big part to play in our physical and mental wellbeing whether it be personal or work related. Employers should focus on what can be done to increase wellbeing at work as well as being empathetic to the stress and challenges impacting employees outside of work.
The tangible benefits of improving wellbeing strategies include:
· increased employee performance and productivity
· lower employee turnover and associated costs
· better customer service
Stress in the Workplace
We tend to talk a lot about stress in a negative way and sometimes we forget that stress is necessary. In terms of job performance, we need a certain amount of stress to motivate us to work at our best. Too little stress and we may get bored. Too much stress and we become unwell.
In the days of the hunter-gatherer, the fight or flight response to threats and dangers enabled the human race to survive. But whether it’s a grizzly bear or a grizzly leaseholder, our brain responds in the same way. The hormone cortisol (also referred to as the stress hormone) triggers over 150 physical changes in the human body in fight or flight mode including an increased heart rate, increased blood sugar levels, slower digestion, lower immune system etc. However, modern day causes of stress don’t have a clear end point and so we tend to remain in a state of fight or flight for long periods of time damaging our physical and mental wellbeing.
The symptoms of ongoing stress are wide ranging and include the following:
• A decline in work performance including uncharacteristic errors, loss of motivation / commitment, lapses in memory, increased time at work, lack of holiday planning/usage
• Conflict and emotional outbursts
• Withdrawal and reduced social contact
• arriving late to work or leaving early
• aggressive and negative behaviour including gossip, criticism of others, bullying or harassment and temper outbursts
• difficulty relaxing
• lack of interest in appearance/hygiene
• accidents at home or work
• eating problems
• sleep disorders
• substance abuse
• increase bad habits (eating high fat and sugary foods, shopping, gambling etc.)
• physical signs including nervous stumbling speech, sweating, tiredness / lethargy, gastrointestinal problems, tension headaches, rapid weight gain or loss, easily gets a fright, cardiovascular disease, skin problems, impaired cognitive function, frequently ill
• mental health challenges including increased anxiety and depression
How many of these symptoms do you recognise in yourself or others?
There are several factors that impact stress in the workplace. Some stress is intrinsic to the job but there are some key areas which can be improved. These factors, and ways to tackle them, include:
• Role ambiguity or role conflict - It is important for all employees to have a clearly defined job role with clear lines of responsibility and communication in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.
• Poor work relationships – Cultivating positive working relationships is key. People work for people, so effective leadership is an essential element in any business. It is important to invest time in building positive relationships with authentic communication, enabling employees to openly discuss whatever challenges they face within a supportive and non-judgmental environment.
• No career development path or opportunities – Not having a clear path for career development may provide a breeding ground for job insecurity and job dissatisfaction resulting in poor work performance. Help employees to focus on their career development with clear pathways to help them realise their future goals. For small organisations, this can be a challenge and creative solutions may need to be considered. But also recognise that if your organisation can’t cater for an intended career path, you can still help your employee to facilitate their desired future, even if that means they move on.
• Poor organisational structure and climate - Poor work culture, poor leadership or management style, lack of employee feedback opportunity, poor communication and office politics can all have a negative impact on stress levels. An organisation’s culture takes time to cultivate and can be difficult or slow to change. Effective leadership can significantly impact organisational culture change. Seeking employee feedback through focus groups, surveys, 1-2-1 conversations, etc. can positively impact organisational culture.
• Poor work-life balance - Managing the interface between home and work can be a significant cause of stress. A solution to achieve a more sustainable work life balance would be to offer flexible working patterns and to encourage employees to ‘switch off’. Stress can be exacerbated if people are experiencing a life crisis which may include financial difficulties, relationship challenges, bereavement etc. There may be little that organisations can do to alleviate stress for domestic issues apart from offering support and access to counselling where appropriate.
What are Organisations doing about Wellbeing?
According to recent research by the CIPD, 41% of organisations have a stand alone wellbeing policy and 55% of employers state that wellbeing is on the agenda of senior leaders.
There are three types of work place stress interventions that organisations implement in order to promote wellbeing.
1) Primary Interventions – (Organisational level) Organisations take a proactive approach to mitigate stress at the source. Improving key areas of stress at work (as indicated above) can have a significant impact on employee wellbeing.
2) Secondary Interventions – (Organisation and Individual level) Organisations take a preventative approach to stress and assist employees through support groups, offering resilience training to enable employees to manage their stress and provide opportunities for employees to voice opinions and participate in decisions and choices that impact their job and working environment enabling a greater sense of autonomy.
3) Tertiary Interventions – (Individual level) Organisations take a reactive approach to individual employees that are suffering from stress. These interventions might include: mindfulness, meditation, access to talk therapies, coaching, exercise, employee assistance programmes and offering flexible working.
Typically, a combination of all three interventions should be considered.
The Pitfalls of Wellbeing Initiatives
Some organisations focus on how to make employees more ‘happy’. And whilst that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we discussed earlier, there are two sides to the wellbeing coin. Happiness is subjective. What makes one person happy may make someone else unhappy. Increasing social activities is often the go-to thing on wellbeing agendas but whilst this may appeal to many, for some, social activities may be anxiety inducing, resulting in even greater levels of stress. Often employees are pressured to attend or are cited as not being part of the team culture. I recently surveyed over 100 people (many of whom work in the property management profession) where 32% of all respondents stated they felt uncomfortable in social situations.
Organisations often offer gym membership as part of their wellbeing strategy. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, lower cortisol levels and promote a healthier lifestyle. But what about people who can’t physically exercise through disability, injury or those that just don’t want to join the gym?
There is also the matter of the multi-generational workforce to consider where certain wellbeing incentives may make some employees feel excluded.
Whatever the strategy, a great way to combat some of these challenges is to talk to your people and find out what they actually would like or benefit from. Many organisations offer a selection of wellbeing incentives to choose from in order to tap into individual motivations rather than have a one size fits all approach.
The key to implementing a successful wellbeing strategy is to embed the concept of employee wellbeing into the culture and fabric of the organisation. This can only happen successfully through leadership buy-in and steadfast commitment to employee wellbeing for the long term.
As evidenced through recent data, stress related illness and mental health issues are on the rise so it would be remiss of organisations not to consider the impact of stress and wellbeing affecting their workforce. The Law of Reciprocity states that if you do something nice for someone, they will do something nice in return. Our employees are our greatest asset. Value them, treat them well and care about them and they will treat you, your business and your customers well in return.
Shelley Jacobs is a Director of MLM Ltd and has worked in property management for 17 years. She is also a Business Psychologist and is passionate about resolving people challenges in the workplace. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Shelley runs TC83 Developing Resilience and TC84 Developing Leadership ARMA training courses.