Covid-19 : The Beginning of the End of Wellbeing at Work?
The inevitable squeeze on cost for many businesses against a post-Covid economic backdrop may spell the end for many wellbeing initiatives started in good faith pre-lockdown.
The rock-and-a-hard-place tension when hard decisions are being made about where to invest limited funds is the same for businesses big and small across the UK. But for the SME sector in particular making that decision to sacrifice what you know to be morally the right thing to do in favour of the things you must do to stay safe, legal and compliant can be all the more challenging because, frankly, you have *personal skin in the game.
(*I know because I have worked both in big business and now as a small business owner myself. The protective cloak of corporate life is one which is only appreciated when you no longer wear it.)
There is no wriggle room when it comes to being safe and legal; it is a given that we must comply.
Costs and Benefits
However, the choices about stopping, starting or continuing something like a wellbeing programme are not so binary. But I’d like to present a few key reasons why employee wellbeing ought to be in with a fighting chance for investment in time, money and effort.
It is easy to put a figure on what you have saved by not investing in wellbeing, but what could non-investment cost you? Here are some thoughts to consider:
- There can be an eye-watering human cost of poor health at work, causing a large additional financial cost to companies already under pressure. Absenteeism and presentee-ism due to mental health issues costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year. (Source: gov.uk)
- Non-investment in wellbeing is often representative of poor company culture. A report by Breathe HR, “The Culture Economy”, found a third of British employees had quit their jobs due to a negative workplace culture (34%) which has been shown to cost the UK economy an estimated £23.6 billion per year. (Source: breathehr.com)
And on the flip side, what could you gain by investing in wellbeing?
- Studies have shown that investing in employee wellbeing and corporate wellness programmes as part of a core business strategy can deliver bottom-line returns and a measurable ROI through improved company culture, higher engagement, lower staff turnover, and improved productivity. (Source: forbes.com)
- For the SME sector the Breathe HR report stated that positive culture within SMEs led to:
- improved morale and relationships (50%);
- employees going the extra mile (44%);
- better customer service and satisfaction (43%);
- improved individual performance and productivity (43%)
- and reduced employee turnover (35%).
So, if you apply these numbers relative to your own organisation, whether you are a solo entrepreneur, or a larger organisation of multiple staff members, you will see there are some compelling reasons to prioritise wellbeing investment within your organisation.
Wellbeing Before Profit
What the pandemic showed us is that governments across the entire planet were forced to put their citizens’ wellbeing ahead of economic growth when instructing businesses and other organisations to close and people to stay home. If ever there was a signal that when we have the sharpest end of the stick between our eyes, most people will choose physical health over anything else, this was it.
However, there is more to health than physical wellbeing.
The mental health of people around us, and ourselves, is dependent on us having support networks in place and access to credible routes of care. It is not only people with a history of mental ill health who need support in the post-Covid workplace, many of those fortunate enough to be able to self-isolate in a safe environment and have access to resources to ensure their wellbeing have experienced feelings of stress during the pandemic. What it must have been like, or continues to be like, for those without such resources, is unimaginable.
Even when society gets back to whatever normal is going to look like, the hangover of stress and anxiety may still be present. Worries about the future may remain as the full effects of the economic impact from Covid continue to be felt.
I’m going to put myself out there and suggest that, morally, business communities should not simply rely on an already struggling NHS to “solve” this. And financially, given waiting lists for mental health services before Covid were months long this could be seen as shooting oneself in the foot by further adding to the business costs of absenteeism/productivity loss.
Staying at the forefront of the key issues that affect workers, employee wellness, and the latest wellness and employee wellbeing trends is important for organisations who want to encourage and develop their workforce, by creating happy and healthy working environments.
Keeping wellbeing on the business strategy agenda is essential for any business who wishes to grow, prosper and contribute in the post-Covid economy.
I’m keen to hear the thoughts of fellow businesses so if you would like to offer your thoughts on this feature, please do so in the comment below!
Kate Morris-Bates, Director & Clinical Therapist, InsideOut Wellness, Flintshire.