By Tabby Farrar
In the UK alone, more than 12 million working days were lost during 2017 as a result of work-related mental health issues. An additional 5.5 million days were lost to workplace injuries, along with almost 14 million days to other work-related health concerns. The estimated cost of these absences runs into the multi-billions, affecting businesses, the national economy and health services as well as working people themselves.
Studies have shown that the happier and healthier employees are, the more likely they are to stick around. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a small business or a large corporation, it’s vital for both the wellbeing of the team and the productivity of the organisation that health and safety practices are taken seriously, and that the umbrella term “health” includes not just physical, but also psychological wellness.
Facts and figures
According to the 2017 Mental Health at Work Report, there is still a very long way to go when it comes to discussions and improvements around workplace wellbeing. 15% of those surveyed who had disclosed a mental health issue to their employer faced disciplinary procedures as a result, with some facing demotions and dismissals. Unsurprising, then, that while 60% of people had experienced mental health issues in the last year specifically because of their job, only 13% felt that they would be able to disclose it to their manager.
In relation to physical health, one recent poll of workers in a range of industries found that 58% didn’t actually know what the basic health and safety rules in their workplace were. A full 60% admitted to not following any kind of health and safety practices in their working lives, showing that it isn’t only psychological wellbeing that employers must do more to encourage.
With more than 600,000 workplace injuries reported each year and 12.5 million working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2017 alone, it’s evident that staff engagement with health, safety and wellbeing is something that needs to be championed. But as with any task in team management, it can be easier said than done.
Tactics for employee engagement in HS&W
How healthy any team member is directly impacts their productivity at work, with staff who are healthy and well proven to be more productive than those who are suffering with mental health problems, aches, pains and ongoing health complaints. Staff suffering from depression are 131% more likely to have high presenteeism than other employees – that is, being physically present at work, but not working to the best of their ability.
So what measures can you take to ensure employee wellness, and how do you encourage people to really engage with those plans? From implementing healthcare benefits and promoting a healthy work-life balance, to things as simple as encouraging people to take regular breaks, the best ideas can be forgotten or ignored if engagement isn’t considered.
Three crucial steps will help to improve staff engagement in health, safety and wellbeing: feedback, training and a change in company culture.
Requesting and using feedback
The best way to find out what will improve employee health and wellness, and which strategies are proving most or least effective, is to ask. Anonymous surveys, regular discussions and an open-door policy on suggestions are all important to the success of wellbeing initiatives; not just because they narrow down choices to the most suitable options, but because they also engage whole teams in decision-making.
Find out which aspects of working life are proving the most detrimental or difficult. This enables staff to feel that they are being listened to, and better allows for those in charge to meet employee needs. Research the effectiveness of anything from flexible working hours to specific training courses in relation to your organisation, by seeking feedback on what people feel is benefiting them and what they feel could be easily put aside.
In requesting and encouraging feedback, businesses create a sense of appreciation between leadership and the wider organisation – letting staff know that decisions are being made with them and for them, rather than simply as a box-ticking exercise.
Implementing up-to-date training
With almost two-thirds of workers stating that they have no knowledge of basic health and safety rules, it’s not surprising that many also feel that their employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe and well.
Whether it’s in traditional health and safety or mental health, making sure that employees have up-to-date knowledge of risks, best practices and procedures is crucial. Investing in mental health training as well as industry-appropriate physical safety training should be the norm, encouraging employees to expand their knowledge as part of their career development, as well as for everyday purposes.
While any workplace should have a designated first aider and a detailed health and safety policy, these two things alone are not enough to prevent injury and illness, or to support workplace mental health. Policies and best practices become redundant if staff knowledge isn’t regularly refreshed, and to maintain engagement, it is vital to show that you value, encourage and reward ongoing learning and education.
An issue in many workplaces is the detrimental attitude that people sometimes have to health and safety practices, and to mental health. The former is often seen as unnecessary red tape or bureaucracy, while the latter remains taboo in many instances.
Offering proper training and soliciting regular feedback are two parts of a wider group of activities that can help to foster an overall workplace culture of wellbeing. The idea of creating a healthier workplace culture can’t simply be distilled down into positive tasks like offering free fruit or taking walking meetings, but in working to build a feeling that staff wellbeing is one of the very foundations of your organisation.
Define your corporate values and include health and wellness as part of those clearly expressed principles. Let people know that they are valued as individuals, not only as staff doing a job. By nurturing the sense that health and wellness are inextricably built into the infrastructure of the workplace and encouraging conversations around wellbeing, an ongoing culture of positivity towards health, safety and wellness can be achieved.