Posted on Wednesday 24 February 2010 by Ulster Business

Dr Robert Kerr

An effective and productive organisation relies heavily on a healthy workforce. This applies equally to mental health and well-being as Dr Robert Kerr, lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at the University of Ulster explains…

There is often some confusion when people start talking about employee well-being. Some feel the concept is too fuzzy and many are unsure as to what well-being actually refers to. When we talk about employee well-being, what we are really talking about is our employee health both mental and physical. So why should organisations be interested in employee well-being? Putting aside the obvious costs associated with poor physical health (e.g. lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover), mental health-related costs can be significant. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in four of us will be affected by mental illness. In 2006, The Confederation of British Industry calculated that stress-related absence alone cost UK businesses £660 annually per employee. ‘Presenteeism’ can also occur. This is when employees perform below par due to illness or a negative mental attitude. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health estimated that employee ‘presenteeism’ cost UK employers up to £15.1 billion a year. But employee well-being is more than simply counting the costs of ill-health, it is about employees realizing their full potential and living a productive life. Improving employee well-being creates a healthier more engaged workforce. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development identify employee well-being as a key source of productivity and sustainable competitive advantage and the 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report ‘building the case for wellness’ argues that focusing on employee well-being can result in improvements in your company profile, competitiveness, profitability, productivity and employee engagement. Okay, so accepting there is an obvious business case for focusing on employee well-being where do you start? Basically you need to assess your current level of organisational well-being, decide where you want to be and work out how you are going to get there (your well-being strategy). There are many sources of support to help you in this process. Locally both the University of Ulster and Business in the Community (BITC) are actively involved in well-being related research and interventions with a number of organisations. In 2007 BITC launched the campaign ‘Business Action on Health’ with the drive to embed health and well-being into the heart of every business. Within the University of Ulster Professor Marie McHugh, Dean of the Ulster Business School, leads an active research team working with a number of UK organisations in this area. A key question in running your well-being strategy is how to maintain momentum? One innovative way to maintain momentum is enlist enthusiastic volunteers from your workforce to act as well-being ‘champions’. Every organisation will have employees actively involved in creating, running or participating in health and well-being related activities in their spare time. These employees probably cajole other work colleagues to join them. Why not provide an opportunity for these employees to contribute to your campaign. Other employees are probably interested in running some sort of well-being related activity, be it a social activity, keep fit class or charity event, but most will have no idea where to begin. Providing a framework of support for these potential well-being ‘champions’ can create a structure that harnesses their natural drive and enthusiasm towards well-being related activities into momentum for your well-being campaign. McDonalds use the term ‘freedom within a framework’. By giving employees a support framework you can facilitate strategic consistency while allowing local creativity and innovation to shine. The framework should not limit the creative process but rather focus it towards the key aims of your well-being strategy. Don’t tell people what to do with a list of rigid policies, but empower them with room to move and create (the ‘freedom’).The ‘framework’ comes in the form of tools and guidelines that any employee interested in running a well-being event must work within. This system allows you to centralise the communication strategy for greater consistency of voice and profile but decentralise the actual administration of many well-being events to localised ‘well-being champions’ – helping you to communicate your well-being brand values in a local voice.

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