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Wellbeing with a business edge

Wellbeing with a business edge
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New Zealand

Done right, a workplace wellbeing strategy should not be just a nice add-on, but a key business investment, a distinguished British occupational physician told the HealthyWork conference in Auckland last week.

As chief medical officer at British Telecom for almost two decades, Dr Paul Litchfield CBE developed a company wellbeing framework that produced significant benefits for both workers and the business. Now, as director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in London, he uses scientific evidence to help government, business, and community organisations develop effective wellbeing strategies.

Wellbeing matters for work, he said, because studies show that high levels of wellbeing increase productivity by around 50%, while low levels reduce it by a similar figure. A UK study which looked at workers in the health service found a clear link between high levels of staff wellbeing and reduced patient mortality, while another found the wellbeing of call centre workers had a positive effect on both customer satisfaction and sales.

“This stuff really matters. You can drive sales by improving the wellbeing of your workforce.”

Often, he said, businesses want to promote wellbeing but don’t know where to start.

“We’ve looked at the drivers of wellbeing, and five big things that come out are health (physical, psychological and emotional); security, including financial security; relationships, both in and out of work; the physical and cultural environment; and a sense of purpose – the feeling that what we do matters.”

While many organisations already invest in health as an aid to wellbeing, Litchfield encouraged delegates to focus on the other drivers as well.

“When you look at the work environment, air quality, design, colours and lighting are all things that contribute to worker wellbeing. We tend not to think of that stuff as being anything to do with health and safety, but it is.”

Looking at relationships, he pointed out that the peak age for marriage breakdown is around the age of 40 to 45.

“These are your most skilled technicians, your middle managers, your up-and-coming leaders, and they’re the people most likely to suffer a relationship breakdown. You could say ‘It’s nothing to do with work. I shouldn’t interfere’, but you’re dumb if you think like that, because they’re going to screw your business.

“They’ll either leave because they can’t cope, or they’ll perform really badly while they’re going through the trauma. So think about at least signposting things like relationship counselling and psychological support.”

Opportunities for workers to do voluntary work within working hours could help provide a sense of purpose, he said, and was likely to be repaid by increased loyalty and productivity.

“Then there’s financial security. A report about 18 months ago showed two-thirds of people were borrowing money on a regular basis for essentials – to pay energy bills and put food on the table.”

Around a third were using credit cards, with interest rates of between 20 and 35%, and 8% were taking out payday loans, where the interest could be up to 2000%.

“As an employer you may say: ‘Is that anything to do with me? I pay my people well.’ But actually, yes it is. At BT it took me 18 months to get my colleagues in HR to do something about this, but in the first four weeks of a social finance scheme, which allowed people to consolidate their loans at about 7.5% interest, we had 4700 people sign up.

“The average amount they were borrowing was just under NZ$5000, and they were saving about NZ$1500 by doing it. That amount of money was making a difference to people’s lives, so if you’re working in larger organisations, think about it.”

Litchfield said the What Works Centre has used the five wellbeing elements to create practical strategies for organisations.

“Set up an action group and think about each of those five drivers in terms of primary promotion, early intervention, and restitution – then create an action grid. It gives you discipline, shows where you need to apply effort, and also where you’re wasting money."

He said a wellbeing approach alters the way a business operates.

“It’s good for workers because it reduces a lot of bad stuff and produces a lot of good stuff, and it’s good for organisations because it helps businesses be profitable, productive and sustainable.”

He cautioned delegates, however, not to expect big results in a short time.

“You might get some quick wins, but it’s a long-term strategy that you need to stick with in a coherent way.”



People Mentioned:
Paul Litchfield
Organisations Mentioned:
What Works Centre for Wellbeing
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