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Employee wellbeing is not just about a people-led approach – it must also be data-led

20 April 2023 5 min read

employee wellbeing

By Katrina Bennett, People Director at edays

Ask staff what they want from you as an employer, and someone might jokingly say a 200% pay rise and to work on alternate Wednesdays.

But if you really ask them—and they believe you are sincere in wanting to know—what they want is to feel they are being listened to and you are on their side.

And becoming ever-more important in our currently rather stressed times: that you have some idea about what will maintain—or even improve—their overall wellbeing.

What does employee wellbeing really look like?

Every day, the term ‘employee wellbeing’ appears across LinkedIn and on news sites, and it’s firmly part of the HR conversation.

But for many employers, the opportunity to do more surrounding employee wellbeing is a challenge because of the current climate of rising costs, 10% plus inflation, recruitment struggles and restrained budgets.

In the face of all this, how vital is wellbeing, not only for employees but for entire organisations? Workplace wellbeing is an important reality that isn’t about having an easy life–and instead, it supports the kind of productivity and commitment any CEO would undoubtedly value.

That’s because employee wellbeing is far more than just being ‘happy.’ It’s about if I feel I have a purpose, that I contribute, that my hard work is recognised and that I am part of a team.

This is a big leap beyond outdated thinking, that concentrated on equating wellbeing just with physical health and safety (vital as they remain, especially in a post-COVID world).

employee wellbeing

In contrast, in the modern workplace, wellbeing is ensuring that employees are always in a good position—whether that’s mental health, physical health, engagement with the business, or understanding what their roles are.

Why should that be a priority for employers? Because it means that people want to come to work for you, are able and keen to do their jobs–and therefore deliver.

Which is not just a win for the employee but a win for you and your customers.

Turning wellbeing into process

So, you’re bought into the premise on why employee wellbeing sounds well worth supporting.

But, do you know where you are right now with it at your company?

We recently asked 100 HR leaders if they had a good understanding of their current sickness rates at their company: 19% admitted they didn’t.

We also asked if they consistently log mental health as a reason for employee absence: a very high 33% said no, while 3% were not sure.

And when we checked if they’d seen an increased number of mental health absences since the start of the pandemic in 2020, 36% had to say they weren’t sure as they don’t track it.

These results are potentially problematic—even more so when you hear that a focus on wellbeing consistently ranks as one of the top factors people look for in current and prospective new employers.

On the plus side, wellbeing’s value is absolutely being recognised in businesses worldwide: a very high 78% of the HR leaders we spoke to said that employee wellbeing will be a top priority for their companies in 2023.

However, it seems there are some big gaps in how they intend to do that. There are several different approaches that businesses could take, but based on my experience, these are the steps I would begin with:

Talk to your people

Engagement surveys are a fantastic way to get real, current insight into how your people are feeling—and when combined with visible, ongoing commitment to open communication and dialogue backed up by you responding to employee concerns, it’s a package you simply can’t beat.

Measure everyone fairly

A possible sign of a quiet personal struggle is unexplained absences and unusual leave patterns. Not taking any annual leave over the year until you are forced to at least use up your statutory minimum is a sign, at best, of a poor work-life balance; it might be a lot more. Regular leave that isn’t for proper downtime might suggest struggles in an employee’s personal life, such as health issues or supporting a family member.

It’s important to get on top of absence and leave, as this could suggest a problem that if left alone might require a big intervention or potentially even turnover.

Return to Work discussions that encourage open and honest conversations on the individual circumstances, will be seen as a commitment on your part for making wellbeing a lot more than just a slogan, but a living reality at your company. Listening, understanding, and supporting employees to return to work well, and continuing to have ongoing check-ins with their people managers so that they know you are there for them, is the bottom line.

Start collecting the right people analytics

The good news is that there are now great, automated cloud-based tools to provide a way to keep track of absence and help you work with your teams to make leave management a process that works for everyone.

If you want the best for your team—and thus for your organisation and the customers you want to help—a positive employee experience is vital.

Encourage and support the positive employee experience by treating wellbeing as more than just a HR buzzword—and instead, an indicator of a happy workplace full of motivated and fulfilled employees.

Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
April 20, 2023

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.