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The Easy Bits of Workplace Wellbeing

I was talking to a member of the public about workplace wellbeing. To be honest, I try to avoid the subject of wellbeing with non-professionals as it can get a bit sticky, as this did. I should have learnt my lesson.

The woman told me her husband had a great job in the City of London.  I had confessed to being an occupational health and safety specialist and, as usual, there was no reply to this.  I’m not sure if people know what I do or just not impressed, either way, it is usually a conversation stopper.

Interestingly if I say I am a nurse – that’s fine.  I usually get a benevolent smile – but truthfully, I haven’t been a conventional nurse for at least 20 years. Nevertheless, if I want a dose of benevolence, I say it loud and proud.

I digress…

Tooty Frooty

She told me her husband’s employer gave him fruit, and it was on his desk every Friday, as part of a wellbeing programme.  He thought it was wonderful as did she, which is why she was telling me about it.

Apples, bananas, OK.  But oranges? I thought they might end up being more trouble than they worth; people would have to move from their work and wash their hands – this could be problematical and what about pips and squirting orange juices? These are all considerations in the corporate health and safety risk assessment process. We didn’t go into what happened to the non-eaten fruit.

Not wanting to appear churlish, I played along and asked if the company did anything else apart from the Friday Fruit Fest (my title)?  She looked aggrieved and pointed out that she hadn’t had such luxuries at her workplace. Ever.  His company was superb.  He was so lucky especially as they enjoyed a nice lifestyle because of it. I gather he earned a bomb!

It’s All About Bob

Now, ordinarily I would have let all this go, listened and nodded, but I guess I was tired or antsy and bored with people’s conceptions of workplace wellbeing provision, and the BS people talk.  Before I could stop myself I asked if her husband, let’s call him Bob, enjoyed his job?

Ironically and inevitably I opened the floodgates on Bob and his wife’s complaints about his job.  These ranged from overwork, bullying, long hours, disturbed sleep, long distance travel, stress and interrupted holidays – he took his iPhone away with him and disappeared for an hour after dinner each night, whispering into the phone while his wife quietly seethed in the background.

fruitbowl image as part of wellbeing programme
Free Fruit on Friday

Bob’s Friday apples were forgotten.

Tick in the Box – Workplace Wellbeing Programmes

I can’t sneer at Bob or his wife. So many companies equate giving out fruit, doing a cholesterol or blood pressure check or a gym membership, as being a good wellbeing response for their workers; what they don’t realise, is that this is the pretty cheap, and at the ‘easy to do’ end of the workplace wellbeing spectrum.

The challenging and costly end, and what roots out the real reasons for poor work health (especially in modern offices), starts with stress risk assessments, management training, assertiveness courses and recruiting the right people for jobs.  Consider also, reward and engagement programmes that run throughout a company, from top to bottom or even an income protection plan or private health insurance.

And that’s a lot of bananas!

Another irony of the Friday Fruit Fest shenanigans is that the caring employer does this on a voluntary basis – after all, eating is not a part of working life. However, stress risk assessments are part of the Management Regulations requirements, and once you’ve done the risk assessment, you have to put control measures in place to minimise the possibility of stress. It’s part of health and safety law.

Hardly anyone even knows what a stress risk assessment is, and won’t want to open this can of worms.  But most large organisations will proudly talk about their workplace wellbeing programmes, with some even having signed up for the Responsibility Deal, a government promoted health initiative.

Statistics About Workplace Wellbeing and Health

A recent survey by Liverpool Victoria (LV)  – found that nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents return to work early when suffering from workplace stress and that 35% of this group did it because they are concerned about what colleagues might think and 38% because they feel guilty.

The research also found:

  • Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents have taken time off work due to stress in the last five years.
  • 16% continue to work after being diagnosed with workplace stress.
  • More than half (56%) of respondents cite unrealistic deadlines and workloads as a key trigger for stress, with long working hours (53%) and a lack of support or training (44%) following close behind.
  • 54% of those who are absent from work due to stress do not reveal the real reason for their absence to colleagues. More than a third (38%) say that they conceal the right reason because they are worried about being seen as weak and 25% are too embarrassed to discuss the actual reason for their absence with colleagues.
  • Almost half (46%) of respondents in the private sector worry that taking time off for stress will affect their job security while 51% of public sector respondents worry that colleagues will think they are faking it.
  • Around a quarter (27%) of respondents would rely on state benefits if they are unable to work, 43% would use their savings, and 21% do not know what they would do if they went on long-term sick leave.

Let it Go

Of course, I didn’t quote all this to Bob’s wife, who by this time was looking at me blankly, and wishing she’d sat next to someone else, rather like the corporate management teams when I mention it as part of my needs assessment at new companies I advise.

I’m not even sure she got my point about Friday Fruit Fests being pretty useless after we moved on to her husband’s real job problems.

But if you still think that a corporate wellbeing programme is all about fruit distribution or cholesterol testing, please don’t brag to me about it, especially if I am having a bad day.

Source of Statistics from Employee Benefits for full article: click here

See Also:

Stress Management information from the HSE: click here

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