To conclude the roundtable discussion on the benefits of a focus on wellbeing at work, Director asks Bev Messinger, CEO of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, to reflect on the key points raised
Could the strong link between employee wellbeing and business performance be part of the solution to the UK’s sluggish productivity? A growing number of businesses think so.
Directors are investing in systems, processes and talent to create cultures and work environments that are drawing discretionary effort from their workforces. This marks a big step forward in workplace safety and health.
Safety and health is now the top item on the board agenda for many companies who, quite simply, cannot afford to get it wrong. In the UK alone, workplace injuries and illnesses cost the private sector nearly £15bn a year.
As the UK economy becomes increasingly services-led, there is much greater awareness of mental health in the workplace. While managing the physical risks remains vital, especially in the more hazardous sectors, the psychological and social aspects are gaining more attention, with wellbeing linked to better performance. For this reason, workplace wellbeing has become the main focus for businesses looking to assure long-term organisational health.
This increasingly important point has been recognised by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (Iosh), which has taken the lead in working with businesses in a range of industries to move beyond regulatory compliance.
“This is all about expanding the virtuous circle that an investment in wellbeing can deliver to employers,” says Bev Messinger, CEO of Iosh, who explains: “If you earn a reputation for being ethical and focused on wellbeing, your customers will buy more from you. And, crucially in the war for talent, you will have more people wanting to work for you as an employer of choice.”
Messinger’s belief in the business case for wellbeing is strengthened by research from the International Social Security Association (ISSA). This has found evidence to show that intangible assets such as human capital, reputation, skills and stakeholder relationships are becoming increasingly important in business – and that they are all related to an organisation’s emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of its people.
These findings are supported by those of a recent survey by Deloitte, which asked senior executives for their top five C-suite preoccupations. Organisational design came out on top, with leadership second, followed closely by culture, engagement and learning.
The cultural aspect reflects the central challenge for employers. As a business leader, it’s about asking yourself: am I providing a supportive environment where employees feel that their concerns are heeded; where their health needs, both mental and physical, are taken seriously; and where their opinions about working conditions are properly considered?
Developing the right culture can help a company to attract and retain the most talented people. And, by doing so, the organisation will build a reputation as a caring employer – a benefit not lost on the many investors and customers who want the businesses they deal with to behave responsibly.
Shareholders get more for their investment from companies that take sustainability seriously. A meta-analysis conducted recently by the University of Oxford found that 80 per cent of companies that had taken a longer-term approach to business than average had higher earnings per share than average and a lower cost of capital.
Across the generations
“We all want a purpose and to work for a company that’s doing the right thing – I don’t think this desire is exclusive to millennials,” Messinger says. “Being an employer of choice that can articulate this is very powerful when people are deciding where they want to work.”
Business leaders can tell whether they are taking the cultural aspects sufficiently seriously by considering the following questions about how that is playing into engagement levels across the organisation. They should ask themselves: are employees involved in shaping the company’s future? Do they see it as a place to develop themselves professionally and personally? Are they likely to stay with the organisation for at least the medium term, build a career and help the business to perform better in the process? And, most crucially, are they giving something extra – are you unlocking that crucial discretionary effort that separates the great businesses from the good ones?
It’s clear that the ability to give a positive response to all of these questions isn’t simply a “nice to have”. Indeed, an investment in wellbeing is becoming central in the creation of sustainable business value. This point is underlined by the ISSA, which has estimated that every €1 invested in occupational safety and health generates a return of €2.20.
But getting this issue to the top of the corporate agenda is not easy. Three-quarters of business leaders interviewed in a recent Iosh survey said they faced barriers to investing in the wellbeing of all members of their organisation. The biggest obstacles? A lack of interest from the management team was the most common among them, followed by cost and a perception that the issue is a compliance matter and not related to improving performance.
Tackling such views is the new front in the battle to get companies to embed wellbeing in their long-term strategic planning. Employees will be grateful for this – and so will customers, shareholders and investors. All of them want to see companies doing the right thing, not only because it’s the right thing, but also because it makes good business sense.