Work is no longer just something we have to do; it’s increasingly somewhere we actually want to be. Gone are the days of grey, airless offices with rows of dreary desks and a neglected yucca gathering dust in the corner. Instead, we’re enjoying portfolio careers, working when and where we like, and counting our colleagues as among our closest mates.
Happy employees are more productive – and great brand ambassadors when you’re looking for new talent – so it pays (literally) to create an organisational culture and working environment that puts the wellbeing of your workers front and centre. And beyond the bottom line, who wouldn’t want to know that the people in their organisation are blossoming?
Here’s how to help your employees flourish…
- Create spaces people want to be in
Creating workspaces that cater to the needs of the people who use them is critical to nurturing the wellbeing of your workers.
But it’s about much more than just paying for monthly staff massages or having free fruit in the office, according to Rosie Haslem, Director of Workplace at Spacelab.
“People will always gravitate towards spaces that they feel good in, and great spaces always have people at their heart. So get to know what’s really problematic for people in their day-to-day work, in terms of what the space isn’t allowing them to do”, she says. “Then tailor the space to solve those problems and meet their actual needs – not just the needs you think they have.”
- Rethink your employee benefits
In the UK, we spend more than £2.4bn on sick leave. We haven’t “moved with the times to offer health and wellbeing benefits that really address the bottom line and employee engagement”, believes Jess Lonsdale, Managing Director of Virgin Care Private, (virgincareprivate.co.uk) the pay-as-you-go private health and wellbeing clinic.
Jess advocates offering staff benefits that make a real difference to wellbeing, and which people actually make use of. That might mean doing away with your health insurance scheme to offer something more radical altogether.
“Every business these days has an Employee Assistance Programme, including a 24-hour helpline for mental health support, but virtually no-one uses them,” she says. “Far better to create an inclusive, open mindset and a culture in your organisation where people are able to access the care and support they actually need, when they need it.”
Virgin Care Private offers a complete package of health and wellbeing services, from same-day GP consultations to psychotherapy. It’s about immediacy and convenience.
“It amazes me that we’re so empowered in so many areas of our lives, yet we tend to think about employee health and wellbeing only when something goes wrong,” adds Jess. “Health insurance alone doesn’t help promote the day-to-day wellness that means people feel like their best self.”
Given that the human body was not designed to sit all day long, it makes perfect sense to offer colleagues access to physiotherapy, believes Jess. “It’s about impacting people in a positive way and helping them invest in a healthy life, rather than people just using a service when they’re sick,” she says. “We’re helping businesses empower their teams to take control of their health and nip the need for so much sick leave in the bud. It’s a very obvious win-win.”
- Ditch some desks
At Spacelab, nobody has their own desk. Instead, people choose where to sit each day – and throughout the day – based on the type of work they’re doing, and who they’re working with. “Different types of work setting cater to different preferences and different types of working, too,” says Rosie. “Very few roles require anyone to be desk-bound all day long in the same spot, next to the same person, day after day.”
For workers used to having their own fixed desk, giving it up for a more transient way of working might initially seem daunting. But, Rosie says, no client who has adopted a sit-anywhere scheme has yet gone back on it. “We’re increasingly comfortable with working in all sorts of places when we’re outside the office, from a train or cafe, to the sofa or the kitchen table. So people very soon adapt to this within the office.
- Foster good vibes
Generating positive emotions is vital for wellbeing, according to Dr Vikki Barnes, Clinical Psychologist and Lead for Positive Psychology at Virgin Care Private.
“From a neuropsychology perspective, the way the brains works is that the more positive moments we can generate in our everyday life, the healthier we’ll be,” she says. “So anything you do to ensure the working environment creates moments of positive emotion will help generate a positive, optimistic mindset among your team.”
This doesn’t have to be costly, and can even involve subliminal elements – think colours, messages, quotes, and even the elements that make a room feel comfortable and welcoming.
- Empower people through choice
Constant interruptions can have a really negative impact on productivity, and a lack of quiet space to concentrate can make tasks such as report writing impossible. To combat this, provide people with the choice to work in a variety of different ways as befits the task at hand – but note, that doesn’t necessarily mean working from home.
“The mere provision of choice is a very empowering thing and working from home can be great, but you shouldn’t have to resort to it because you can’t concentrate in the office – the space your employer provides should give you everything you need to do your job,” says Spacelab’s Rosie.
“There is nothing more stressful than feeling that you can’t get your work done, because that impacts your very sense of self and undermines what you feel you can contribute. Contrast that with being in a beautiful, well-functioning space and the feeling that you have all the tools and support on hand, to do what needs to be done that day.”
- Encourage movement and interaction
The entire layout of Spacelab’s studio in Hoxton is designed to encourage movement around the building. Not, Rosie points out, merely for the purpose of “racking up a few extra steps on your pedometer”, but because “some of the most valuable interactions we have are the unplanned ones, such as when you bump into someone on the stairs, or on the way to the kitchen”.
There are also other plus points to creating workspaces which encourage movement – a recent Spacelab client has reported that email traffic has reduced by 50% because the design of their new workspace encourages people to move around and actually speak to colleagues in person.
- Address your culture
“I think one of the key things for promoting a positive outlook among your team is to create a culture where people are continually learning, but also where it’s the norm for people to give and receive positive feedback,” adds Jess.
“Hearing someone say ‘thank you’, ‘well done’ or ‘keep going, you’re doing a great job’ can make a massive difference to the way you feel at work. As well as employee perks like unlimited holiday policies, which can be wonderful, fostering a culture where that sort of interaction is the norm is very important.”
“It’s the day-to-day stuff that makes a real difference,” agrees Vikki. “Bonuses and holiday entitlement are fantastic for giving people a sense of accomplishment, which is hugely important in terms of our overall wellbeing, but if you’re in a workplace where you feel you can flourish and be your best self then holidays are just a lovely bonus. Being at work is very healthy, and I wouldn’t want to be in a job where I was desperate for holidays or took loads of leave just because I could – that suggests I’d be in the wrong job.”
- Embrace diversity
When it comes to building a team, it can be tempting to surround yourself with like-minded people who think the same way as you or have the same background. That has shortcomings.
“Creating an environment where diversity of thought is actively encouraged helps foster an inclusive culture, and people always flourish when they feel accepted for who they are and what they bring,” says Jess.
“Richard Branson is famous for this; 40 years ago he rocked up wearing jeans to work when everyone else was in suits and ties, which was a way of saying that he was comfortable with who he was. That’s very powerful. If you have to leave your real self at the door when you come to work, that’s a real shame.”
Ultimately, creating a working environment that helps people thrive is about understanding their needs. There’s no shortcut to that, but the payoff is a happy, engaged and motivated team of people who look forward to coming to work.
Or, as Jess puts it: “If you start with actively listening to people, you can’t help but create a workplace where they’ll flourish.”
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