Talking SME Podcast: The Impacts of Employee Wellbeing
In this episode of the Ten2Two podcast Talking SME, Jane O’Gorman chats with Polly Collingridge, Wellbeing Associate at Your Employee Wellbeing. They discuss the impacts of employee wellbeing and how businesses can be affected both positively and negatively.
A bit about Polly
Polly is passionate about helping people get rid of the barriers that stop them from thriving, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Employers and their employees are helped to manage the 4 pillars of wellbeing (emotional, physical, social, and financial). Polly achieves this by providing practical support and services to clients of all sizes to help with the work-life juggle.
Polly has an MSc in Cross-Cultural Psychology and is also a certified intercultural trainer.
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‘The Impacts of Employee Wellbeing’ is just one of a series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics. We talk with business experts, and also offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.
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Jane O’Gorman (00:01):
Hello, and welcome to Talking SME, our quick fire chat with business leaders. I’m Jane O’Gorman and I’m very pleased today to welcome Polly Collingridge, Wellbeing Resources Associate for Your Employee Wellbeing. Hi Polly.
Polly Collingridge (00:17):
Polly Collingridge (00:18):
Hi, thanks so much for joining me on this lovely sunny day. Polly. We talk a lot about wellbeing and, and I guess from a business perspective, employee wellbeing, How would you define wellbeing?
Polly Collingridge (00:34):
Yeah, well, it’s an interesting one because wellbeing is actually a very multifaceted thing. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy, but that doesn’t really reveal what a holistic thing wellbeing is. People think of mental or physical wellbeing, I think when they think of wellbeing, but it’s more complex than that. It includes social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, even career wellbeing too. And they’re all interlinked. I mean, we know that exercise improves our mood and that nutrition and our sort of mental state can be related, but our social wellbeing – and by that, I mean the quality of our personal and professional relationships – affects our mental state as well.
Of course we’ve all become more aware of that since lock down. The thing with social wellbeing is that it really speaks to our sort of need to belong, to feel included, that need for recognition that we all have and, you know, to feel valued. And I think that employers who get this particularly, and embed that sort of understanding into their policies and, and company culture will really see the rewards because ultimately wellbeing has a huge impact on performance.
Jane O’Gorman (01:50):
Hmm. That’s really interesting. And touching on the complexity there in terms of thinking about wellbeing: emotional wellbeing, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial career, all those different elements that come into play in such everyday life in all areas of our lives. And obviously we spend so much time in a working day. How important do you think it is, Polly, for a business to have a wellbeing strategy taking all of those elements into consideration?
Polly Collingridge (02:25):
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very important. First of all, that they understand as we’ve just said what well-being really is and, and how key it is to business success. I mean the bottom line is, poor wellbeing costs the company money, but, but good wellbeing among employees will, will really make them money. It’s a spectrum at one end, you’ve got mental illness but at the other, you’ve got someone who’s truly thriving and able to perform to their potential without burning out and, and benefiting everyone around them, including the company they work for.
There’s an incredible statistic, I think it’s according to the Mental Health Foundation – 70 million work days were lost in 2019 to mental health issues. It’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to get our heads around these huge figures, isn’t it, especially if you’re a small company.
Polly Collingridge (03:16):
But what people need to understand is that absenteeism, presenteeism and a high turnover of staff due to poor wellbeing are really commonplace and expensive and actually really avoidable. So you know, the greater the wellbeing of your employees, the more motivated, creative and, and better able to fulfill their potential, they’ll be. It’s a kind of virtuous circle because the happier your workforce is, the higher the calibre of staff you will attract. And, and essentially it’s important to have a proper strategy, not just a set of disjointed initiatives, because a culture of wellbeing won’t stick without one.
A proper strategy will ensure that you get that sort of top down, bottom up, buy in, which is really crucial. And you need a strategy to make sure that the business case for wellbeing that we’ve just talked about, has been effectively communicated, and to make sure that your managers and leaders are capable of doing what they need to, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re big or small, you know, all companies need to do that. It’s how you establish a culture of wellbeing.
Jane O’Gorman (04:25):
Yeah, absolutely. What do you think makes the biggest impact on employee wellbeing?
Polly Collingridge (04:32):
I think the biggest impact is created, you know, not so much by sort of fresh fruit Fridays or subsidized yoga. These things are really nice to have, but they’re not going to help you create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace that’s sustainable. I think the things that matter the most, would probably be training for managers making sure that there’s psychological safety in the workplace.
That’s a sort of buzz word at the moment, and I’m sure you’re familiar with what it means, but just in case any listeners, aren’t, it’s really a prerequisite according to Google research for teams to work effectively. It kind of refers to authentic communications amongst and within a team, you know, amongst employees, without fear of failure or ridicule. So I’d say manager training, psychological safety, and then manageable workload and good work-life balance.
Polly Collingridge (05:22):
And the reason, the reason why managers really need to be capable is so important, is that so often people are promoted into managerial positions totally untrained and unprepared. And the art of good people management is really undervalued, but it’s important because they will be modeling the right behaviour, as I said, from the top down. You know, they will be establishing the sort of conditions of psychological safety and they’ll also lead the way in good work-life balance. Small actions on the part of a good manager can make a really big difference in work-life balance and your sort of perception of workload.
For example, if you’re conscious of your communication style as a leader, you can really help your, you know, the people you’re responsible for, for example, if you like to catch up on emails late at night or at weekends, it’s really good, a good idea to make time to make clear to those who report to you that you don’t necessarily expect an immediate reply.
Polly Collingridge (06:24):
Because otherwise you’re, you know, you’re making somebody really stressed feeling that they have to reply immediately when maybe that wasn’t even your intention. So it’s about being sort of empathic and, you know, employers can really benefit from showing their staff that they know they have a life outside work. Yeah, and that they, they, I also think that companies and managers need to recognize what motivates people ultimately and what doesn’t. It’s complex, but it needs to be kind of better understood.
You know, research has shown, I think by Mercer, that a simple thank you at the right time can actually be more effective than financial rewards. Not to say that, you know, financial rewards don’t have a place, but a good old fashioned email or call to say, thank you in a personalized, meaningful way can actually be more effective. And that recognition of the sort of individual’s sense of purpose that we were talking about earlier is really powerful.
Jane O’Gorman (07:14):
Absolutely. And you make some interesting points there, Polly, in terms of thinking about from the managerial perspective. You know, managing people is not necessarily a given and that perhaps applying some budget or training around how to manage others, particularly when one thinks about your career progressions. When, you know, you may not start in a managerial position, but move into one that gives people responsibilities. And perhaps investing in that training that will allow managers to be more equipped in order to deal with their teams, particularly when you think about some of the figures that you mentioned earlier in terms of the cost of business and when that isn’t managed well.
So it’s a, it’s a really interesting point. And I think also thinking about the, the transparency and openness, you talked about top down, bottom up, and I wonder if although we’ve had a very, very challenging year given that we’ve all shared in the same challenges, if that’s hopefully created a little bit more openness and collaboration and, and permission to feel ok to discuss how one feels, do you think there has been a little bit of a shift in that?
Polly Collingridge (08:33):
I think so, you know, I think that with so many people on zoom calls and, you know, we’ve seen inside people’s houses, people’s children, people’s pets running around in the background, you know, that it’s kind of broken down maybe a few barriers, if you like And sort of helps facilitate certain sorts of conversations. Certainly the pandemic has really caused a paradigm shift in the way we work. I’d say,
Jane O’Gorman (08:56):
Yeah. Conversations that might not have happened before I think. But what do you think, you know, what do you think employees most want and need?
Polly Collingridge (09:07):
I think, I mean, well, interestingly, BUPA conducted a workplace well-being census in 2019 – this is obviously pre pandemic. They found that amongst employees of small businesses, the most kind of desire to changes in the workplace were flexible working, manageable workload and more recognition. So interestingly, those three changes mattered more than a higher salary.
And if you think about, as we was just saying, you know now since the pandemic, in a way that paradigm shift of the way people have been working, you know, more people working from home, et cetera has absolutely kind of moved those things to the forefront of the conversation even more. You know, obviously there are pros and cons about working from home, you know, whether you’ve got children in the background, whether you’ve got enough space, whether your wifi is good enough, et cetera, et cetera.
Polly Collingridge (10:01):
But ultimately I think that sort of flexi working, perhaps hybrid model, some days in the office some days at home, is probably here to stay. You know, doing things differently, has helped people realize what they want it to change even more, but they were already identifying those things sort of before COVID hit. So, you know, ultimately, you know, work-life balance is made easier by sometimes working from home because you save time on the commute, you know, you maybe find more quality time with family, perhaps more time to exercise, more time to spend outdoors.
You know, the thing to really remember, I think, that employers need to remember, is that time is our most precious resource. You know, it’s something we all feel we never have enough of and particularly working parents and carers who incidentally make up one third of SME employees. So it’s like, we all have those micro tasks to deal with on top of our day job, you know what I tend to call life admin.
Polly Collingridge (10:52):
And then on top of that, you’ve got those additional stresses, you know, to cope with as well. And it’s often kind of chronic low, low level stuff. But occasionally it’s sometimes huge crises such as a family member being ill or a bereavement that comes out of the blue. And you know, we need to be able to help employees, on a practical and emotional level, deal with whatever life throws at them.
You know, that could be not being able to conceive, getting a mortgage, you know, the death of a parent, whatever it is, we’re all humans, not robots. And all that stuff just adds to the stress that we might be finding already in our work life, in connection with work relationships, targets, expectations, you know, whatever it is. And we know we need to make time for self-care like, we, we sort of know what we’re meant to do, you know, we need to eat well, we need to exercise.
Polly Collingridge (11:39):
But sometimes that just feels like something else to remember to do. That sort of adds to the stress. And, you know, I suppose really what I’m thinking is that what I think employees want and need is as much autonomy and flexibility as possible so that they can be free to juggle their work and their life as effectively and productively as they, you know, best can, you know, being in charge of that and for them to feel more fulfilled as well. That’s another interesting thing about the pandemic, is that with many people furloughed, they’ve had a chance to sort of have a think, you know, is this what I want to be doing with my life? And many of them might think, well, no.
Jane O’Gorman (12:16):
Yep. And, and there’s a couple of things, the gosh, there’s several things that actually you’ve touched on. So to mention a few – obviously time, and the fact that how precious time is, and could that be managed slightly differently? You know, obviously what we have seen, as a result of the, the last year is perhaps that commute time has converted now into maybe a walk time, or, you know, that we perhaps have been able to work slightly differently, still be able to deliver. But to have just some time to be able to look after oneself and perhaps there’s a different way of managing.
But I think it’s interesting in terms of that paradigm shift and what you mentioned Polly about, you know, being responsible for oneself and managing one’s time. And, and I think because we’ve been in a situation where people have been working remotely or have had to manage their workload in a different way, with that, comes certain empowerment and trust, you know, and, and if we look about, you know, in terms of what employees most want – time and flexibility comes into that.
Then I think, the empowerment is a very powerful thing but the trust to allow people to feel empowered really has got to be a big positive in terms of how businesses operate. And, and if you like move forward in the months ahead.
Polly Collingridge (13:52):
No, absolutely. And I think obviously some companies and some people find that trust easier than others. Yeah. But yeah, especially, you know, when you’ve had people not working, you know, in front of you necessarily, but working from home. But I think in the main, most companies are found that productivity hasn’t dipped at all from people working from home.
Jane O’Gorman (14:15):
Yeah. And interestingly, if we take into the equation, the fact that, you know, we have seen productivity, we have seen people managing their work load but actually we’ve been juggling so much more. So it’s the resilience and the ability to cope with that. But, but it’s interesting, you touched on some are more able to trust than others and what that means for you. What, what does a successful company look like?
Polly Collingridge (14:47):
I think a successful company is one where employers are just in tune with what motivates their employees and, and give them this freedom and responsibility that I, that we’ve been talking about. You know, a company that values the importance of empathic and authentic communication where leaders aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability, which is very much part of the whole psychological safety thing, where they’re sort of living, you know, living the culture of wellbeing, sort of living and leading by example, and where they recognize that their employees have a life outside work.
And I mean, if budget allows, you know, the manager training and the educating of employees on things that matter to them, is I think really the way forward, you know, for a company that’s looking to implement a wellbeing strategy, but it doesn’t have a, you know, much of a budget for it.
Polly Collingridge (15:44):
Then I think it’s really about working out how to make, you know, working out what your employees want and, and how to make their working and home lives easier. You know, for example at Your Employee Wellbeing we offer talks on a really eclectic range of topics, because this is the reality of our lives. You know, it might be understanding burnout. It might be the key causes of back or shoulder pain – it might be the impact of stress on the body – it might be the cost of childcare or elder care, how to stop your kids being on the screen so much, you know. It’s like, this is what we’re all juggling. And just to recognizing that, you know, whether you’re a team leader or, you know, or somebody just starting out in your career, you know, we’ve all got these different sorts of issues.
Jane O’Gorman (16:30):
Yeah. And that’s a really interesting point. And I like the fact, you know, that you mentioned about living it, you know, so it’s actually, if you like, a physical situation rather than just a strategy. That this piece of paper that should define how the business is, is very, very people focused from the top down that allows that, that gives the permission if you like, to have conversations and humanize. It makes sense but it’s not necessarily, always there. And then, I guess, from that, by humanizing, by sharing and by listening, it can then bring benefits to the business and actually save costs at the same time.
Polly Collingridge (17:22):
Absolutely. You know, it’s not a wellbeing strategy shouldn’t just be, oh, you know, on a sheet of a A4 in a file somewhere, you know, it needs to be a living breathing thing. That’s, that’s lived by, by everybody. And if you know, if in theory you have a generous holiday policy, but you know, your boss never takes holiday or always works through lunch – well then you’ll always feel bad taking holiday, and you’ll always work through lunch.
You know, it’s like we sort of, the culture of a workplace is what’s happening on the ground. It’s not what sort of sounds good. And written somewhere that nobody knows, nobody’s read, you know? So I think that’s, you know, I’m not saying that, you know not all companies do that, but it can be a trap to fall into you sort of, you just don’t want it to be a tick box exercise – it’s got to be so much more than that.
Jane O’Gorman (18:13):
Yeah, definitely leading by example. Thank you, Polly. That’s so interesting. Thank you so much for that input. If you could leave one final piece of advice or tip for a business and for our listeners, what would it be?
Polly Collingridge (18:30):
Well, it sounds obvious, but definitely listen to your employees before implementing any wellbeing initiatives so that you really make sure you’re catering to what they actually want. And, and remember to be human. You know, we’ve talked about this just now, you know, focus on improving those channels of communication and establishing that atmosphere of psychological safety by being as authentic as possible yourself.
So if you do that, then when you ask your employees, you know, what do you want, whether it’s a survey or conversations or whatever it is, then they’ll be honest about what they actually do want or need, because they may not feel they can be, if you, if you don’t model that sort of openness yourself.
Jane O’Gorman (19:09):
That’s a really good piece of advice, Polly and conversation, you know, in terms of cost, you know, because so often people are thinking about, oh, what’s the budget implication of the strategy and how much do we need to spend but actually it’s behaviour?
Polly Collingridge (19:23):
Yeah. It’s actually taking the time it’s taking the time rather than spending the money to just think about things a bit more carefully and think about how, how communication works within your company. Absolutely.
Jane O’Gorman (19:34):
Great advice. Thank you so much, Polly. Thanks for joining me today and for your this valuable chat, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. And to our listeners. I hope you enjoyed our Talking SME, look out for future episodes coming soon.