While in the past employees’ personal and professional lives were largely separate and attitudes were less progressive, ignoring wellbeing in the workplace in today’s climate isn’t an option. In the 2017 Stevenson/ Farmer review, the cost of poor mental health in the UK workplace was estimated to be between £33 billion and £42 billion every year as a result of sickness, staff turnover and presenteeism (when employees are present but less productive due to poor wellbeing). The situation is mirrored in the U.S. with employee mental health costs in the country rising at twice the speed as all other medical expenses. The message is clear: ignore employee wellbeing at your peril.

But it’s not just about reducing costs, it can also improve recruitment and retention efforts. One recent report from Aon found ‘better awareness of mental health issues’ ranked as one of the primary concerns for employees, superseded only by a desire for flexible and agile working. With flexible working an increasingly popular approach to managing a healthy work/life balance, it’s no real stretch to say this also plays a key role in an individual’s wellbeing, too.

It should therefore come as no surprise many businesses are taking the matter increasingly seriously. A 2018 FTSE 100 Index survey found companies were talking more about wellbeing in the workplace compared to the previous year – and that those who mentioned it most frequently in their annual reports also enjoyed the highest pre-tax profits. It’s clear what’s good for employees is good for business, but it begs the question: how can you track, measure and promote wellbeing in the workplace?

The role of technology

One of the first challenge when it comes to measuring and tracking wellbeing is how to define it. Key performance indicators such as number and frequency of absences, the quality and quantity of work output and levels of staff retention can provide reference points for employers to track change over time in relation to wellbeing initiatives, but they only go so far. Fundamentally, it may not always be apparent how someone is feeling at any given time – especially given the widespread issue of presenteeism as outlined above. 

The only way you can really find out how your employees are is to ask them directly, which, for the growing number of companies offering flexible working, requires high levels of communication and connectivity. Thankfully, there are plenty of digital tools available to facilitate communication and collaboration between employees working remotely, such as Slack, Teams and Workplace. By connecting people to one another they have potential to help overcome feelings of loneliness often cited as a downside of remote working and provide the sense of belonging vital to our wellbeing. Importantly, they also provide employers another means to track the state of wellbeing in their company.

John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility said he uses Slack integration Officevibe to poll his staff multiple times each week to gauge how they are feeling. As with any survey, however, this approach requires data management, with his reference of the app coming with the caveat to be careful with its use as “it can turn into a good amount of noise.” In addition, Lincoln also endorsed the use of MailChimp surveys every couple of months. “Ask similar questions and plot your progress. Think of this as the net promoter score, not for customers, but for your employees.”

However, while using digital technology in this way can provide a platform for employee feedback, they are by no means a fool-proof solution. “Tracking well-being often requires disclosure – and it becomes dependent on employees to tell their managers when they need support. But this can backfire, if employees feel like they must disclose only to become another metric to track. There’s a fine balance required, and success is rooted in shifts in company culture, not how well wellness metrics are tracked,” said Scott Beth, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Intuit. It’s an opinion shared by Roman Grigoriev, CEO of Splento. “Self-reporting wellbeing and wellness will only exist in teams in which there is a culture of openness. No amount of technical tracking can solve wellbeing if people are afraid to be open.”

Respect the culture

While gradual, this shift to a genuine culture and commitment to employee wellbeing is already underway, with more proactive, wide-ranging approaches encompassing both physical and mental health. “Increasingly, corporate wellbeing strategies are centered on preventative actions and building a general culture of health. Successful strategies offer employees access to a range of offerings such as private health assessments and GP services; emotional resilience training, guided self-help and face-to-face treatment; fully-funded and subsidised gym memberships,” commented Dr Davina Deniszczyc, charity director and medical director for Nuffield Health

When it comes to promoting wellbeing in the workplace, one crucial thing to remember is that fundamentally it is about people – and everyone is different. Beth commented how while he believes it’s incredibly important to create a working culture “fostering an inclusive environment where different experiences and viewpoints are valued.” An emphasis on the individual was something Dr Deniszczyc also highlighted, commenting how “No two people are the same, so developments in how health incentives are delivered means businesses can finally begin to move away from a traditional one-size-fits-all approach, to one that can be tailored to every employee, so they feel supported at all times.” Whether a wellbeing programme is aimed at a handful or thousands of employees at any one time, the notion of being adaptable is vital. Attempts to promote wellbeing are not an exact science and should be seen as very much a process of trial and error, as there will never be a quick fix that will suit everyone. As Lincoln commented, “No matter what wellness program, perks or team building your do, there will always be people who complain. The most important thing is to constantly be working on ways to improve the business, giving more back to the people you work with, listening and measuring results.” As a core approach to improving wellbeing in the workplace, it’s hard to argue with that.