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Improving workplace wellbeing in your organisation

Ensuring workplace wellbeing is vital for businesses and individuals. Your staff are your most valuable resource, and if they’re unhappy, their productivity will suffer and they’ll be more likely to leave. Given the skills shortage that many Australian businesses are experiencing, retaining talented workers is a top priority.

People spend more than a third of their waking hours at work and their workplace has a big impact on their lives. As many as one in five Australians has experienced mental illness, and a new report by CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) has found that worker mental health claims will double by 2030.

The report, Mental Health and the Workplace, looks at how employers can improve productivity through wellbeing. CEDA senior economist Cassandra Winzar observes that “a supportive work environment can limit the impacts of other stressful events on work performance and productivity… mentally healthy workplaces benefit not just individuals but also businesses themselves”.

Managers and leaders have a key role to play in supporting workers’ wellbeing. Research by Forrester and Indeed has revealed that 57% of workers believe that higher-ups are responsible for their happiness in the workplace. The commitment and culture of senior leadership is critical to the success of improving wellbeing at work, from modelling positive behaviour to job design and committing to workplace health and safety standards.

Identifying wellbeing issues

How do you know if your staff are happy? There are several different ways to measure wellbeing and identify issues in your organisation, and this should be done on an ongoing basis, not as a one-off. Employee surveys can be a valuable tool, as well as HR data such as compensation claims, absences and turnover rates. Some organisations use NPS (Net Promoter Scores). If teams are consistently failing to meet KPIs, there may be a problem.

High levels of presenteeism often indicate an unhealthy work culture, with people feeling excessive pressure to meet deadlines or worrying about job security. Presenteeism can be a bigger problem than absenteeism, leading to exhaustion and further reducing work performance, as well as spreading infection and ultimately resulting in more sick days. 

Online tools can be a useful starting point. The New South Wales government is offering a free Workplace Wellbeing Assessment tool for businesses. It’s been designed by Safework NSW as part of the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy. Other options include the Thrive at Work assessment tool developed by the Future of Work Institute, and the Federal government’s People at Work survey, which aims to create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces.

Most importantly, monitoring wellbeing is about creating a culture of openness. This means listening to staff and responding appropriately to their issues. As Cathryn Baker, Indeed ESG expert says: “it’s about dialogue — not just the delivery of a message.”

What makes a happy workforce?

Most business leaders want to have a mentally health workplace, but don’t always know what measures they need to take and what their duty of care is. It can be challenging to identify what will increase wellbeing among your staff. You may have tried ensuring fairer pay or offering more flexibility. But research shows there’s often a disconnect between what people think matters and what actually matters.

Remuneration and flexibility are important. But a sense of belonging and social connection, and being “energised”, matter much more for wellbeing, according to the Indeed-Forrester survey. Trust is also vital. Training supervisors in Mental Health First Aid has also been shown to decrease stigmas and increase support. 

Above all, employees need to feel that their work has purpose and meaning. When people feel connected to a greater purpose they are more likely to thrive. The pandemic has shifted attitudes and expectations, changing people’s perspectives on what is most important to them. In a Gartner survey, 52% of people said the pandemic had made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job, and 65% were rethinking the place that work should have in their lives.

According to McKinsey research, 70% of people say their sense of purpose is defined by their work and this has been shown to directly impact employee turnover. A Great Place To Work found that three questions influenced whether people would stay with a company: “Are you proud of where you work? Do you find meaning in your work? Do you have fun at work?” If your employees answer “no” to any of these, they could be at risk of leaving.

Ultimately, poor workplace wellbeing and mental health is costly for individuals, businesses and the wider economy. Australia’s Productivity Commission Mental Health inquiry has estimated the direct economic costs to be up to $70 billion.

Investing in your employees’ wellbeing is a sound business decision that benefits everyone. The Productivity Commission’s Inquiry showed returns on investment of up to $4 for each dollar invested in Australian workplace mental health interventions. 

More importantly, you can have the peace of mind that your staff are being properly supported and are happy to be a part of your company. They’ll also be more likely to recommend your organisation to others as a great place to work.