Wellbeing in the Workplace

What is employee wellbeing?

Wellbeing in the workplace refers to the focus within an organization on education, coaching, and health of all the employees.

An ongoing wellbeing program should be specifically designed for employees at every level to be most effective. The program should help people with all aspects of physical and mental health rather than just concentrating on their tasks at work.

It is often referred to as workplace wellness, corporate wellbeing, employee wellbeing, employee well being, well being in the workplace but, at PepTalk, we refer to it as workplace wellbeing.

What is a workplace wellbeing program?

The main objective of a workplace wellbeing program is to acknowledge that people need to bring their whole selves to work. Increasingly employers are realizing that people cannot leave the rest of their lives at the entrance to their place of work. By helping employees in aspects of their personal lives, organizations will be also helping them in their work lives.

According to Allied Market Research, the corporate wellbeing industry has grown to be a $50 Billion market with a multitude of providers ranging from 1-on-1 coaches to apps and platforms that make scaling a wellbeing program across an organisation of any size a relatively simple affair.

But let’s be real clear about wellbeing in the workplace… For well-being to be truly effective you need to address it at the organizational level as well as at the employee level. You need to provide a well-being program, not well-being services.

Watch us explain the PepTalk Wellbeing program in 100 seconds HERE.

What is the concept of wellbeing?

Let’s face it. Lots of people hate going to work and the number seems to be growing each year.

There have been numerous surveys, including one by Gallup in 2017, that show up to 85% of the workforce are not engaged with the jobs. In Japan, the number is a staggering 94%.

​A large contributor to this problem is how we measure employee performance. Far too many companies still rely on beliefs that can be traced back to “The Wealth of Nations” written by Adam Smith in 1776,

250 years ago. Smith maintained that so long as people were paid for their work they didn’t care what they did. ​This was his argument for the division of labour into small tasks with little meaning.

In many companies today, financial remuneration is based on measuring the divided tasks that an employee is responsible for and paying them according to the complexity and volume of the tasks completed. Not the most inspiring stuff really.

Adam Smith was wrong

In the last 40-50 years, there have been lots of psychological studies that have proved the opposite of Smith’s beliefs to be true. It’s not just about the money, people care about what they do. And, more critically, they care about whom they are working with and whom they are working for.

Big mistake companies make is offering materials and services in an effort to address employee wellbeing. Too often business leaders take the easy option of a happy hour on Fridays or team-building trips to the bowling alley. Similarly, it’s only a matter of time before the novelty of a beanbag in the meeting room wears off. These are all noble gestures, but these are not wellbeing solutions and fail to address any real issue.

A comprehensive workplace wellbeing program will address the issue of employee wellbeing and organisational wellbeing.

The workplace and wellbeing

If poker is a zero-sum game (for someone to win, someone has to lose), work is a positive-sum game; there doesn’t have to be a loser.Virtually every job that people do can be seen as improving the lives of customers, even if only in small ways. Therefore, every job that people do can be made meaningful by focusing on the ways in which it improves the lives of customers.

More happy customers, if done correctly, will improve the organisation through increased profits. It stands to reason that the organisation should look to improve the lives of employees.

This TED Talk by renowned psychologist Barry Swchartz makes the point very well.

For more cool TED Talks on Happiness, Positivity and Wellbeing, check out our blog post HERE

Employees are connected to the customer

If you are sceptical about how connected to the customer your employees really, think again. In a series of tests, a hospital used signs to encourage doctors to wash their hands more.



And the third one read “GEL IN, WASH OUT”.

The first sign that spoke to the personal consequence of not washing hands had no effect. The clear winner was the sign that spoke of patient consequence and signalling the purpose resulted in a significant increase in the amount of soap and hand sanitizer being used.Not to drag Adam Smith through the mud, but people work better with a purpose.

How do wellness programs affect the workplace?

The wellbeing of all employees should be an executive's concern. Equally important is that any wellbeing program is driven by the leadership within the business. It cannot be material objects or services that are handed to employees.

Paraphrasing “Why We Work” by Barry Schwartz - “We may not expect business leaders to ask themselves ‘How can I make my employees’ lives better by restructuring their jobs?’ But we surely would expect them to ask themselves ‘How can I make my business better by restructuring employees’ jobs?’”

At PepTalk we are re-defining how teams perform. Our workplace wellbeing platform is built around behavioural change.

Pleasant Productivity ™

With a wellbeing program, managers have the ability to meaningfully connect with their teams, to be part of digitally enabled shared experiences, to foster community and camaraderie that delivers a real benefit to the organisation. At PepTalk we call this Pleasant Productivity™.  Pleasant Productivity™delivers employees who are mentally, physically and emotionally ready to do great work. It also empowers managers to lead with empathy, purpose and authenticity. And for the organisation, data and insights provide a real measure on the strength of their team effectiveness and culture. In summary, Pleasant Productivity™ creates:

✅ better managers
✅ that lead better teams
✅ that build better companies
✅ that result in better performance

How do you define wellbeing?

The workplace wellbeing definition is still evolving as more research and study is devoted to this area.

We firmly believe that wellbeing needs to be focused on the employees AND the organisation.

Employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is two-fold. It addresses the fact that there is no difference between the professional in work and the partner, sibling, friend, team-mate outside of work. We are all people first.

Success and failure in any aspect of your life will affect the whole person. We can try and push worries from our personal life to the back of our mind when we walk into work. But these things absorb mental energy and will eventually bubble back up to the top if we don’t deal with them. And this is when our performance is affected.

A wellbeing program for employees at every level needs to consider:

The person in work

  • Competency
  • Productivity
  • Professionalism
  • Energy
  • willingness to collaborate
  • social interaction with colleagues
  • psychological safety

The person outside of work

  • family life
  • financial considerations
  • personal health
  • family health

A complete wellbeing program will address both facets of the person.

You can see from the graph below, a lot of the issues on employees’ minds concern matters outside of work.

Organisational wellbeing

Organisational wellbeing should

  • Constantly challenge the way things are done in the organisation
  • There will be some organisational wellbeing as a by-product of personal wellbeing but to be truly effective there needs to be executive participation, not just endorsement
  • Be fearless in the approach it takes towards its employees’ progress/career path/development
  • Expecting performance, even high performance, to a job spec is limiting. People are motivated by more than money, such as connection, meaning, purpose, autonomy… let them have it!
  • Have a meaningful ROI
  • There is a commercial reality to business. The positive-sum game of wellbeing if done correctly should deliver a return on any investment of time and budget.

Employee health is the number one issue for HR departments at the moment. It would make sense to address the issues outlined in the previous graph if HR is looking to improve the organisational wellbeing of their company.

Why is workplace wellbeing so important?

The volume of workplace wellbeing research in the last number of years has grown substantially. We now have a much better understanding or personal, team and company performance from a human level. At a glance, the evidence against the modern workplace is quite damning.

This is having a massive financial impact on companies all over the world.

  • Absence cost the Irish economy approx €490 million in 2015. There has also been a 72% increase in mental health issues among Irish employees.
  • In the US 38% of employees said they suffered from excessive pressure in work. This cost the overall economy $300bn in the absence and medical care.
  • Almost 40% of adults in the U.S. are obese, 61% of Americans cite work as their most prevalent cause of stress.

Remote working and Covid-19

All the dire statistics in the previous section pre-date the global pandemic and economic lockdowns in 2020. Remote working is not an option for some professions. For professions classed as knowledge workers, it has given the gift of time to people who no longer need to commute to an office. One thing is for certain, employers need to fundamentally change how they manage their people.

So, we know that the old way wasn’t working and we know from the research that there are tremendous benefits to remote working, benefits that can far outweigh the traditional model of working. However, with maturity and experience, we also have to acknowledge that there are challenges, some of which are not immediately apparent, that come with remote working. Some of these include:

  • Reduction in positive human connection (including relationships, meaningful conversations, clarity of direction and human centric-leadership)
  • Isolation, marginalisation and disconnection
  • Stress & burn-out
  • Mental health, including anxiety, emotional exhaustion
  • Sleep and rest patterns
  • Working hours and always-on culture
  • Physical Wellbeing including movement, ergonomics, and breaks

When you team this up with people lacking informal contact being 19% more likely to report a decline in mental health since the pandemic began, it builds a picture that we need to act to support employees sooner rather than later, from a human and a business perspective.

The good news is that employees are trying to help themselves. According to Google, the average weekly time spent in apps has grown 20% year-over-year in Q1 2020. People are turning to smart devices and apps to stay healthy, productive and connected.

We all get it; there are genuine challenges. And those are the more ‘immediate ones’. We aren’t even thinking about innovation, talent development, deep learning, and all the things that happen naturally when people ‘come together’ ... how can we create those moments, those opportunities in the ‘new world’? Well, the good news is it isn't as hard as we feared. It just takes a new way of doing things.

A great starting point to emerge from catastrophe is to look to the people around you, at every level of the organisation. We all look for meaning and purpose from our work and now is the time to harness this intrinsic motivation.

“Catastrophes bring out the best in people. I know of no other sociological finding that’s backed by so much solid evidence that’s so blithely ignored. The picture we’re fed by the media is consistently the opposite of what happens when disaster strikes.”

Rutger Bregman’s "Humankind: A Hopeful History”

How do wellness programs affect the workplace?

The Josh Bersin Academy released “The Big Reset Playbook” report in August 2020 in response to the impact of Covid-19 on the workplace. It highlighted 20 key priorities for companies to focus on. The top priority was communication with “wellbeing in all forms” number two. Number three is about supporting and developing leaders.

Think about it… remove Covid-19 from the equation and ask yourself “shouldn’t companies have been doing these things all along?” Or were they saying they did, but now we know they weren’t?

We know over the last number of years companies have been making yoga classes and mindfulness talks available to staff. In 2020 we have seen the addition of cooking classes, education and training for children, and adopting many different types of coaching on physical, mental, and financial fitness.

Here are some specific examples some larger brands have put into action after the Covid-19 outbreak:

  • Chubb Insurance created a “taking care” series using authors and experts from many domains
  • PepsiCo created a global wellbeing communications program in days
  • Santander focused its entire response around health and family support
  • Yum! Brands created an end-to-end program spanning employee safety and workplace protocols, contactless customer service, and emotional wellbeing
  • Amicus now uses an online system that prompts employees to take safety, cleaning and distance measures and sends alerts when office density rises, alerting people to stay at home

While these initiatives are all great and hopefully beneficial for staff, another question to ask is whether these measures are a workplace wellbeing strategy or a temporary response to Covid-19. They should be former.

If a workplace wellbeing program is to have real meaning, it must focus on creating sustainable high-performance, improving mental skill and wellbeing, and  making people better. This will have a much longer-lasting benefit to the whole organisation as opposed to trying to make people feel better right now because something bad has happened.

Workplace wellbeing and return on investment

In 2012, Google was one of the first companies to try and find out what were the dominant characteristics of their highest performing teams. Was it intelligence, years in the job, technical knowledge? As it turns out, psychological safety - “being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” - was the common denominator in high performing teams.

Atlassian, an Australian software company, followed in Google’s footsteps and began to implement programs to bring staff from all over the organisation together. One of these programs they christened FedEx Days (now called ShipIt Days), you had to work on something that was not part of your regular day job but would potentially add value to the company. The only stipulation was that if you used a FedEx Day you had to deliver something to your colleagues the next day to show what you’d worked on.

These innovation sessions led to some profitable product development ideas and software bug fixes in record time. This initiative is a direct descendent of Google time, where Google allowed its employees one day a month to work on any project they liked. This was responsible for a number of product innovations and solutions, including the creation of Gmail.

Watch us explain the PepTalk Wellbeing program in 100 seconds HERE.

What are the measures of wellbeing? € £ $

A report published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine tracked three different studies that examined the stock performance of publically traded companies after they won awards for or self-scored themselves as having a comprehensive wellbeing program for employees.

  • The CHAA Award (Corporate Health Achievement Award) was run by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The companies it included in its study outperformed the benchmark S&P 500 Index by 13% per annum over a 14 year period. The CHAA Award companies returned 303% versus the index return of 105%. Within the CHAA there were six categories of company. Within the six categories, the annual outperformance ranged from 7% to 16%.

  • The Health Enhancement Research Organization created the HERO Scorecard, which is an online tool to help employers improve their employee wellness programs by reflecting on their programs and self-rating their current performance. A portfolio of 745 companies using the HERO Scorecard outperformed the S&P 500 by 8% per annum over a 6 year period. This equates to a return of 235% versus 159%.

  • The C. Everett Koop Award was created in 1994 to spotlight employers that had produced health improvements for staff and cost savings for the business through their wellness programs. The 26 Koop Award-winning companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 15% per annum over a 14 year period. This equates to a return of 325% versus 105% over the period. Also, the Koop Award portfolio outperformed the S&P 500 in 11 of 14 years.

We get that wellbeing can sound like a fuzzy activity that will tick a box but not add anything to the balance sheet. But, when done effectively it does result in a positive ROI as the three studies above, Google, Atlassian and many more other companies can attest to.

How can you improve well being in the workplace?

Getting practical, what can we do to boost the wellbeing, connection and productivity of your teams?

In other words, in the absence of a comprehensive well-being program, how do we solve for all these challenges?

What are the 5 steps to wellbeing?

These are not the only steps to wellbeing but they will certainly put you on the right road to success.

1. Human-centred leadership to drive understanding, connection and communication

We are not talking about employees abdicating responsibilities. We just want leaders to recognise there is more going on than what’s measured in the annual review or output reports.

2. Human first policies, procedures, tools and technology

Wellbeing needs to drive by the employees and embraced by management. Ideally, if a company has a wellbeing program it features in the workday and analytics form part of the organisations’ performance measurement. The best way to establish what is required is a workplace wellbeing survey. And don’t just ask the staff. Think of how a wellbeing program can feed into the organisational wellbeing of the company, not just the employees.

3. Working hours and ways of working

The global pandemic has forced remote working into companies that previously didn’t allow it. Progressive companies have accepted that it is here to stay and will be a choice rather than a luxury or perk.

4. Strong wellbeing focus, tools and discourse – a sustainable approach to wellbeing

We would strongly advocate for a wellbeing program (we can certainly help with that) rather than quick-fix material trinkets (think bean bags and ping pong tables) or stand-alone events (mindfulness talks and Friday evening happy hour). A program will offer on-going support and information aimed at gradual behaviour change. Make sure your organisation has is looking out for developments and workplace wellness trends that may improve an existing program.

5. Employee Voice - pulsing and feedback loops

A successful wellbeing program will have engagement from every level of the organisation. Naturally, employees will benefit greatly from increased wellbeing and the organisation will indirectly benefit as a by-product. For maximum effect, leadership need to be actively involved as well as endorsing the program.

What are the benefits of a workplace wellness program?

Every day, over 3.2 billion people leave their house and go to work. Over the course of their lifetime, the average person will spend a minimum of 90,000 hours working. Work can be a double edge sword - the source of much happiness and the cause of anxiety and stress.

There is a multitude of benefits to rolling out a wellbeing program for all employees, such as:

✅ helping employees get mentally, physically and emotionally ready to do great work

✅ empowers managers to lead with empathy, purpose and authenticity

✅ give the organisation, data and insights to provide a real measure on the strength of their team effectiveness and culture

✅ break down any silos within the organisational structure,

✅ reduce the linear focus on processes and prioritise developing the people

✅ create high levels of trust

✅ improve connection and foster relationships between colleagues

✅ increase psychological safety and thereby productivity amongst teams

✅ coaching managers to build a high-performance culture in their teams

✅ reduce staff turnover

✅ reduce absenteeism

The real competitive advantage for organisations when it comes to employees is from marginal gains from behavioural change. All of the above benefits can be achieved by using a wellbeing program that focuses on delivering a variety of content aimed at making the person a little bit better every day.

The majority of personal and professional problems we encounter are caused by a slow build rather than a single incident - stress, anxiety, obesity, debt, becoming unfit. If we accept that prevention is the best cure, a wellbeing program can not only help people prevent falling foul of these issues but also help them become better versions of themselves.

If you look at the chart below, there difference between getting 1% better versus getting 1% worse is massive when compounded over time.

What are the pillars of wellbeing?

At PepTalk we have eight pillars for personal wellbeing. This is not an exhaustive list, but by focusing on these eight you can certainly improve your personal wellbeing greatly.

Nourish - This covers nutrition and how the things that we consume impact the performance of our body and brain. In the same way, the quality of fuel you put in a car can affect performance, the fuel you put in your body can influence your physical and mental performance. One topic we are particularly keen on is food psychology. Food options are so plentiful that it is no longer just about sustaining us as a living organism. Food is now used (and abused) as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety, boredom and stress among other things.

Mindset - This could be the most complex topic in wellbeing as it deals with mental health and fortitude, burnout, resilience, emotional wellbeing, mindfulness and spiritual wellbeing. It can be easy to spot a bad diet and take the necessary corrective steps. Understanding mental issues can be a whole lot more tricker.

Snooze - The understanding and importance of rest, recovery and sleep have grown massively over the last few years. The are now lots of scientific studies on circadian rhythm, the brain’s capacity for attention and psychology of distraction. Quite often the solution to some situations can be as simple as some rest, some time away or a proper nights sleep.

Move - Physical fitness is a powerful lever for wellbeing but needs to be considered with a host of other supporting activities. A state of physical wellbeing is not limited to lack of illness or an appropriate Body Mass Index score. It includes lifestyle, diet, mindset, and lots more. Your wellbeing program should offer more than just a step-counting challenge.

Money - The impact of finances on wellbeing is enormous. This is something Rutger Bregman covered in his amazing book “Utopia for Realists”. In summary, poverty can make you dumber. If you are constantly preoccupied with how you are going to pay the next bill you cannot focus your attention on other things. This quite often leas to a slippery slope into darker places.

Connection - Connection with other people is a powerful intrinsic motivator in humans. We are innately social creatures, and we want to connect, interact, affiliate, care and share. We also want to be recognised by our peers. Wrapped up in this intrinsic motivator of connection is the need to understand others and be understood.

Work - For hundreds of years the management approach to employee performance was based on a list of task, the performance attributed to the task and a financial reward based on performance. We now know this is a massively over-simplification of employee performance. Woking harder for loner is a recipe for disaster. Performance is related to the whole person and not just the one in work from nine to five. Our wellbeing pillars may not appear to be the focus on the workday, but they will all have an impact on the person’s ability to do their work. In this area dedicated to actual work, we look into productivity, team-building, leadership and more work-centric wellbeing initiatives.

Fun Stuff & Randomness - We’ll use this pillar to add some entertainment to the day. You might also find some other wellbeing content that might not fit neatly into one of the other pillars.  

How do you implement a wellbeing program at work?

The first thing here is to make the distinction between wellbeing services and a wellbeing program.

As we mentioned earlier, wellbeing services are once-off, stand-alone events or materials aimed at making an improvement to something that can be considering wellbeing - think lunchtime yoga classes, a lunch and learn on mindfulness, beanbags in the meeting room or a gaming console in the restaurant.

These are nice things to have, but there is no consistent commitment to these initiatives.

A wellbeing program is a comprehensive set of content and activities that are delivered consistently to maintain or improve wellbeing. At PepTalk our program focuses on the eight pillars mentioned above. We also have a leadership program for managers, team leaders and department heads that helps embed the program throughout the organisation.

To help assess your needs for a wellbeing program, an organisation should first:

1. Assess the current state of wellbeing within your organisation.

Conducting a survey will help lay a benchmark. From there you decide what areas of focus there might be.

2. Develop Goals and Objectives

Once you know what to focus on make you set goals and ways of measuring progress. If you’re not checking you’re guessing.

3. Secure support from the C-Suite

Your wellbeing program is doomed to fail if it is a box-ticking exercise. Employees at every level of the organisation must participate. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that part of the working day needs to be devoted to the wellbeing program.

4. Establish a Wellbeing Committee

This will ensure someone is making sure the program is being adhered to and not being cast aside after launch.

5. Design your Wellbeing Program

Scope out the areas of focus, the calendar of content and events, regular checkups to gauge participation and effectiveness.

6. Communicate the Wellbeing Plan and Launch

Get it out there and get going!

Of course, you could hire a professional outfit that has a wellbeing program already designed that cover eight pillars of wellbeing and can deliver content and events in a scalable way through technology. Just hit the button below if you want to find out more 😉.

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