An animation of three workers with coffee and laptops sitting on a green lawn surrounded by butterflies, symbolising workplace wellness.
Image: © tatiana77777/Stock.adobe.com

Workplace wellness needs to be more than lip service

2 Dec 2021

Fania Stoney of Healthy Place to Work Ireland said looking after employees’ health and wellbeing must go beyond the odd fruit basket and yoga session.

There are many factors an employee might consider before choosing to work for a particular company. They might look at a company’s diversity and inclusion policies, examine their training programmes or think about the kind of tools and technology they’ll be using.

But one major consideration for many employees could be how the company approaches health and wellbeing.

In the last 18 months in particular, work-life balance and mental health has come to the forefront of many workplace discussions, with the pandemic and subsequent effects playing havoc on workers’ wellbeing.

But what constitutes a healthy place to work?

Fania Stoney was recently appointed chief executive officer of Healthy Place to Work Ireland, an organisation that aims to help businesses build health and wellbeing strategies encompassing employee purpose, mental resilience, connection and physical health.

She said Covid-19 and its aftermath has had a strong and lasting impact on the importance of health and wellbeing in the workplace.

“People’s expectations have shifted. In a pre-pandemic environment, an organisation might have gotten away with the occasional nod to wellbeing – a fruit basket here, a yoga session there,” she said.

“The pandemic experience has given people the chance to reflect on what is important to them, particularly when it comes to their health in the workplace, and how their organisation is – or isn’t – supporting them in that.”

‘There is a challenge for organisations to support their people in the face of the relentless nature of the pandemic’
– FANIA STONEY

On top of the general spotlight on health at the moment, employers around the world are also concerned about ‘the great resignation’, a trend sweeping through the US and taking hold of other countries as employees are quitting their jobs in droves as they re-evaluate their choices.

Stoney said that this rebalancing of priorities has become a key trend among employers as much as workers, and those that recognise the need to adapt in the face of a changing working environment will fare better when it comes to attracting talent.

“Leaders need to be intentional about encouraging people to build connections, especially when they are new to a company or a role. These connections support people’s health in the workplace by providing fulfilling relationships, driving new ideas and allowing for the flow of information around how to get things done within the organisation,” she said.

However, while establishing new ways of connecting with colleagues and embracing the benefits of remote working and mitigating its challenges, the pandemic has put an undeniable strain on workers’ mental health.

“Simply put, people are tired. There is a challenge for organisations to support their people in the face of the relentless nature of the pandemic. Our data is pointing to the fact that people’s ability to disconnect is increasingly difficult the more their role is remote and energy levels are challenged all round at the moment,” said Stoney.

“There is nothing more draining than being bombarded with positive messages, when it is divorced from the lived reality for people. How are we seeing some organisations differentiate themselves in terms of this? They own the current situation, communicate effectively and include their people in the solution.”

Advice for leaders

Earlier this year, a new code of practice gave workers in Ireland the right to disconnect from work. Stoney said this is a step in the right direction towards a healthier future of work but added that, like many other things, there is always room for improvement.

When it comes to leaders, she said it’s important to learn from those who are doing well.

“Leaders are busy. They are busy driving the business, getting their job done and managing their teams. Many have had to adapt and build new competencies like never before. What we are seeing strong leaders do is include their people in that ‘busy-ness’,” she said.

“They focus on articulating purpose, discussing the big picture of the overall goals and ensuring people feel their work is uniquely connected and necessary to the success of the organisation. They establish a sense of shared purpose among their people at both the individual and team level.”

She also said that authenticity is key for leaders as workers are increasingly savvy on who is merely paying lip service to a wellness culture.

“Leaders who genuinely care for the wellbeing of their people and demonstrate healthy behaviours themselves are more likely to be creating a healthy workplace,” she said.

“Any organisation can invest in a health and wellbeing strategy, the challenge lies in creating a sustainable, strategic and genuine wellness culture. The best organisations in this space understand the importance of leadership buy-in and participation when it comes to walking the talk in terms of creating a healthy workplace.”

Most managers will know that a key part of implementing good wellbeing practices in their team is regular, meaningful check-ins and being there for them. However, beyond these, Stoney said one of the simplest things mangers can do is be a role model when it comes to wellbeing.

“People leaders and managers are key stakeholders when it comes to creating a healthy work environment. What their people see them doing, they are infinitely more likely to replicate themselves,” she said.

“This is true for acting in line with the organisation’s values, engaging in health promotion activities and taking the time to invest in their own wellbeing. It is not unusual for us, when giving feedback to an organisation, to advise focusing on this group to drive a healthy work experience for everyone.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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