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22nd Feb, 2023

Christy Houghton
Christy Houghton
Job Title
Digital Content Writer

Employers have a responsibility to protect their workforce from harm – physically and mentally.

Since the pandemic, mental wellbeing has been in the spotlight and risen higher on business leaders’ priority lists – how employees feel at work will have a direct impact on their output and longevity in a company.

With inflation rising to record levels recently, the negative impact on professionals’ wellbeing has been substantial, with a proven link between wellbeing and professional performance.

Eileen Donnelly, Director of Ripple&Co, looks at how employers can build a more supportive workplace.

Eileen Donnelly Q&A image

About Ripple&Co

Ripple&Co develop comprehensive wellbeing strategies and policies that proactively target and address wellbeing in the workplace. Their team deliver bespoke solutions based on real evidence of what works to achieve tangible outcomes.

Strategy and policy development take into account both company and individual responsibility. The result is an open, supportive work environment: employees achieve optimum performance and the business benefits from a healthier and happier workforce.

Q: To what extent has the UK workforce been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis?

A: I don't think there's any sugar-coating this whatsoever. There is a massive impact in the rise of the cost of living on the UK population and therefore the workforce.

The Office for National Statistics have just released figures that say almost half (49%) of the population that were behind on their energy bills between September and January reported high levels of anxiety, compared to those who were not behind (33%). And, four in 10 adults said they didn't expect to be able to save any money in early 2023.

Q: What impact can financial stresses have on mental health and wellbeing?

A: It's significant. Even before the pandemic, even before the crisis of the rise in the cost of living, financial worries are the number one reason why employees, for example, would ring an employee assistance programme. Ninety-four per cent of calls that go into an employee assistance programme are about financial worries. They're about financial concerns. And 77% of those calls, the people are saying that it is impacting them at work.

If you hurt yourself physically and you sprain your ankle, you take that sprained ankle into work, you limp through the front door of the work environment. It's no different for things that are worrying us in our head.

We take all of those worries with us to work – whether that’s in the physical workplace or remotely. That obviously is consuming their emotions, their thinking, their cognitive processing, and it's where they're expending an awful lot of their energy, which means it's a massive distraction from their daily functioning in the workplace. So, it's having a very negative impact.

Q. Why is it important for business leaders to address these issues?

A: We know that's impacting employees when they're in work. We know that people are leaving if they don't feel supported within an organisation, or they're being poached for double times their salaries.

That's leaving more pressure on employees. And there is an absolutely direct correlation between the way that an employee feels their level of wellbeing and happiness and support by an organisation [and how much they] care for them as employees, and their productivity. And not just productivity, but discretionary effort, innovation, creativity.

They want to feel psychologically safe. And when we're all worried about our financial situation, that isn't a psychologically safe place to be.

Q. How can managers identify if members of their team are struggling?

A: If a line manager knows their employee, the very, very simplest way of spotting that something's not okay is if something has changed. If you sense something has changed, asking: 'Are you okay? Because I sense something has changed and something may be worrying you,' is a way of opening up a conversation.

Quite often, when we work with managers in this space, it’s about giving them that confidence to look for signs, not of poor performance, but of something that isn't necessarily happening in the same way they would expect it to.

For example, their performance has perhaps dipped, their communication or engagement within a meeting has perhaps changed, or their attention to detail has perhaps dipped. Maybe they are missing deadlines, maybe there's more mistakes in their work – but something isn't quite right.

Rather than it being a performance issue, first and foremost, what we're asking the manager to do is potentially seek the underlying cause of that change in behaviour. If they're not performing, surely, we want to know why so we can uncover that root cause, then potentially solve it and move forward.

Q. What can be done by business leaders to help alleviate these worries?

A: I think it's worth saying that business leaders can't solve financial worries. I think an appreciation of the fact that a lot of their employees are continuing to work with these financial worries is really important.

We've heard all about the great resignation. I speak to many clients and prospective clients all about their challenges around staff churn, staff retention, staff attraction. What can we do to keep people in the business when they're being poached for double times their salary? Make the place of work the most attractive that you can in terms of the culture – a supportive open culture – a place that is good to work.

We spend a third of our working age at work as adults. For me, this shouldn't be about how to mitigate the challenges of work, but how we can make work enhance our wellbeing. Work offers so many things to us: it gives us identity, structure, routine, financial security. It gives us all the connections with our colleagues. Leaders have a huge amount to do in this space, because they need to be role-modelling this. They, ideally, are making a very welcoming place to work.

Q. How can employers measure the success of any support they provide?

A: It’s important to have that opportunity of gathering information from employees directly. This is where both managers and, potentially, peer supports like your mental health first aiders, may have an incredibly valuable opportunity to gather data of what's happening in the wellbeing and the mental health of the employees far better than any engagement survey might be able to.

It's one of the things that we're really grappling with at the moment, and we're developing a digital measuring tool to look at how we might anonymously look at the data that's coming out of the conversations that managers and mental health first aiders are having with their colleagues, so we get an idea of what is actually happening and what the common themes and the vulnerabilities in people's wellbeing and mental health are. So, the programmes we do implement within the workplace are those that really do address the specific needs that are coming out of the data that's being gathered.

We know wellbeing is highly subjective. We've got to look at the objective measures – absenteeism for example – but we do need to look at those subjective measures and that's where those surveys are important. However, my recommendation is to use pulse surveys based on wellbeing questions which have a base in longitudinal studies, to get a regularity of data. This way, you’re able to get benchmarks and judge what you’re doing well and how it compares year on year.

Investment in wellbeing within the workforce should be seen as any other KPI. We should be measuring this like any other business KPI within the organisation. [Employees] are the most expensive asset. They are the asset we should be investing in. They are the asset that delivers on the strategy. Why would we not measure how well they're performing and then do our best to optimise that performance? We measure what we treasure. So, for me, measurement is absolutely key.

If you’re looking for a new employer to support your wellbeing, or your next hire, contact your nearest Reed office.