· Features

UK Plc has a long way to go in creating a wellbeing culture

While employers understand the importance of talent, UK plc still has a while to go in becoming a wellbeing culture

Health and wellbeing at work seems to be the flavour of this decade, as employers now accept the importance of retaining and attracting quality talent, reducing sickness absence and presenteeism, and being seen as an ‘employer of choice’.

Yet the latest results of the Britain at Work report do not make good reading for HR, in terms of the health and wellbeing benefits offered by organisations. The report found, having surveyed more than 3,000 employees, that only 32% were provided with flexible working options (with the take-up rate probably significantly lower), only 25% said they have workplace social events, 21% were offered counselling assistance (like EAPs), 13% were provided with health screening or health checks, 11% were offered sabbaticals for development or working with suppliers or customers, 11% had access to stress management workshops/training, and 6% were allowed a shorter working day for special events (e.g. birthdays, significant anniversaries).

It also found that only 45% say their organisation is supportive of them, with 14% saying they are very unsupportive. And this is all happening at a time when work-related ill health in the UK reached 27.3 million lost working days in 2014-15, as reported by the Health and Safety Executive.

These statistics reflect a more worrying sign, that many people feel the quality of working life at their organisations isn’t worthy of recommending it as a place to work to others. Only 19% of employees said they would actively recommend their organisation to potential new recruits, while 49% would not recommend their organisation to anyone. Only 36% of employees fully believe in what the organisation is trying to achieve.

UK Plc has a long way to go to create a culture where employees can have a ‘good day at work’; one in which they feel valued, trusted and part of a wellbeing culture that looks after their health and personal needs. What’s needed are workplace cultures that engage and enthuse workers, where we work collaboratively rather than competitively.

Mark Twain once wrote: 'Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions…small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can somehow become great'. We need more ‘great’ managers, who manage people by praise and reward, who provide the support and resources to create a culture of wellbeing and some ’fun’ as well, given that we spend more of our waking hours in the workplace than at home with our friends and family. Managers can create wellbeing cultures, they can get the most out of their people by the actions they take, and by being positive.

We should remember Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ advice to his fellow leaders: 'When you need encouragement think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity… Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good for you to keep this in mind.'

Cary Cooper is 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, and HR's Most Influential Thinker