Is more transparency the key to better employee wellbeing?
Workplace wellbeing has taken a battering over the past 3 years. That’s despite record levels of spending on employee wellbeing solutions. Is it time to look past quick-fix wellbeing solutions like free fruit and social initiatives? Should we focus more on cultural issues such as open and honest communication? Is it time that employers better understood the relationship between transparency and employee wellbeing?
Fostering healthy workplace wellbeing is good for your people and your organisation.
Positive workplace cultures that promote employee wellbeing can reduce stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Some of the noted benefits of strong wellbeing at work include:
- Improved morale, productivity, and motivation
- Increased levels of employee engagement and performance
- Reduced levels of presenteeism
- Increased employee loyalty and retention
- Improved ability to attract top talent
Research by Deloitte shows that, in 2020, for every £1 spent on wellbeing, organisations receive back £5 in reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.
No wonder then that spending on wellbeing has sky-rocketed over the past 10 years. On average, companies are spending £150 a year on wellbeing per employee. 35% plan to increase their wellbeing spending in the future, and 14% are already spending an eye-watering £2,000 per person.
Poor employee wellbeing is on the up
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturns and some high-profile redundancy drives, employee wellbeing has taken a real hit over the past couple of years.
Gallup's ‘State of the Global Workplace 2023’ report found that global stress levels are still at an all-time high (matching the findings from their 2021 report). Some regions have had it worse than others, with the US and Canada and the Far East faring worst (57% of employees in each feel significant daily levels of stress at work).
In support of this, HBR conducted a study looking at wellbeing trends since the start of the pandemic. They found that 89% of employees believe their wellbeing has declined. And between the increased job demands, growing disengagement and a lack of communication, that's totally understandable. But what has transparency got to do with employee wellbeing?
Money is being invested in the wrong areas to improve employee wellbeing
To be honest, it’s a bit of a paradox: if we’re spending more than ever before on employee wellbeing, why is it not improving?
The growth of remote working over the past 3 years has had hugely positive impacts on many people’s mental health. Once again, HBR found that more than 20% of employees believe their own wellbeing has seen a significant improvement since the start of 2020. The ability to work from home was found to be the primary factor for the majority.
A quick Google search for “workplace wellbeing initiatives” will throw up a range of ‘top 5/10/20’ guides about the best ways to help improve employee wellbeing. Most of them focus on things such as:
- Healthy snacks
- Walking meetings
- Health insurance
- Mandatory lunches
- Social events
- Company exercise challenges
- Team building activities
All of these are fine – or at least well-meaning. Undoubtedly most have their uses and benefits when it comes to tackling certain elements of employee wellbeing.
But research and Gallup show us that, incentives that fail to tackle cultural issues will only offer short-term benefits. Consequently, they'll need to be used constantly in order to remain effective.
Most wellbeing issues stem from company culture. All the free fruit in the world is unlikely to fix any of that. So, how can a focus on transparency and employee wellbeing help where just throwing money at wellbeing issues failed?
Why linking transparency and employee wellbeing is a great place to start
If a focus on cultural issues is the thing that is going to actually make a difference, then we need to look at ways to solve these. Now it’s no silver bullet, but good, open communication has been found to at least improve, if not altogether solve, most cultural issues in the workplace. Key to great communication is the ability for everyone in to be transparent.
People speak freely, raise issues and concerns when they aren't ignored or mocked for their opinions. And they share more, sooner.
Culture plays a big part of good wellbeing
If you foster a culture whereby your people have both the opportunity and confidence to speak up when things aren’t right for them, often they will do just that.
By giving your people the space, support and means to raise concerns in an open way, you encourage them to speak up about the things at work that may impact their own (or others’) wellbeing.
Another reason transparency and employee wellbeing ought to be linked is the perception of fairness. If you fail to be open and honest, it doesn't really matter if you have nothing to hide. When you don't include your people in the conversation, it's natural for them to wonder if you really have their best interests at heart.
CIPD have published their own findings as part of their 2022 ‘Health and Wellbeing at Work’ survey report. They found that:
- More than 75% of employers report significant levels of presenteeism, in both office-based and home workers.
- Pleasantisem is on the rise too, with more people feeling they need to present their best selves every day
- 7 in 10 employers report having seen staff working outside of contracted hours or using holiday time to work
If employees felt they could talk openly and transparently, would these instances of poor behaviours be as high?
How to improve workplace transparency (and therefore wellbeing)
If you want to improve your own organisation’s transparency and see how that will improve wellbeing, where do you start? Here’s three easy tips to get you going:
Invite feedback with an employee check-in
Start with an employee check-in. Whether you run them weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. Just start. They can be run simply with email, Excel or even Microsoft Teams. Or you can use dedicated solutions like Weekly10. But whatever approach you take, an employee check-in gives your people frequent opportunity to share feedback within their teams and with their managers.
The high-frequency, low-effort approach of a check-in means that it can quickly nudge employees into a habit of feedback. This means people become more comfortable sharing their own thoughts and opinions. And as a result, but they become more honest, faster.
Encourage more transparency with 1:1s that cover employee wellbeing
When 1:1s run well, they can help open all manner of conversations between an employee and their manager that simply would not have happened over a Teams chat or email exchange.
Managers need to foster a transparent ethos within their teams, encouraging people to share openly. This is usually best achieved in a 1:1 setting where employees can benefit from increased privacy and the ability to build a bond with their manager.
Support managers with training on topics such as emotional intelligence and how to ask better questions.
Be transparent and share the ups and downs
A key component of transparency in the workplace is keeping your employees informed on both the positive and negative things happening throughout the organisation. If you can’t be transparent with your people, don’t expect them to be transparent with you.
It’s important to share positive changes, news, client wins and progressive steps forward. It’s equally important to keep your people in the loop about the negative stuff too; client losses, goals that were missed, concerning challenges etc. By modelling the behaviour that you want to see from your people, you are much more likely to develop a culture of transparency grow throughout your organisation.
Download our latest guide: Employee engagement in a Remote Working World. All part of building a culture that recognises how transparency can improve employee wellbeing 👇