Blog Wellbeing

Is more transparency the key to better employee wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing has taken a battering over the past 2 years. That’s despite record levels of spending on 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 employee wellbeing is good for your people and your organisation.

Positive workplace cultures that promote wellbeing can reduce stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Some of the noted benefits of strong workplace wellbeing include:

  • Improved morale, productivity, and motivation
  • Increased levels of 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.

But poor wellbeing is growing

Thanks to COVID-19, employee wellbeing has taken a real hit over the past couple of years. It's not the only factor, sure, but it's definitely the one on everyone's minds.

Gallup's ‘State of the Global Workplace 2021’ report found that global stress levels have seen a near 20% increase. Some regions have had it worse than others, with the US and Canada faring worst (57% of employees 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 COVID 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.

If spending is going up, why is wellbeing not improving?

To be honest, it’s a bit of a paradox: if we’re spending more than ever before, why then is wellbeing falling?

There are two obvious possibilities:

  • COVID -19 is such a negative influence on wellbeing that we can’t do much about it.
  • We’re spending at least some of that money in the wrong places.

On the first, we know COVID-19 is substantially impacting wellbeing on a global scale. But we also know that many businesses are reporting huge improvements to employee wellbeing.

The growth of remote working over the past 2 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.

So clearly, it is possible to negate the impact of COVID-19. Maybe we need to look at that second possibility. This is where the connection between transparency and employee wellbeing comes in.

Are we focussing on the wrong areas when it comes to improving wellbeing?

A quick Google search for “workplace wellbeing initiatives” will throw up a range of ‘top 5/10/20’ guides detailing the best ways to help improve employee wellbeing. Most of them focus on things such as:

  • Healthy snacks
  • Walking meetings
  • Health insurance policies
  • Gifting
  • Mandatory lunches
  • Plants
  • Social events
  • Company exercise challenges
  • Team building activities

All of these are good and well – or at least well-meaning. Undoubtedly most have their uses and benefits when it comes to tackling certain elements of employee wellbeing.

But research both from the world of academia and more business-centric sources such as Gallup shows us that incentives that fail to tackle cultural issues will usually only offer short-term benefits and need to be used constantly in order to remain effective.

Most wellbeing issues stem from issues with how a company behaves, its values and the pressures it puts on its people. 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 workplace communication is the ability for everyone in the organisation to be transparent.

When people feel they can speak freely, raise issues or concerns without fears of being ignored, mocked, or chastised and shine a light on what matters to them, they share more. And they share more, sooner.

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 be impacting 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 2021 ‘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.
  • 7 in 10 employers report having observed some form of ‘leaveism’ such as staff working outside of contracted hours or using holiday entitlement to work

If in these workplaces staff felt empowered to talk openly due to a transparent culture, would these instances of negative wellbeing behaviours be as high?

How to improve workplace transparency right now

So, if you want to look to improve your own organisation’s level of transparency and see how that might just be the secret to improving wellbeing, where do you start?

Here’s three easy tips to get you going:

Invite feedback with an employee check-in

Whether you run them weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, an employee check-in is a great way to start growing transparency at work.

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 that not only do people become more at ease with sharing their own thoughts and opinions, but they become more honest, faster.

Encourage more 1:1s

When 1:1s run well, they can help open all manner of dialogues between an employee and their manager that simply wouldn’t have come to light 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 questions effectively.

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.

Want to see how just 10-minutes a week is all you need to start to grow transparency at work?