International Week of Happiness at Work: Supporting Colleague Wellbeing in 2021 and Beyond
With most of us spending a third of our lives at work, the topic of workplace wellbeing has never been more relevant - particularly as we navigate life in a post-pandemic world. And this week is the perfect time to explore the subject as it happens to be the International Week of Happiness at Work. Never heard of it? Let us explain…
The movement is actually a fairly new initiative, launched in 2018 by Dutch founders Fennande van der Meulen and Maartje Wolff. The idea is that, this week in particular, happier workplaces are at the top of the agenda for organisations globally - encouraging colleagues to share their thoughts and feedback, and offering fresh insight for employers who want to improve workplace wellbeing but don’t quite know how. Above all, it’s a discussion that needs input from employers and colleagues alike. As Wolff and van der Meulen say, “It’s a Do-It-Yourself movement” and, since ‘wellbeing’ can mean different things to different people (and at different times) it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard. Not least because, when we’re happier at work, we’re likely to be happier in other areas of our lives, too.
What is wellbeing?
Here at Bruntwood, the wellbeing of our colleagues and customers is always high on our list of priorities, aligning closely with our values as a business and our aim to be brilliant to work with. But we realise that it can sometimes be hard to summarise what ‘wellbeing’ actually means. Our partners We Are Wellbeing refer to it as “a holistic term which defines the experience of feeling well in mind, body and spirit”. To flesh this out, they broadly divide the concept into 4 key ‘pillars’:
‘Physical’ - around our general fitness and activity levels, as well as subjects like nutrition and hygiene.
‘Mental’ - concerning our sense of self and the wellbeing of our mind, with activities like meditation, mindfulness and controlled breathing introduced to manage stress and anxiety, as well as looking at the specific psychological needs of the individual.
‘Social’ - referring to our relationships with others (in and out of the workplace), our sense of fulfilment and belonging, and the way we connect to the world around us.
‘Financial’ - involving our relationships with and attitudes to money.
It’s useful to note that these categories are, to some extent, intertwined. For example, many people find that physical exercise can improve their mental wellbeing, or inversely, that too much socialising can have a negative effect on their relationships with money.
Recognising this interconnectedness allows for a more balanced approach to wellbeing within the workplace; one that avoids making assumptions about colleagues’ lived experiences and acknowledges that everyone’s circumstances are unique and in flux.
But why is this important?
As we said earlier, colleagues are more likely to be happy in other aspects of their lives if they feel happy in the workplace. But the benefits of colleague wellbeing also extend to their employers.
Looking after your employees’ health and happiness leads to improved productivity and performance, greater harmony between teams, and higher levels of discretionary effort.
More tangibly, Deloitte have found that poor mental health costs employers up to £45 billion a year and the Harvard Business Review have long stated that ‘presenteeism’ (when workers show up but are unengaged) equates to low productivity and is more costly for businesses than employees who don’t show up at all.
Improved wellbeing in the workplace can significantly reduce both presenteeism and absenteeism — two factors costing the UK economy £73 billion every year. This is quite a staggering figure and with the pandemic having had such far-reaching economic impacts, it’s vital that every effort is made by businesses to address potential losses at their root cause, which clearly puts wellbeing at the top of the financial agenda.
What can you do?
Employers have a duty of care to their staff. As members of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter, appreciating the uniqueness of each individual’s particular circumstances is central to our wellbeing approach at Bruntwood.
For us, this means facilitating a broad range of services and discussions around all four wellbeing pillars, as well as inviting feedback from colleagues and listening to what matters to them.
In a recent interview with us, We Are Wellbeing’s fitness expert Chris Watts outlined three ways in which employers can improve happiness levels at work. We’d like to use the opportunity afforded by the International Week of Happiness at Work to revisit these ideas below and talk about actions we’ve taken here at Bruntwood. Whether you’re a business wondering how to improve wellbeing services for your workforce, or an individual thinking about your own happiness at work, read on…
1) We Are Wellbeing’s ‘Champion Network’:
Since partnering with Bruntwood, We Are Wellbeing have helped us to create a comprehensive network of 13 voluntary wellbeing ‘champions’ from across the business. These are colleagues from varied roles and backgrounds, who not only bring unique experiences and interests in different areas of wellbeing, but also offer a confidential ear to any colleagues who may be struggling with their own wellbeing. As these volunteers are not part of a hierarchical management structure, it is hoped that their peers will find them more approachable for advice or feedback. And they also play an important role in keeping senior stakeholders informed of the general wellbeing priorities of the organisation as these evolve and progress.
2) Use what you’ve already got:
We’ve looked at our wider teams’ skills, hobbies and interests to create opportunities for people to come together and form more meaningful in-work relationships. For example, we have a number of popular book clubs across our various city regions, and we partner with Freshwalks - an initiative which helps business people to network (a necessary evil for many) by taking them out of the city to join in countryside hikes. The idea behind both of these concepts is that friendships are formed first - through shared interests/relaxing environments - while business comes after (and is usually more productive as a result).
3) Good quality, two-way communication:
Throughout the pandemic, we honed our approach to communicating with colleagues by introducing a dedicated COVID-19 hub to our intranet, along with regular video updates from our board and weekly webinars with our Senior Leadership Team. We also introduced regular ‘temperature checks’ with short surveys where colleagues could give feedback on key topics such as communication & support; ways of working; and staying connected. We’ve carried this forward into the topic of wellbeing, and now have a permanently open ‘Check in Tool’ on our intranet where colleagues can quickly let us know how they’re feeling, or share any thoughts they might have, good or bad. Alongside this, our dedicated wellbeing page centralises access to information hubs on the different pillars of wellbeing, thus recognising their interrelatedness. But it explores these pillars separately, allowing colleagues to delve more easily into detailed discussions, videos and blogs on topics relevant to their circumstances. We keep this updated in line with the live and regular feedback we receive from colleagues.
We can all make a difference
Hopefully, you’ll have found something useful here and - who knows - maybe you’ve had a ‘lightbulb moment’ on how to improve wellbeing for yourself or your staff. Of course, with such a wide-ranging topic as wellbeing, there’s always more to add. For instance, many businesses like to encourage colleagues to run or cycle to work for their physical and mental wellbeing - and for the additional environmental benefits which, as this is also World Green Building Week, is another hot topic!
We know that happiness at work is an ongoing discussion with ever more ideas to discover - and we have a long way to go, too. So we’d love to hear from you about what ‘wellbeing’ means to you. Are you doing anything to mark the International Week of Happiness at Work? What do you think makes a happy workplace? And how could we, as your property partner, help you to bring that to life?
We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts!