Meeting - Unsplash

Local human resources (HR) specialists have stressed that businesses cannot give the impression that well-being initiatives and programmes simply exist as “tick-box exercises,” and need to be coupled with a company culture that priorities employee well-being.

This was stated by Quad Consultancy Managing Director Mark J. Galea and The Change Agent Malta Founder Elaine Dutton, both seasoned HR experts, who were asked to comment by MaltaCEOs.mt in response to a recent UK-based study on workplace well-being initiatives.

The study, based on responses from 46,336 workers in 233 UK organisations, conducted by researcher William J. Fleming, found that present workplace well-being initiatives and mindfulness programmes have little effect on the workforce. Additionally, certain initiatives, namely resilience and stress management programmes, appeared to have a negative effect on employees’ well-being.

The initiatives were attributed to different categories, including volunteering, mindfulness classes, resilience and stress management classes, relaxation programmes and time management training, among others.

Following this, MaltaCEOs.mt reached out to the two HR specialists to hear the local perspective on this, and to see from their point of view if certain initiatives are well-received by employees and if there is a significant amount of interest in them.

The pair both stated that these initiatives are quite popular, both with current and prospective employees, as well as employers.

Mark J Galea
Quad Consultancy Managing Director Mark J. Galea

“Many people believe in the necessity of these programmes, and some even expect their current or future employers to offer them. One of the realities of ‘the new normal’, particularly in the case of millennials and Gen-Z, is that they are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their mental and physical health,” Mr Galea remarked.

He added that these initiatives play a “significant role” in helping businesses build a strong employer brand, as employees appreciate when their employers care about their well-being and “invest in their long-term success.”

“The programmes also provide valuable tools for managing stress, improving sleep, and overall well-being. There are several studies claiming that businesses benefit from increased productivity, improved job satisfaction, and lower absenteeism when employees feel good,” he continued.

Dr Dutton was of the same thinking, as she stated that there is an “increased awareness” on how crucial it is to have employees who are “not only resilient as individuals, but also resilient as a team.”

Despite this, both of them stated that these well-being initiatives must be approached in the right manner, and need to be followed up by a willingness from businesses to always take into consideration employees’ well-being when taking integral decisions.

Dr Dutton noted that as a trainer, she would meet a team for a few hours, working with different case scenarios, roleplays, and engage in deep discussions. However, once the training session is over, “it depends on both the leadership team of that organisation and the employees themselves to aim for a different way of working, identify workplace habits that are unhelpful, remind each other of the new habits they are developing together, and to turn the culture around,” she explained.

Elaine Dutton / LinkedIn
The Change Agent Malta Founder Elaine Dutton / LinkedIn

Mr Galea affirmed that organisations need to approach such initiatives with “genuine intention.” “If these programmes give the impression that they exist merely to tick a box on the checklist, employees won’t take them seriously,” he added.

He remarked that well-being must be “ingrained and integrated” into a company’s culture across all fronts, and similarly, the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) also need to reflect this principle.

This is especially important since the constant surge in operating costs is pushing certain businesses to turn to quiet hiring, the act of asking current workers to take on additional responsibilities instead of opting to recruit a new employee. Mr Galea said that this short-term solution will “undoubtedly have long-term negative effects on employee well-being and overall company success.”

“In a nutshell, if this becomes the norm, it will backfire badly,” Mr Galea explained.

Both HR specialists stated that there is no “one-size-fits-all solution” to helping boost employees’ well-being, as this ultimately depends on each employees’ role and situation. The needs of shift worker are completely different from someone working a nine-to-five job, and this is also the case when considering changes in demographics and at what stage of their lives employees are in.

To Dr Dutton, if a company wants to truly boost employee well-being, it has to start off from understanding who the employees are, what they need, and what is most impactful.

“In my experience, while employees enjoy big events and a selection of 10 coffees and 30 different teas, it’s the support in key moments that really matters. The employee whose child is sick for the third time that month, can they feel comfortable asking for emergency leave or will they worry that their boss will perceive them as lacking commitment? The employee who is studying for their exam while raising a toddler alone, do they feel the backing of their employer to take the time to study so that they better their own opportunities and growth. And when it is 6pm and employees stand up to pack their bags, do they have to avoid eye contact with their manager or is their work-life balance supported?” Dr Dutton questioned.

She said that nowadays, fostering a positive workplace environment where employee well-being is prioritised is “less about yoga sessions at the office or fruit baskets” and more about supporting employees as “human beings who have complex lives and need your understanding and support to thrive as whole individuals.”

Mr Galea took on a more different approach, stating that even though every situation is different, key ways to assist employees include flexibility, providing people with the right tools, and implementing an effective people management strategy that “maximises their talents and minimises unnecessary costs and waste.” These three factors can enable individuals to have reduced stress and promote a healthier lifestyle, while also being more productive, efficient, and satisfied with their work.

“This is, essentially, a genuine belief in employee well-being as opposed to paying lip service. When an organisation values the contributions of every individual employee, provides growth opportunities – which are not necessarily limited to promotions – and eliminates unnecessary processes, it creates a workplace where employees feel valued and their talents are fully utilised,” he said.

In addition to this, it provides employees with a “sense of purpose,” and will thus most likely have a positive effect on employee retention and longevity.

Interestingly, following the publication of his study, Dr Fleming stated that there is a growing consensus among employees and employers that organisations must “change the workplace and not just the worker.” He highlighted that deeper organisational changes such as flexibility of scheduling, management practices and performance reviews tend to have substantial impact in terms of improving workplace well-being.

Mr Galea and Dr Dutton were in agreement, with the latter noting that even though employees are responsible for their decisions, “the workplace is the system,” and is hence the context within which these decisions need to be made.

“Sometimes, you walk into an office and the tension and negative vibes are palpable. There is low psychological safety, meaning that employees would not be ready to take an interpersonal risk because they would fear discrimination or humiliation,” she said.

Mr Galea highlighted that an organisation which is riddled with burnt-out employees will suffer from issues tied to productivity, employee retention, and employer branding.

On the other hand, workplaces which foster trust, collaboration, and authenticity enable employees to bring their best version of themselves and to also “admit failure or ask for support,” Dr Dutton noted. Such workplaces foster interdependent relationships and team resilience.

If an organisation truly wants to foster a culture of well-being, they need to make “systemic changes to the workplace,” Mr Galea said, and this can be done by addressing factors such as long hours, unrealistic expectations, and a lack of support from management.

“While balancing operational needs with employee well-being can be challenging, organisations must prioritise the long-term health and success of their workforce, as this, in turn, will have a direct impact on the health and longevity of the organisation itself. This is the reason why strong leadership is essential to navigate these challenges, as leaders play a critical role in creating a culture that values well-being and empowers people to thrive,” he continued.

Dr Dutton wrapped up by stating: “Change the workplace to support employee well-being and everyone wins.”

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