Wellbeing strategy: A solution to the small business productivity puzzle?

Patrick Watt, corporate director at Bupa UK, explores the wellbeing strategy as an avenue for small businesses to mitigate low productivity.

Figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics which show that productivity fell by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year made me think about the role of a wellbeing strategy in mitigating low productivity for small businesses.

UK productivity growth has remained weak since the onset of the economic downturn in 2008 and even while other economic measures like GDP have picked up, the UK is still trailing behind all other G7 nations in the productivity stakes.

Working even longer hours isn’t a sustainable or suitable solution as we know this doesn’t lead to greater productivity. As a nation we are all working longer hours, but output is not increasing at the same rate. In essence, there needs to be a shift in focus away from the quantity of hours that are worked to looking at how to ensure that people are spending quality hours at work.

There are many ways to improve productivity and efficiency, from boosting skills to incentivising your workforce. But for me, one of the most important considerations is employee wellbeing – a happy, healthy workforce leads to a healthy and productive business. A study from the University of Warwick shows that happy employees work harder and are 12 per cent more productive on average, which highlights the importance of employee wellbeing on productivity.

The importance of being mentally engaged

The UK is now a skills and knowledge service based economy which means that the value that we are trying to unlock from our people is the information in their heads. In order to best do this we need to increase discretionary effort and application and this means ensuring that people are mentally, as well as physically, fit and are engaged.

Improving the health and wellbeing of your employees is one of the keys that can help a business to improve its productivity, however having an open organisational culture is key to long-term success as well as the attitude and conviction of the leadership team.

It is also important to address the topic of stress and pressure, this is a normal part of working life and small doses can be good for productivity because it stretches and challenges us. However, when people are exposed to high levels of stress on a daily basis over a long period of time it can lead to mental health issues and exhaustion – both of which are harmful to performance. Our research of SMEs shows more than a third (36 per cent) of employees are the most stressed they have ever been in their career.

Two in five (40 per cent) workers believe they would be significantly more productive if they were less stressed. For many, it is the pressure of trying to combine their responsibilities at work with outside commitments that makes them feel stressed. This could be alleviated by giving employees the freedom to tailor their hours so that they are able to drop their children to school or volunteer while still carrying out their day job.

A wellbeing strategy should be considered by all business leaders. Indeed, embracing a culture that empowers people and gives them the autonomy to manage their work-life balance can improve morale and reduce stress levels within a business.

Wellbeing strategy not widely considered

Our research finds that one in three (34 per cent) saying they would never ask for help with wellbeing issues. This makes it harder to identify who needs help before it’s too late and they leave, or take long term sick leave making it important that line managers are armed with the tools they need to identify signs and symptoms of wellbeing issues.

The figures also suggest that not all employees feel comfortable having conversations that go beyond work in the workplace. This in itself can result in a feeling of disenfranchisement and lack of engagement: a heady mix which ultimately results in lower levels of productivity. Combating this means fostering an open culture where employees feel valued. Increasing the visibility of the senior leadership team can go some way to making employees feel valued and this is one approach which smaller businesses may find easier to adopt than their larger peers.

Related: UK productivity crisis deepens

Teams can create their own ecosystem and ways of working but you can achieve consistency by making leaders accountable for upholding the cultural vision, and addressing any behaviour that contradicts it.

We work with many smaller businesses that are committed to looking after their workforce’s health and wellbeing as they recognise the value it brings to their business. In my experience, the most successful ones are those that engage employees and provide them with a solution that meets their needs and enables them to achieve their aspirations.

Here, technology can play a role. There are apps that provide business owners and managers with analytics which help them understand what is important to their teams. Data from our wellbeing app, Bupa Boost, found that the number one aspiration among most employees is to get more sleep, rather than get physically fit as is so often thought.

Finding out what makes employees tick is the first step to creating a wellbeing strategy that have a meaningful impact, allows you to unlock the potential in all of your people and redress the current productivity gap.

Patrick Watt is corporate director at Bupa UK.

Related Topics

Workplace wellbeing

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