How HR Can Return to the Roots of Employee Wellness

Wellness has become a booming business, with the industry now worth around $4.2 trillion. It might seem like we have lost sight of what wellness should be about, however, countries like Sweden, have employee wellness embedded in their lifestyle. Is it time for HR leaders to follow their lead?

You only have to look at the likes of Goop, a wellness and lifestyle brand that is worth around the $60 million mark, selling everything from vampire repellent, to crystal-infused water to understand that wellness in the 21st century is a booming industry.

With new wellness trends cropping up every month or so, such as monthly wellness subscription boxes, we have to ask: has wellness turned into a consumerist fad?  Wellbeing concepts such as the Danish “hygge” have been taken over by brands trying to sell you candles, which promise to make you feel cosy and content.

This isn’t to say that lighting a nice vanilla-scented candle can’t help you relax, but it probably won’t completely alleviate workplace stress or get to the crux of burnout. Considering we spend a third of our lives at work (that’s 90,000 hours), employee wellness should be a priority for managers and HR leaders alike.

But why exactly should we go back to the drawing board when it comes to wellness? Maham Azam from UK Saunas explains why we should, how we can do it, and examples of countries we should be looking to for inspiration.

Happy employees are productive employees

If your employees are happy and aren’t under considerable amounts of stress regularly at work, they will care more about the company, be less likely to make mistakes and will be healthier overall. The other side of happy employees, is disengaged and unhappy ones, which can be described through the concept of employee burnout.

Burnout is an epidemic in modern workplaces. It refers to an occupational state where you experience emotional and/or physical exhaustion.

Burnout can look like different things to different people – a few extra hours at the office, taking on more work without sufficient support, and simply feeling like work is taking over all aspects of your life even when you have signed out for the day – can all add up and take a toll on your employees’ mental health.

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Common reasons for burnout include:

  • workload;
  • issues with other colleagues;
  • lack of job security, and;
  • trying to juggle work and personal life.

Burnout manifests itself in different ways, and comes in both physical and mental forms, including, but not limited to:

  • chronic fatigue;
  • trouble falling asleep at night;
  • lack of focus at work;
  • outbursts of anger, and;
  • isolation or detachment from others.

A Gallup poll of around 7000 employees found that nearly half experienced workplace burnout sometimes, so it can happen to anyone. Working under pressure is likely to hamper productivity, as exhaustion, lack of sleep and other symptoms that come with it can also mean more employee absences.

Looking at the wellbeing practises of countries around the world, we can see that this consumerism wave isn’t always the case. Wellness remains to be a part of the DNA of places like Sweden, and it’s no coincidence that Sweden, along with other Scandinavian countries place consistently rank high on wellness indices like the World Happiness Report.

Money can’t buy happiness, but switched-on HR professionals can help

Interestingly, bigger countries with booming economies, like the UK, Canada and the US don’t perform as well on wellness factors, and are held back by high levels of obesity, depression and other health issues. Clearly, GDP doesn’t equate to wellness, so if money can’t buy happiness, what can?

The answer is, that managers and HR professionals who have the emotional intelligence to put their workers first can make a world of a difference to employee wellbeing.

Understandably, team leaders, supervisors, and managers are here to manage expectations and ensure the team is meeting objectives. But being able to allow your employees to come to you when they are facing pressures at work or home can cultivate wellness at work far better than lighting a candle can.

Employees should be able to look to their higher-ups or HR department or managers for support, so take a look at the suggestions below on how to improve wellness in the workplace.

Check in on employees’ financial, social and mental wellness

The workplace doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It may be the case that your team are having problems in their personal life.

It’s a good call to introduce financial management initiatives and tools to them so they have the resources at their disposal – this could mean arranging a financial advisor to come to the office and deliver a session.

You can help to improve their social wellness by facilitating workplace friendships – this can be done by arranging quarterly social events that encourage socialising. Strong workplace friendships have been shown to improve company productivity and employee engagement, so it’s a win-win scenario.

Finally, ensure that the workplace is a safe environment for your employees to discuss their mental wellness concerns. Having a manager or designated person with a mental health care certification, and introducing awareness days into a company-wide initiative will send a positive message to your team that they have someone they can turn to.

Lessons on wellness from around the world

Below we have listed examples of countries that have the right idea when it comes to boosting employee wellness and engagement through their cultural practices. And it doesn’t involve spending thousands on wellness products, either – just a few changes in mindset will make all the difference.

As mentioned previously, Scandinavian countries such as Sweden perform incredibly well on country indices that measure life satisfaction and wellbeing. More specifically, people in these countries also report higher levels of workplace satisfaction, so it makes sense for us to take cues from them.

roots employee wellness

Image: Unsplash

Take a break

In Sweden, the wellness concept of “Fika” literally means taking time out of your day for a coffee and cake break.

More broadly, giving your employees the freedom to take regular breaks instead of being expected to be at the desk most of the time will help to reduce their risk of developing burnout. Encouraging employees to take breaks will also give them the time to develop healthy habits e.g. having a healthy lunch, exercising, meditating, or even just socialising with their colleagues.

Accept imperfections

Taking a leaf from wellbeing concepts in Japan, we found two cultural in particular that HR leaders and managers can adopt in the workplace. Ikigai, which refers to having a purpose for living, involves figuring out what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you’re paid for.

An easy way for managers and HR professionals to adopt this in the workplace is, for example, allowing employees to run workshops in something they’re particularly passionate about or gifted in. This not only allows them to talk about something they enjoy about their job, but it will also give them an opportunity to knowledge share – allowing them to feel fulfilled and be recognised.

Another wellbeing concept we can borrow from the Japanese is Wabi-Sabi – this untranslatable word refers to the idea of accepting imperfections.

Allowing employees to be a ‘work in progress’ and knowing that they won’t always have the right skills or answers is crucial. Sure, setting expectations is a given, but giving them opportunities to grow their skills through training and feedback is a great way to help them flourish at work. This will also boost their confidence.

In Summary

The problem of burnout is all too real in the working world, and can seriously hinder employee wellness. HR leaders and managers, therefore, have a duty to care for employee wellbeing, and no amount of fancy wellness gimmicks that you buy will fix that.

Creating an atmosphere that encourages breaks, accepts imperfections, and allows for employees to feel valued by peers and managers will facilitate a healthy company culture, and happier employees.

Finally, following the examples of the Swedish and Japanese to name just a few will not only promote employee wellness, but will also be better for your company financially, as you don’t need to fork out for expensive wellness initiatives that may not bring a return on investment to your company or employees.


About the Author

Maham Azam is a writer at UK Saunas and is a huge advocate for mental health awareness. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her reading up on world cultures and being an enthusiastic runner.

Team 6Q

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