Wellbeing: culture is king, especially when times are tough

Steps to help teams feel secure to boost wellbeing and productivity

In the UK, people of all ages, genders and job levels are feeling the crunch of rising inflation. It’s affecting how we live, how we feel at work and our mental wellbeing.

Increased personal stress equates to increased work stress, and employees are at risk of being overwhelmed. It’s our responsibility as HR leaders to nurture our teams through economic uncertainty and create an open environment where employees feel comfortable and heard.

Understanding how to undertake that responsibility to manage and mitigate worry is vital to attracting, retaining, and nurturing the best people for your business. So, to truly understand how your employees feel, we must start by listening to them.

An all-ears approach

We’re lucky enough to live in a time of increased awareness about wellbeing. Our Hibob global survey found 7 in 10 employees who had been affected by their mental health said managers were supportive, communicative, and active in caring for employee wellbeing – yet many people are still hesitant to open up about their struggles, especially in the workplace.

Many people fear that showing signs of weakness may impact their shot at advancement. Whereas on the flip side, anxiety, stress, and burnout impact people’s ability to do their job well. And, with rising inflation squeezing most businesses’ bottom lines, reduced productivity and secret stress isn’t an option.

For employers, the best thing they can do is show their people that they care. It’s so simple; it’s often overlooked. Research shows that employees who feel cared about are more engaged and have increased job satisfaction, which leads to higher retention rates and employees invested in the business’s success. 

To show that care, employers should encourage a culture where people feel empowered to speak up. One way to do this is by using an anonymous reporting tool. Anonymous reporting is a simple way to reflect that open culture, creating a dedicated space for the team to communicate any personal or general concerns in the workplace. Employees can share their worries in an open and transparent way while giving employers the data to address concerns and take action that will make a real difference.

Employee surveys are also invaluable for measuring overall satisfaction in the workplace and collecting employee feedback. In a survey, the whole workforce gets the opportunity to have their voices heard, arming the HR team with insights that can be taken to leadership to inform decision-making. Employees feel listened to, worries are brought to the surface, and action can be taken to support teams.

Leading by example

In business, the saying ‘do as I say, not what I do’ is far too common – with the reality being employees take guidance from the top. If employees worry and stress behind closed doors, too afraid to share the burden, the business will be negatively impacted. This is why employee wellbeing has to start with a friendly and approachable HR team and an open-door policy.

From the CEO to the CPO, a culture needs to be created where the c-suite leads by example and helps employees set priorities. The main one is, while work is important, it’s never more important than health (both mental and physical).

By empowering employees with this knowledge and seeing leadership live by this, teams will feel more comfortable raising issues, which will further give HR the ability to address them. The problem can be resolved in minutes rather than festering under the surface.

With remote working in full swing, it’s important also to remember the employees you can’t see. Working from home can easily become a work-around-the-clock nightmare, with the boundaries between work and relaxation harder to separate than ever before. To manage this and avoid employee stress and burnout, companies need to keep employees productive and sane by reminding them that time off isn’t just okay – it’s necessary. Employees should be encouraged to take holidays to rest and relax, throughout the year, not just over the summer.

Managers have a huge role in identifying increased levels of stress negatively impacting employees. All managers should take the time to notice how employees are feeling. Do they seem distracted? Do they seem uninterested in work? Do they seem tired? A lot can be understood through an employee’s physical and mental behaviours. Taking the time to get to know employees and provide a support system for them will pay off with dividends. 

Culture is king

Trust in the workplace is essential. Managers need to trust employees will get their work done without micromanagement or creating stressful work environments and employees need to trust their co-workers. Creating this culture of trust, particularly in the remote and hybrid work worlds, is easier said than done. Employees who work in a high-trust environment experience 74% less stress.

Again, leading by example and welcoming all concerns will help you drive progress here. Open communication always sparks a healthy trend throughout the workplace, while opening your ears shows that you care. But in addition to this, HR leaders need to encourage team collaboration; whether internal brainstorms or getting out of the office for a couple of hours, you want employees to know each other and consider each other allies.

Establishing trust in the office is difficult, but the effort pays off. A close-knit work culture makes employees more likely to enjoy working at your company, reducing stress and enhancing the chance of them feeling comfortable to talk about their wellbeing at work, whether work-related or not.

Remember, nothing happens overnight! It takes time for companies to adapt to change. With consistent communication and support from managers, your teams will internalise, exemplify, and appreciate the company’s culture just as you hoped. The economic climate is uncertain, but creating an environment where employees feel comfortable, share stresses and are heard is one step toward a happier, healthier workforce.

Toby Hough, People & Culture Director at HiBob.

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