Is the traditional approach to health and safety, which up until now has been mostly concerned with physical protection, evolving towards a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing?
Keeping people physically safe is essential and quite rightly so. But reports like the CIPD’s ‘Growing the health and well-being agenda: from first steps to full potential’ suggest that even if many companies aren’t there yet, the most forward thinking ones are moving in that direction. They’re looking at all aspects of health and employee wellbeing. We think recognition has a part to play in that approach. And it looks like the CIPD and the Government do too.
In its report, the CIPD refers to the UK Government’s Foresight research into mental capital and employee wellbeing. Mental ill-health costs in the UK are placed at over £100 billion. Sickness absence, presenteeism and regrettable labour turnover is cited as costing the UK economy £27 billion. Nearly 40% of all incapacity benefit at work is due to depression, anxiety and stress.
What really caught our eye were the references to the role HR can play in all of this. These reports are connecting better health and wellbeing with creating cultures where they can both take centre-stage. They’re referring to the need to achieve good health and wellbeing by having ‘a more sustainable and motivated workforce’. They’re talking about the five domains of employee wellbeing in terms of non-financial recognition, team working, strong peer relationships and a values-based culture. It’s music to Workstars ears, and an army of HR professionals who are finally receiving both the evidence and the government backing to promote employee wellbeing.
Can recognition really improve health and employee wellbeing?
How can recognition and improved employee engagement play a part in this? It’s not easy separating out all the elements that contribute to health and wellbeing; issues are interrelated and emotions can be linked to what’s going on outside as well as inside the workplace.
But while it’s not straightforward to prove cause and effect relationships, there is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting links between better health and employee wellbeing and the sense of engagement that recognition creates. In general terms this research suggests employees who are engaged experience a positive state of wellbeing and tend to be physically and psychologically healthier than other employees.
That means lower employee absence and turnover levels and it also means lower accident rates; Gallup has reported bottom quartile organisations in terms of engagement averaged 62% more accidents compared to those in the top quartile (Gallup 2006).
More research by Gallup in 2013 revealed that engaged, thriving employees have fewer unhealthy days as a result of physical or mental illness, are less likely to be diagnosed with a new disease in the following year and are less likely to be newly diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They found engaged employees had lower incidences of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and diagnosed depression as well as heart attacks.
Employees who were engaged in their jobs were also found to be in generally better physical health due to the fact they made healthier choices than employees who weren’t engaged or were disengaged. For example, they ate more healthily, exercised more and consumed more fruits and vegetables.
Other research like Brunetto et al suggests that work engagement is associated with higher levels of psychological wellbeing. Aon Hewitt’s 2012 ‘Trends in Global Employee Engagement’ research found 28% of employees experienced a high level of job related stress in high engagement companies compared to 39% of employees in low engagement companies.
Positive working relationships are also associated with reduced stress and burnout. Those types of relationships can be nurtured in an environment where employees feel properly recognised and appreciated. And this isn’t a ‘one-way street’ where the only person benefiting is the person being recognised. Research has highlighted the power of being the one who is offering the recognition too. These types of altruistic behaviours can impact health and wellbeing in exactly the same way.
Up until now health and safety management has focused more on the negative impact of getting it wrong. Employee wellbeing initiatives have often been approached as a bolt-on or supplementary activity. But the emphasis towards the broader sustainability of wellbeing in an organisation is an important shift. And while recognition isn’t an automatic route to health and wellbeing, it is an essential component in developing supportive relationships and a culture where employees feel and see the benefits for themselves.