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Beyond yoga and smoothies – providing real support for employee well-being

Virtual exercise class, yoga, smoothie-making competition? Walkathon, anyone? It can only be Well-being Week!

With World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10th October, this week felt like a great time to build awareness around mental health and well-being. Like every year, it’s a packed, week-long schedule with huge effort put in to create meaningful experiences for our people across the globe. It’s always inspiring to see the amount of creativity our HR teams and employees put into these events, and like other leaders in our industry, I love this stuff and really hope we get plenty of uptake. Yet, apart from launching free access to the Calm app for all employees (part of my Mental Health Employee Resource Group duties), chances are I won’t attend anything fun myself. It’s easy to make excuses, and I’m sure we are all perpetually too busy to make time for self-care, but I find it challenging to fully participate.

I know I should throw myself into these virtual social events, and I feel guilty not doing so, but the truth is: I get anxiety at the thought of it. This is a fairly visceral anxiety that I think extends beyond the very normal emotions related to doing a downward dog in front of your colleagues over Zoom. I started in this role remotely 18 months ago and I’ve really struggled to build that connectedness and community in a virtual environment, so I opt out of these things. I prefer to use my downtime to catch up with my wife (bingeing Squid Game), go for a walk, or stop my toddler putting various things up his nose. Although this feels anti-social, for where I am now, I’m okay admitting this. This is because I can be myself and be open with those I work with. Being authentic, bringing your whole self to work, and admitting when you don’t feel comfortable is all part of the journey to actually feeling at home somewhere, which I undoubtedly do.

To me, this culture of inclusivity and psychological safety is infinitely more important than any perk we can provide in Well-being Week. The things we provide, like 24 fully trained mental health first-aiders, breakfast breakouts, ‘coffee and chat’, and our employee assistance programme all contribute to positive attitudes towards mental health, but it’s culture that comes before programmes. The culture we create is the foundation that determines whether employee well-being programmes succeed or fail.

And yet, health and well-being are at an all-time low post pandemic. Research from Forbes shows that employers are creating workplace cultures that are antithetical to employee well-being in four areas: low pay (a leading cause of stress and low engagement), understaffing (which is hurting morale and increasing stress), bad managers (a prime cause of stress, depression, and low self-esteem), and lack of leadership (CEOs and boards are ignoring employee well-being).

Unless you have a plan to address these things head on, any effort in the well-being space will have no impact and just look like tokenism. Here are some things we’ve done to address these barriers to well-being.

  1. Remuneration – Ultimately, we all want fairness and equity. Maybe we can’t all achieve what Dan Price did (putting everyone on $70k minimum wage, taking a cut to his $1.1m salary to halve employee turnover and supercharge growth) but I have seen altruistic behaviour from leaders here that is genuinely selfless and commercially beneficial. Being in tune with the demands of a volatile talent market and being able to adapt quickly is also massively important: benchmarking more regularly, making adjustments when the market moves, and trying to profit share where possible. Spot and retention bonuses all have to be considered. Investment can normally be justified if it increases retention.
  2. Talent shortages – With the ‘Great Resignation’ upon us, skills shortages (especially in healthcare communications) are having an impact and causing burnout. Creating new opportunities to broaden your talent market by designing jobs that offer more flexibility and less exposure to client demands is a route to attract people (not just working parents) back into professional services. Being flexible on hours and location is becoming a prerequisite. Long-term investment in graduate programmes is essential to being the change in the industry we want to see. Not enough mid-level talent in the industry? Well, go hire and train as many entry-level employees as you can to change the game. We have hired nearly 200 in 4 years.
  3. Manager effectiveness – It’s always there as a factor to drive engagement and well-being. Focus areas for the 2021 manager development curriculum are empathy, emotional intelligence, and resilience alongside practical tips for managing in a global virtual environment.
  4. Leadership – Our leaders here show genuine concern for employees’ well-being; they invest in wellness initiatives and try to remove some of the barriers discussed. Employee engagement surveys, employee resource groups, and investment in DIBS activity all help develop a culture of honesty, transparency, and inclusion. Leaders that role model your values will instantly reduce stress and anxiety because there is comfort in experiencing consistently positive behaviour. Talking sensitively about social justice issues and pursuing a meaningful CSR agenda shows that they can walk the talk.

Our health is multifaceted and ever changing. Therefore, to truly build a culture of well-being, it involves a focus on its many components, including physical, career, financial, social, and community well-being. Companies that think beyond the traditional boundaries of wellness to help employees more holistically in all of these areas of well-being are more successful in creating cultures that truly drive meaningful, sustainable engagement and belonging. We have plenty to improve, but ultimately, it is individual and collective kindness that will continue to help us succeed. Who knows – by next year’s Well-being Week, I may even be loving the face-to-face group exercise class!

Liam Mulvihill is Group HR Director at Nucleus Global
www.nucleus-global.com
Nucleus Global – Medical Communications

14th October 2021

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Nucleus Global

020 7398 0500

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Nucleus Global
76-78 Old Street
London
EC1V 9AZ
United Kingdom

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