5 benefits of wellbeing champions in the workplace

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5 benefits of wellbeing champions in the workplace

It is now universally accepted that worker wellbeing and productivity are intrinsically linked.

Companies not only benefit from higher levels of output from a well workforce, but retention levels tend to hike, and absence levels fall.

With so much to gain, companies are starting to channel more resources and dedicate more time to the cultivation of a physically and emotionally resilient workforce.

But this come with its challenges.

According to our Health and Benefits Barometer research, 52 per cent of UK workers are uncomfortable with their employer getting involved in their personal lifestyle choices, citing boundary issues and concerns over a ‘Big Brother’ culture.

Despite this, almost one in three (30 per cent) workers see their employers as having a moral responsibility to help them lead a fit and healthy lifestyle.

Employers, therefore, are left in a difficult position.

There is a reluctance from employees to welcome intervention on matters of personal wellbeing, but, on the other hand, there is a growing expectation for employers to step up and help.

One way of overcoming this hurdle, and bridging the gap between employee and employer, is the creation of wellbeing champions in the workplace.

Wellbeing champions are employees who volunteer to focus on improving the wellbeing of their fellow colleagues, as part of the company wellbeing initiatives.

In effect, wellbeing champions are ambassadors of a company’s wellbeing strategy – and act as intermediaries should said strategy fall short of employee expectation or need.

Here, we outline five benefits of wellbeing champions in the workplace.

Peer-based support

Justified or not, many employees hold the belief that managers do not play an active role in the wellbeing of their employees.

According to our Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS), just 28 per cent of workers claim their managers support their wellbeing and only 23 per cent say employer health and wellbeing initiatives have encouraged them to live healthier lives.

It could be that some managers are preoccupied with oiling the corporate cogs, focusing on workplace productivity and day-to-day management duties, which could push wellbeing down their priority list.

Or it may be that employees are unknowingly unreceptive to attempts by management or employers to help them lead healthier lives, as they view it as needlessly intrusive.

What is clear is that engagement is an issue.

Whether it be that managers struggle to heavily invest in their workers’ wellbeing, due to time or responsibility constraints, or that employees essentially shut-off from employee intervention, wellbeing champions can help overcome this disconnection by offering an objective support role for both parties.

Wellbeing champions can take the pressure off time-strapped managers, by identifying areas of concern relating to health, be it high levels of stress or seasonal issues, such as flu, and feed back to the company, who can take decisive action.  They can also take the initiative by spearheading campaigns to improve wellbeing, such as a walking group at lunch breaks or healthier onsite food options.

From the colleague perspective, wellbeing champions can prove to be a valuable source of confidential support and encouragement, particularly for those who are disengaged with wellbeing initiatives or mistrustful of employer involvement.  These colleagues may not want to seek support from direct management and appreciate a more peer-based approach to wellbeing.

Promoting preventative healthcare

In the world of worker wellbeing, the onus is shifting from reactive to preventative healthcare, influenced by the growing understanding and prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases.

By encouraging better lifestyle choices amongst their employees, such as healthy eating, exercise, smoking cessation and alcohol moderation, companies hope to create a more resilient workforce, who are at a reduced risk of disease in the future.

Encouraging behavioural changes can be a long and arduous task, however, and one that involves consistency and understanding.

Wellbeing champions are armed with the time and resources to encourage positive change in the workplace.

As they are ‘on the ground’, wellbeing champions can help, by serving as first point of contact for employees and actively promoting health campaigns.  This promotion can be done via communications, such as posters, emails and leaflets, and activities, such as workshops, hobby groups and buddy schemes.

They can also actively encourage engagement with the company’s health and wellbeing strategy and be in the position to identify opportunities for early intervention.

Creating empathetic employees

Wellbeing champions underline a company’s commitment to improving the wellbeing of its workforce, and act as visible, constant reminders of said commitment in the workplace.

Champions can help forge a more empathetic workforce, as they possess and promote greater understanding of the needs and feelings of others.

If an environment is perceived as judgemental and critical, workers will be closed off and will fail to connect with one another.

By demonstrating a commitment to their own wellbeing, from taking regular breaks to abiding by out of hours email policies, wellbeing champions make it acceptable for others to behave in a similar way and set the benchmark for self-care amongst the workforce.

Similarly, wellbeing champions who make clear that they are invested in the health and wellbeing of their colleagues, and that any issues or problems shared will be listened to and dealt with a sensitive and confidential manner, encourage a similar ‘copy-cat’ approach amongst colleagues.

Dispelling fear of judgement

HSE reported that 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18, making it the number one employee health issue faced by companies today.

Mental ill health is having a profound impact on workplace productivity, so tackling the issue is a must, if companies are to create an emotionally robust workforce and reach optimum output.

Due to their close working relationship with their teams, managers are equipped to identify changes in behaviour in individuals and can make immediate adjustments, such as reducing workload and reviewing working patterns.

However, only one in three (34%) employees said they would seek the support of a manager if they were suffering from anxiety or depression (GBAS).

According to our Health and Benefits Barometer research, fear of a negative impact on job prospects is the biggest reason stopping workers talking to their manager about mental health issues (41%).

Workers may feel more comfortable speaking to someone outside of the line management structure, such as a wellbeing champion who is trained in mental health first aid.

These employees can be assigned as mental health champions, becoming the dedicated person to offer a confidential advisory service to those suffering from mental health issues.

Posters and communications can promote the visibility of these mental health champions and give information on how employees who are struggling can reach out to them for support.

Although not medically trained to deal with such issues, these champions can be trained to spot the signs of ill mental health in colleagues and signpost them to the most appropriate avenue of help and support.

Clarity on prevalent issues

If companies’ strategies are not based on or reflective of employee need and expectation, they become redundant.

According to GBAS, only 30 per cent of workers believe their employer’s wellbeing initiatives meet their needs, with just one in four (27 per cent) saying their employer provides them with good tools and resources to help them manage their health.

As wellbeing champions are peers, they have a greater understanding of the issues that are prevalent in the workplace, and the top areas for concern.

Wellbeing champions have their ‘ear to the ground’, in the sense that, through observation and conversation, they can identify the issues that really matter to their colleagues, from nutrition and sleep to exercise and substance abuse.

Confidential, anecdotal wellbeing data can complement more formal evaluation of initiatives and absence reporting, helping to identify trends and shape the future of wellbeing strategies.

By opening lines of communication between wellbeing champions and the board, direct feedback on the wants and needs of the employee population can be offered on a regular basis, which will keep wellbeing at the forefront of decision makers’ minds.