Practical Ways to Improve Employee Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing

by Crystel Robbins Rynne, Chief Operating Officer at HRLocker

Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace 2024 report examines the role of work in mental health and wellbeing. And I’m sorry to say that this extensive annual study of employee experience paints a rather depressing picture.

Across the globe, employee engagement has stagnated, and wellbeing has taken a significant hit. Despite both measures reaching record highs, the lack of improvement after years of steady gains and incredibly low benchmarks paints a stark picture. The majority of workers are still grappling with work and life, and this is a matter that demands our immediate attention.

In Ireland, the picture is particularly worrying. Nine in ten employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged. Put simply, this means that the overwhelming majority are either quietly quitting—that is, putting time in but not their energy and passion—or loudly quitting— in other words, acting out their unhappiness.

The fact that non-engaged workers worldwide account for $8.9 trillion in lost productivity means it’s imperative we all work toward upping these crucial numbers. Yet, we’re not just talking about the business implications. We’re looking at the all-important effect on employees and wider society.

Impacts on employee wellbeing

People don’t do their jobs in a vacuum. They’re influenced by a range of personal events, the effectiveness of workplace leaders across the organisation, economic trends, and government policies. The combination and interplay of these micro- and macro-level factors all contribute to employee wellbeing.

As Gallup analyst Jim Harter notes, improving economic conditions might change anger to indifference, but it won’t shift workers from indifference to inspiration. In the same vein, strong labour laws don’t give people optimism for the future,  working conditions do. Taken together, this means that when it comes to micro- and macro-level changes, it’s not an either/or proposition.

Ireland’s strong economic performance and attractive business climate speak volumes about the low unemployment rate and competitive jobs market. Moreover, Ireland’s durable labour rights and comparatively high rate of worker protections mean we must look toward the micro-level factors when trying to improve employee engagement.

As Gallup reported, a considerable proportion of Irish employees feel stressed (41%), angry (20%), and sad (21%) during most of their working day. This is a clear call for employers in Ireland to make an effort to lessen these negative emotions by introducing proactive measures.

The crucial role of HR

HR plays a pivotal role in shaping workplaces and ensuring they support employee wellbeing. It has the power to directly tailor policies and initiatives that promote physical and mental health, nurturing a people-centric company culture.

Key areas where HR can make a significant impact include:

  • Developing policies that set the standard for expected behaviour and a framework for addressing issues that result in harm, such as health and safety, anti-discrimination, harassment prevention, and risk management.
  • Ensuring employees have robust and regular assessment and training on job-related tools or physical tasks so workers are up to date with best practices and have access to instructive materials and essential equipment when needed.
  • Introducing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) as part of a reward package that includes mental and physical health support by providing learning resources or services.
  • Foregrounding inclusivity such as creating a workspace where diversity is celebrated, with training sessions or diversity committees, for example.

Promoting a wellbeing-oriented company culture

HR is also in the best position to advocate for broader organisational changes that are proven to contribute to employee wellbeing. Flexible working arrangements, wellness programmes, and professional development opportunities are the cornerstones of positive workplaces determined to maximise wellbeing through company culture.

Remote working and flexible hours give employees a degree of control over their schedule, fostering a sense of autonomy and trust. Empowering workers helps them to achieve a better work-life balance. They can, for example, cut out daily commutes or better facilitate caregiving responsibilities, which leads to increased job satisfaction, reduced burnout, and better self-care.

Health and wellness programmes, in addition to EAPs, are another workplace provision that offers a range of benefits that can lead to a healthier, more engaged workforce. As part of a comprehensive package, physical health elements like screening, vaccinations, and gym memberships encourage employees to take a proactive approach to their physical health. In conjunction, lifestyle coaching can support things like nutrition, smoking cessation, financial management or stress-related coping mechanisms.

Professional development opportunities contribute to personal growth, job satisfaction, and career advancement. Even if a promotion isn’t on the horizon, using resources to upskill employees can boost confidence and lower stress associated with feeling left behind. It also helps build resilience and adaptability, so employees are better able to handle change.

Vital two-way communication

Open two-way communication channels are not just a part of employee wellbeing efforts—they’re a vital ingredient in fostering transparent and trusting environments. Being upfront with workers shows you value their contribution to the organisation as a whole rather than being a replaceable cog in the machine. Transparency also reduces the spread of rumours, gossip, and misinformation that causes anxiety and uncertainty to spread across the workforce.

When employees feel that their voices are being heard, valued, and acted upon, it builds trust between them and leaders within the organisation. Opening channels for quicker identification and problem-solving can prevent small issues from becoming big ones. Both are vital for positive work environments.

The value of feedback

Beyond open communication, regular check-ins and surveys keep employees engaged with their work and leaders. Structured feedback loops using engagement, onboarding, pulse, satisfaction, climate, 360-degree, and exit surveys let employees share their thoughts, ensuring they feel connected and supported.

By the same token, anonymous mechanisms allow workers to give their honest opinions without fear of repercussions. They can also give a voice to those who are uncomfortable speaking out in other ways, ensuring that all perspectives are heard.

Regular check-ins, surveys, and anonymous feedback mechanisms collectively contribute to a healthier workplace by reducing frustrations and friction. They are an outlet for employees to air grievances rather than have them build up inside and can provide employers with actionable insights that further improve working conditions.

The pursuit of employee wellbeing transcends traditional business metrics of productivity and success. It is about cultivating a work environment that is both positive and fulfilling and fostering a culture that holistically values each employee’s health and happiness.

Human Resources departments stand at the forefront of this endeavour, tasked with the vital role of enacting policies and initiatives that bolster physical and mental health, promote inclusivity, and champion broader organisational reforms.

Ultimately, by placing employee wellbeing at the heart of their agenda, companies stand to gain not just in terms of enhanced engagement and productivity but also in enriching their employees’ personal and professional lives, contributing to a sense of overall happiness and fulfilment.

About the author

Crystel Robbins Rynne has worked with HRLocker since its inception. As COO, she is responsible for maintaining and driving operational results within the company. She is part of the executive management team and is also an Employee Experience advocate and host of the popular HRLocker Podcast.