Why business needs a wellbeing culture change

3 minute read
With costs and stress on the rise on the one hand and talent declining on the other business and HR leaders must seize the opportunity to activate a wellbeing culture change, believes Apogee's chief people officer Marion Brooks

Business looking after its employees

It may be a new year but many of the same challenges are following businesses and their employees into 2023. The widespread cost of living crisis, which has already left almost half of UK adults struggling to afford their energy bills, rent or mortgage payments, is set to persist and leave a mark on workforces across the country. In fact, a recent CMI survey found that stress over rising costs is harming employees’ performance at work, with two-thirds of managers reporting issues such as lack of engagement and rising absenteeism.

Against this backdrop, it’s unsurprising to see workplace wellbeing become a top priority for business leaders who want to both attract and retain the best talent during disruptive times. But it is the workers themselves who are playing an integral role in redefining what they want from their employers and the workplace. With the rise in flexible and home working fuelling significant shifts in workforce behaviour, employees are starting to dictate their own rules of engagement, putting wellbeing, work-life balance and individuality at the centre of how they approach and value their work.

As another challenging year unfolds business leaders and HR departments must seize the opportunity to activate a wellbeing culture change, offering more proactive support that strengthens employee resilience, engagement and retention through 2023 and beyond.

Bringing financial wellbeing into the conversation

The financial aspect of wellbeing has traditionally been something of a workplace taboo, despite the strides taken by many employers in safeguarding their employees’ physical and emotional health. However, the soaring cost of living could see financial wellbeing achieving a more equal footing in 2023. The latest CIPD reward management survey reveals that one in four employees say money worries are affecting their ability to do their job – and this includes those on higher incomes. As people across the country come under increasing financial strain, employers will need to act quickly to avoid a wellbeing crisis in the months ahead.

Taking the necessary proactive steps to support financial wellbeing will help with employees’ mental and physical health, ultimately enabling them to be more productive, engaged and present in their roles. Inaction could have severe impacts on employee retention: with nearly one in five (19%) employees saying their employer is currently not doing enough to support their financial wellbeing, we are likely to see more people seeking greater pay levels due to ongoing economic uncertainty.  

Of course, not every business will be able to deliver a higher salary, especially while balancing their own increasing costs. Instead, they will need to continue driving organisational efficiencies, improving on total reward to attract and retain the right people. Employers will also need to focus on expanding their financial wellbeing support practices to provide the right level of support during this time.

There are clear steps that all businesses can take to better support financial wellbeing. These include providing employee assistance programmes, such as financial counselling services, and signposting employees towards independent financial and debt advice services. While employers cannot be expected to be experts in every area of finance and wellbeing, having the support in place to proactively help people find the guidance they need is a crucial addition to any wellbeing policy. Salary and benefits benchmarking can also help a business to ensure the competitiveness of its offering, whilst enabling leaders to evaluate current reward practices and longer-term business goals. 

Workplace flexibility and work-life balance 

Financial pressures will put the issue of overall happiness and wellbeing at work under the spotlight throughout 2023. In particular, attitudes on work-life balance will continue to evolve. As the post-pandemic shift towards remote and more flexible working models solidifies, workers are now actively seeking out employment opportunities that guarantee some level of flexible working, in order to achieve a healthier balance between professional and personal priorities. Therefore, employees no longer view flexibility as a nice to have; it’s become an expectation.

To maintain the best balance of their working and personal lives, employees will increasingly demand options to determine where, when and how they wish to work. As a result, organisations will need to provide their workers with the flexibility to seamlessly operate both in the office and outside of the office and at different times. Providing a variety of flexible working approaches, balanced with business needs, will be integral to attracting and maintaining a robust and diverse talent pool over the years to come. 

Individual and collective purpose

As well as seeking the optimal work-life balance employees are now making the link between better wellbeing and a greater sense of purpose in their working lives. Many are reflecting on their own personal ideals and how they can drive intrinsic value from the work they do. This has clear impacts on workplace health – to be happy and productive in employment employees are seeking fulfilment from the type of work that they do and would like to be treated as individuals with unique needs, wants and goals.

 Organisations will need to ensure their employees feel psychologically safe and comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. They can do this by continuing to drive the issues their employees care about, such as equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) strategies. However, to avoid merely paying lip service, employers will need to strive to bring about real change by implementing EDI actions, setting up partnerships with charity and community projects and making further investments in wellbeing services. 

Shaping the future of wellbeing

While the ongoing cost of living crisis continues to dominate conversations, another HR challenge rumbles on in the background – employee recruitment and retention. With the current scarcity of talent and skills shortages showing no sign of abating in 2023, organisations will need to turn their attention to the learning, development and career progression of their existing talent. This inevitably feeds into employee wellbeing, as continuous training and development, alongside clear internal advancement opportunities, is an essential part of nurturing a diverse, high-performing and satisfied workforce.

In today’s challenging social and economic climate businesses must prioritise each of the interlinked dimensions that make up workforce wellbeing in 2023. This shift of focus will open opportunities for leaders to champion financial wellbeing while shaping the flexible and inclusive working environments of the future.

Marion Brooks, pictured below, is chief people officer at managed workplace services company Apogee

Marion Brooks Apogee

Published 8 February 2023
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