Podcast, Remote Working

The Secret to a Successful Workplace Wellbeing Program – Brian Crooke – Workplace Wellbeing

Through The Human Behind the Screen, Shauna Moran focuses on discussing how the current changes in the way people work will affect human connection and relationships. What does remote work mean for companies? How do we bring back that human connection when we primarily work online? Shauna looks for the best answers to these questions and new perspectives together with her guests.

Today's guest, Brian Crooke, is the founder of Workplace Well Being Ireland and an expert in the field of workplace well being. He also acts as an educator and speaker, advising and supporting a large number of Irish organizations to promote and sustain well being within their workplaces.

Surprisingly, Brian's background is actually in IT. The shift in his career happened when he realized that the stress and struggles he was experiencing daily in his consulting job are not something that should be considered normal.

Defining workplace wellbeing in today's context

Traditionally, workplace well being is associated with physical activity classes. But the term includes so many more aspects. The working environment is also a big part of a healthy workplace. Relaxation spaces and flexible working policies are two examples that can make a huge difference for employees. Workplace wellbeing practices are based on the needs of each company's employees. Brian tells us how he usually approaches this process: "That might be through surveys, it might be through focus groups, but it's gathering data, and it's listening to the wellbeing needs of that particular organization. Because every organization is different and all the people in each organization are different so they will have different wants and needs."

How workplace wellbeing practices impact employee productivity

"Fundamentally, the healthier and happier we are, the more productive we are. We're more present, we're more focused, we're more engaged, the quality of our work improves." Brian tells us.

An employee that receives support and has a healthy working environment is more likely to be loyal to the organization. They will enjoy teamwork and contribute to the success of the company. On the longterm, workplace wellbeing can lead to reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. The positive word of mouth for the organization will also make it easier for the company to retain and also attract talent.

Talent acquisition is no longer solely based on the salary a company can offer but "the question from the employee or the potential employee now is, does this organization genuinely care about my health and well being?". And this development in the recruitment process has lead organizations to apply for healthy workplace accreditations. Ireland has come a long way in the past years, going from 0 workplace wellbeing accreditations to soon to be 3. At the moment, there are two workplace wellbeing accreditations available in Ireland: Healthy Place to Work from the people that brought Great Place to Work and the government initiative called Healthy Workplace Framework.

The most important step in developing a workplace wellbeing program

Implementing a wellbeing program in an organization is a process that can't succeed without the commitment of leadership and senior management. Brian has spoken with CEOs who were well-intentioned but they need to understand that implementing a program is more than having a few ad hoc initiatives and writing a check every now and then. "Wellbeing should be something as important and as operationalized as a marketing department as the IT department. So it's bringing the senior leadership team on that journey and showing them what a long term commitment to workplace well being really looks like."

Leading by example, is another important aspect of the senior management commitment to the process. Here there are some simple steps that any leader can take to demonstrate their healthy behaviours: "Whether that is getting out for a walk at lunchtime, it's bringing some healthy snacks to work with you, maybe it's sitting down with your team at lunchtime or a coffee break for a chat".

People value a leader that sets a healthy example, but they also value their time spent outside work, with their families. Shauna goes on to make a great point here, saying that "we're living in a world now where we realize that it's not just about the work that we do, it's not just about what we produce. It's about you know, we're human beings, not human doings."

How do we deal with the isolation aspect of remote work?

Remote work sounds wonderful on paper, and in the beginning, it is for almost all employees that transfer from an office-based job. But the isolation factor can prove to be quite a shock. People tend to feel out of the loop from work, from their team because they are not speaking to people regularly in a meeting or they don't have that casual office interaction. "And that's where technology can actually help in some regards, with conference calling, with companies ensuring that those remote workers are kept in the loop as much as possible involved in all communications," Brian says.

He also gives us some examples of good case practices where organizations went a little out of their way to make sure their remote workforce is included. They developed programs like "get to know your remote worker" where once a week someone has a 20-minute presentation. They make sure to include remote workers in all communication and team decision making so that they feel as much a part of the team as anyone.

The most important takeaway for organizations

Organizations and their leaders should keep in mind that their employees' needs are different. So while one employee might appreciate that gym membership, another will love the opportunity to work from home every Tuesday. The most important first step for any company is to talk to their employees, listen and find out what they want. If there are some popular topics, look into them, and if not, maybe an individual budget for each employee would be the best way to go. Brian gives us a great example of how this budget works.

 "I see some organizations now, and they don't have a defined initiative or intervention that they go with, they just have a budget. 500 euro per year, spend it on whatever you like from massage to gym therapy to state of the art chair. It depends on the individual employee because it's extremely challenging to run out an initiative that every single employee will want to partake in."
Shauna manages to sum up the conversation in a concise yet very accurate way: "I think, as you said, well being means something different to everybody depending on what they want". And that is a piece of information that employers and organizations need to walk away with from this episode.

Brian Cooke hosts nationwide events for people interested in workplace wellbeing. You can find out more by joining the Workplace Wellbeing Ireland Community on LinkedIn.

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