Establishing health and happiness at work

Posted on: December 22, 2014 by Andrew Kinder

It’s no surprise that having a happy workforce runs hand in hand with running a successful business. Employees that enjoy their work and are healthy in mind and body will be more motivated and productive than those that aren’t. However, workforces across the world are having to cope with increasing workloads and demands, leading to more stress.

A study by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found that 25 percent of employees in Europe felt stressed at work all or most of the time, and the same percentage again admitted that work had a negative impact on their health. Another study, from Gallup, found that just 13 percent of employees across 142 countries were psychologically engaged at work, translating into hundreds of billions in lost earnings, a figure it put at nearly €300 bn every year. So what’s causing these pressures in the workplace and what’s being done to combat them?

The origins of stress in the workplace

One of the factors is that consumer technology has blurred the lines between our personal and business lives, creating a generation of workers that seemingly never switch off. Some of us feel pressured to check our emails the minute we wake up and it can be the last thing we do before switching the lights off at night. This leaves us with less time at home to relax and puts us ‘on edge’ most of the time. As a direct result of this “culture of immediacy”, there are higher expectations for instant results, both from ourselves and our employers; which is putting us under increasing stress. Our home and work lives are also becoming busier, as we try to manage everything – from our workloads to “life admin” and maintaining our hectic social and family lives.

Coupled with this is the growing “affluenzer epidemic”. Our society is becoming bogged down by consumerism – the richer we become, the more we buy – and people are growing more and more tired of constantly trying to increase their earnings to keep up with or exceed their peers’ spending habits. But consumerism doesn’t necessarily make us any happier and there is actually evidence of the opposite: a pursuit of ‘affluence’ can result in higher rates of mental health issues, such as depression (a claim from British psychologist, Oliver James, which many will identify with).

Encouraging health and happiness at work

Faced with this dilemma, the onus is on business leaders to alleviate their employees’ stresses and encourage wellbeing initiatives. At Atos, we are committed to improving the work life experiences of our staff and in 2013, introduced a number of schemes under our Health@work programme. It is designed to support both our existing and future workforce with new ways of working.

One example of this is “Zero email”, our vision to drastically reduce all emails between Atos employees by using improved communication applications and new collaboration tools. The program isn’t just designed to reduce the amount of internal email, but also to encourage employees to get up from their desks and speak to one another. It not only encourages more sociability, but also contributes to increased sharing of ideas.

Something else we’re keen to encourage is reverse mentoring. Workforces now span four generations, with armies of digitally-savvy young talent joining the ranks. Millennials have grown up surrounded by virtual collaboration through social networks and content sharing, and we’re encouraging them to use their digital knowledge to skill up their older colleagues. While this is incredibly useful for the staff that might need more technical help, the young mentors will also see the value that they’ve added to their senior colleagues’ day.

We encourage everyone within our workforce to share their knowledge: from our most experienced staff to our new joiners. Everyone has their strengths and by sharing ours skills, we all contribute to making the culture.

In the digital era, it’s becoming more difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance. But employers who dedicate time and resource to keeping staff happy and motivated will in turn benefit from having an increasingly agile workforce. Such flexibility is critical, so that employees can adapt to changing market conditions and deliver the same great service to their customers that they’re receiving from their employers themselves.

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About Andrew Kinder
Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health
As Professional Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health, Andrew Kinder takes a lead on delivering its Wellbeing@work programme, which works globally to improve the health and wellbeing of its employees. Andrew has made a unique contribution in the area of counselling in the workplace over the last 15 years. He has been a leader in this specialist field work over this period, serving on the Executive Committee of the BACP Workplace (formerly Association for Counselling at Work). He has also promoted workplace counselling through committee work at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association. He was recently awarded a Fellowship by BACP.