Less lip service, more action: Wellbeing at work

Over the course of a year, I spoke with hundreds of employees, employers and HR professionals. In those interviews, I learnt about wellbeing at work, the challenges in keeping people healthy and happy, and why wellbeing packages offered by businesses are falling short.

It is undeniable that ‘wellbeing’ has become a topic much discussed in recent years. Perhaps no more so than in the workplace, where businesses young and old have peered inwardly as they look to succeed in the battleground surrounding their four walls.

The physical and mental wellbeing of the workforce has steadily and consistently climbed up the list of a company’s priorities. In 2019, employee wellbeing has truly established itself as a strategic necessitynot just a luxury offered by Silicon Valley’s progressive unicorns.

Ping pong tables and office dogs a mainstay, the focus has evolved and matured. Companies now look to tackle mental health, stress, depression and sickness.

Those of you that have applied for a job since 2010 will have noticed the regiment of bullet points at the bottom of every job description, reeling off perks and benefits offered: team lunches, the ‘potential’ to work flexibly, free coffee and fruit, yoga after work.

So, has it worked?

Juno statistics

At desks across the country, stress and sickness, absenteeism and its uglier lesser-known brother presentee-ism run rife. So bad is the economic and health impact of this crisis, the UK government released a whitepaper urging small to medium businesses to tackle the issue  - and tackle it now. That was back in 2017, and according to our research, we seem no closer to an improvement.

The problem(s) with ‘Wellbeing’

The issue with employee wellbeing is three-fold.

1. Some companies don’t recognise the urgency, necessity, financial incentive.

Some employers expressed scepticism regarding how a comprehensive wellbeing programme might affect productivity and where they would find the budget. Despite the litany of research on how staff wellbeing can increase the bottom line, the culture remains largely unperturbed.

At Juno, we’ve found that it can sometimes be down to framing the issue; by talking about Juno as a way to further learning and development, increase productivity and lower turnover- decision makers are more likely to give it due care and attention.

2. Some companies already have a programme, and ‘it’s a-mazing’

Except, unfortunately, it probably isn’t. Research has shown that existing programmes are either:

  • Piecemeal (mental health ‘week', ad-hoc lunches, drinks after work)
  • Inflexible (yoga before work on Wednesdays)
  • Rewards and perk based (coupons, offers, trying to solve wellbeing with commerce)
  • Not tailored to the individual’s needs
  • Extra work masquerading as wellbeing 
  • Subsidised, but not entirely (discounts on pricey gym memberships)

And that has led to:

  • Low engagement (>20% of staff taking advantage)
  • Disenchantment (employers unable to meet staff’s needs)
  • Dysfunction (sickness, stress and conflict)
  • Turnover (staff leaving)

Some industries have it worse than others, for example incidents of poor mental health are three times more likely to appear in advertising and media agencies than any other sector. Whether it’s stressful work environments or ad-land culture, these businesses must act fast if they want to survive.

3. Wellbeing means different things to different people

For young parents, the effect of having company-provided childcare might have the same impact on wellbeing that fitness classes have on a 20-something graduate. For pet owners, dog-sitting lightens the load, whilst pressured managers want talk therapy to de-stress, and so on. That thought has been the guiding star during the development of Juno, we want to bring that experience found at the tech unicorns to every forward-thinking business in the world.

Companies mean well but struggle to make everybody happy. Needs and circumstances are as diverse as the workforce they stem from.

Exceptional companies know that their staff do their best work when they are happy and fulfilled, and sometimes that means the stuff outside of work needs to be taken care of.

That’s what a good wellbeing programme is for. At Juno, we asked ourselves ‘if wellbeing means different things to different people,’ how can we build a platform that gives staff a wide range of personal development and wellness choices and lets them choose for themselves.

Employees feel that to truly love their job, the work they do is paramount, but feeling looked after and valued and having a proper work/life balance is fundamental if they are to stay and make an impact. We love the fact that Juno has staff booking dog sitting for their pooch one week, getting an intense spin class the next and finishing the month with a deep tissue massage. The impact we’ve had, and this is no exaggeration, has been life changing.

The solution in two words: flexibility and variety.

Before we started with Juno, the quandary was how do businesses make everyone happy at work and cater for everybody’s needs? We live in an on-demand economy. More than ever, employees are looking for personalised experiences.

In the last decade, customer experience has focused heavily on personalisation. It’s all on-demand. Think of Netflix, Spotify and Instagramit’s all tailored to the user. You curate your feed, subscribe to your interests, follow your favourites.

If Netflix was your employer’s wellbeing programme, there would be four films. Three of them would be about work, the other one would ask you to write half of it yourself.

We’d love to see startups follow our lead and continue to use technology to tackle this issue and empower businesses to provide better and more suitable programmes that ensure that people are happier and healthier at work; whilst businesses should approach the issue of wellbeing and personal development anew, investing more into their staff and thinking more deeply and creatively about how to truly take care of their staff.