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The Way Ahead for Workplace Wellbeing in 2023

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THIS time last year we were hearing a lot about sustained burnout and large swathes of employees worldwide were reconsidering their work-life priorities following the pandemic.

We had become used to the notion of a VUCA economy (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), although never had the world of work been more turbulent, and the enduring changes in our personal and work lives have accelerated the level of stress experienced by everyone.

American anthropologist and futurist Jamais Cascio introduced the term BANI to describe the changes we were witnessing: brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible. The BANI environment compounds our stress to the point where it becomes chronic: low-level, insidious and ongoing.

Jersey has been no exception, and there is no doubt that the ‘Great Resignation’ has continued throughout 2022 with many from the local workforce, including close friends and colleagues, moving away to pastures new.

Not only that but many have left the workforce entirely, particularly among the over-50s who are looking for a change of life or early retirement, and leading to as many as 500,000 ‘lost’ workers in the UK, and millions elsewhere. This only adds to the recruitment challenges we face locally.

Those who remain in the workforce are not unaffected, of course, for many workers are ‘quiet quitting’, withdrawing their efforts and doing what their jobs demand and no more.

There is therefore still a lot of work to do in boardrooms throughout the country – and here in Jersey – to create the right working environments to attract, retain, protect and inspire valued employees.

Fatigue and burnout
People are fatigued from the aftermath of the pandemic and now the constant stress of world events, national strikes and cost-of-living crisis, and, while work can create a sense of purpose and community, it can also perpetuate chronic stress. When chronic workplace stress goes unmanaged, this evolves into burnout, which remains a high risk for leaders and employees alike.

There is no doubt this requires attention at board level at an individual and organisational level. Individual support is essential, although no matter how many interventions and stress management sessions an employee is able to benefit from, it is of little value if the employee returns to the same workplace which caused the stress in the first place.

We need to go to the root cause of the issue and use our organisational measures and resources to address it. This is wholly determined by the company culture we create, the workload we allow, the working practices we design, and the way our leaders and managers lead.

Toxic workplaces – a threat to human health
We know that employee heath equals business health. It is also now clear that toxic workplaces are not just bad for morale but a threat to human health. US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, made history in his landmark 2022 report, Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing, when he linked toxic workplaces to ‘one of the worst mental-health crises the US has ever seen’.

‘The link between our work and our health has become more evident,’ he said. The report provides a vision for workplaces to be engines of wellbeing, simultaneously eradicating toxicity while also proactively promoting wellbeing.

Non-toxic workplaces are needed to do no harm, although it could be said that creating non-toxic workplaces simply results in bringing them to neutral, and is not the same as promoting sustainable wellbeing. The first is organisational, and often reactive; the second is proactive. It would be like defining health as the absence of disease. They require complementary but different strategies and solutions.

That said, tackling toxic workplace culture will continue to be a business priority for 2023 as organisations battle to retain talent, increase inclusivity and meet the demands of regulation. The financial cost is also significant. Cost estimates vary, although the Culture Economy 2020 report from HR software provider Breathe put the cost of factors such as attrition, legal fees, pay-outs, absence and presenteeism at £15.7 billion per year in the UK.

This was, of course, before the cumulative effects of the pandemic, the war, cost-of-living crisis and the UK’s winter of discontent.

Financial wellbeing
The cost-of-living crisis has and will affect many of us, and proactive sustainable wellbeing strategies will certainly need to include a focus on financial wellbeing. The recent Royal Society for Public Health report, Our Health: The Price We Pay For The Cost-of-living Crisis, sets out the impacts and the collective response needed, including support from the government.

According to William Roberts, chief executive of RSPH: ‘The cost-of-living crisis is a public health crisis and prevention of ill health is key to ensure the financial growth and wellbeing of the nation. To ensure we are all supported to live healthier lives more needs to be done to support households that have no way to respond to situations outside their control. It is important that the response to the current crisis considers not just individual responsibility, but collective responsibility from all tiers of society, including government, local authorities and employers.’

Even before inflation started to rise, 91% of HR leaders recognised the need to do more to engage their workforce in financial wellbeing benefits. This will be a main feature in 2023 for financially fatigued workforces the world over.

Belonging – a top corporate culture priority in 2023
Data has shown a worrying drop in productivity in recent years, largely driven by mental-health and low morale, with some demographic groups – such as young people, menopausal women and those with chronic health issues – being more at risk. It’s clear that workplace wellbeing needs to remain a priority for individuals and organisations alike, especially as we head into recessionary times.

All groups, regardless of gender, age, (dis)ability, nationality or culture, need to be better engaged, no matter who they are. It’s the right thing to do, for the individuals and also the health of the organisation.
Added to this, a focus on inspiring the young and supporting and retaining women is needed and whether or not those who have already left the workforce can be enticed back is yet to be seen.

A sense of belonging fosters an inclusive environment and brings out the best in people. It fuels authenticity and collaboration, and creates the opportunity for leaders to become better leaders as it enables trust and empowerment.

Along with psychological safety, belonging remains one of the main DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) drivers for the year ahead.

The way forward in 2023
There are numerous items on the corporate culture to-do list for 2023. However, by tackling burnout, eradicating toxic cultures, promoting proactive workplace wellbeing and creating a feeling of belonging and the right conditions for people to be authentically themselves, organisations will also be addressing many of the underlying issues.

And how to do this? Lead from the heart, listen, and bring people together. The first step in making a change is collaboration. It is entirely within our grasp to re-imagine and re-engineer our structures and cultures to work for people, not against them.

If carefully implemented, this will have the potential to lift people into a healthier, engaged and energised work life, which in turn will support greater success for organisations, families and our community at large.

Perhaps this really is the beginning of a new era for humanity. After all, being human costs nothing.

I will leave the last word to Sadhguru, the Indian yogi, visionary, and humanist, who says: ‘Living in harmony, rather than seeking exclusivity and dominance, is the key to wellbeing for all.’

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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