One of the biggest trends of 2015 has been the promotion of workplace wellbeing, with increasing numbers of employers realising the importance of looking after their staff.
Many discussions have focused on the best ways to do this, as well as what work-life balance should look like in 2015. Here are some of the key talking points from a year where employee wellbeing was on everyones lips.
The rise of technology has meant that employees are constantly connected, with many workers no longer leaving their job at the office when they walk out the door. In fact, Google has discovered that only 30 per cent of their staff are able to separate their work stress from their private lives. For this reason, Google conducted an experiment into what would happen if their staff left their phones, iPads and computers at HQ overnight. "Googlers reporter blissful, stressless evenings," wrote Lazlo Bock, the head of Google’s People Operations.
Companies are starting to realise the importance of enabling employees to switch off, and that even though we can work 24/7 thanks to our permanently connected world, it doesn’t mean that we should.
Research psychologist Max Blumberg from Goldsmiths London says: "Our brains were never designed to be always on and permanently connected with the amount of stimuli that we get from social media, gaming, constant news updates and our brains haven't evolved to handle that level of high activity yet. And that's a problem."
As organisations grapple with this, we’re bound to see more experiments like Google’s, and policies being introduced to help employees switch off and disconnect from work to enable a healthier work-life balance.
Research has found that one in six employees experience anxiety, stress or depression and figures from the Centre for Mental Health show that stress alone costs UK employers £26 billion a year. "Every organisation, regardless of size or sector, needs to take mental health seriously," Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, says. "Employers who fail to address the causes of poor mental health in their workplace will find that it comes at huge cost to the organisation in terms of poor staff morale and retention; and high sickness absence."
Employers are more aware now than ever before of the importance of managing stress in the workplace, research by Virgin Pulse found that 90 per cent of HR professionals name stress among the biggest factors that affect employee wellbeing.
As a result, many big companies are now working to improve their employees’ mental wellbeing and have signed up to Time to Change, a campaign from Mind and Rethink Mental Illness to end the stigma that people suffering with mental health issues face.
"Organisations which promote staff wellbeing are rewarded in terms of increased staff morale and productivity and decreased sickness absence," Emma says. "Changes put in place needn’t be costly – it’s mostly about creating an open honest environment where staff of all levels can talk about their mental health if they want to. Small inexpensive changes such as offering flexible working hours, buddy systems, social events and regular catch-ups with managers can make a huge difference and save businesses a great deal of money in the long run."
"Sitting disease is killing us – and exercise doesn’t help," reads a Daily Telegraph headline from April this year. New research revealed that not only were previous studies about the health issues related to long periods of sitting down, but exercising wouldn’t solve the problem. One of the lead researchers in this study encouraged people to reduce the amount of time that they spend sitting each day, even by just an hour or two.
Many people have responded to this study and others by taking to standing at their desks rather than sitting while they work. Virgin Media are taking part in a study with the University of Chester where contact centre agents stand at their desks rather than sitting for at least two hours each day.
“The simple act of standing for even as little as two hours per day can increase muscle activity to have a significant impact on health and wellbeing,” explains John Buckley, Professor of Applied Exercise Science at the University of Chester – the man charged with leading the experiment. “This unprecedented study with Virgin Media will allow us gain a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits working on your feet can have on health and performance.”
Lasting for a year, this is the longest study of its kind. Previous studies have calculated that a person could burn around 30,000 extra calories a year simply by standing for two to three hours a day at work.