An appropriate place to start when discussing wellbeing at work is to consider what happens when we don’t have it. At a personal level we tacitly know when we lack wellbeing, we are bad tempered, tired, apathetic, obsessive, have aches and pains, some of which develop into serious illness, we burn out, we talk of ‘feeling stressed’. The costs to us at a personal level are often hidden for years until, ‘suddenly’ we are ill. The truth of the matter is our lack of wellbeing has been building up for some time, and because of our work or lifestyle choices we have colluded in covering up our lack of wellness. We may be ‘present’ in work (physically at least) but are performing way below that of which we are capable. Conversely, we may now be facing a long time away from work due to a serious health condition, that may have be lessened if we had acted sooner.
The costs of poor health and wellbeing for the employee are known to include;
- Loss of fitness
- Increased risk of poor physical health (by 2-3 times)
- Social exclusion
- Psychological distress and depression increased (by 2-3 times)
- Increased suicide and mortality
The costs to employers who do not consider the wellbeing of their employees are also considerable, in the UK alone it is estimated that £29 billion is spent as a result of sickness absence. In the UK, during 2011/12, over 40% of work related illnesses were caused by work related stress.
An increasingly cited cause of absence from is work related stress. During 2011/12, 40% of work related illnesses was caused by work related stress. There is a recursive link between stress at work and error causation, so that ‘stressed’ employees are more likely to make serious mistakes, and making serious mistakes brings about anxiety which causes stress. Employees who suffer stress, shame and guilt through association with an error at work become ‘secondary victims’ . As secondary victims, employees become disengaged with work, thus increasing the likelihood of less than optimal workplace performance. Occupations with the highest incident of stress related absence from work are health professionals (in particular nurses), teaching and educational professionals, and caring personal services (in particular welfare and housing associate professionals). In order to improve a return to work, we need to not only address the causes of absence but also develop a workplace culture that facilitates wellbeing.
Factors known to hinder an effective and engaged return to work include;
1) Workplace culture
2) Being motivated to return to work
3) Personal values and thoughts relating to absence from work
4) Previous experiences relating to absence from work
5) Resilience and coping skills in managing return to work transition
6) Relationships with managers and colleagues
7) Sense of wellbeing
Fortunately we also know that we can change this by improving our wellbeing, and the first step in bringing thing this about rests with us and not some ‘other’, and when we do workplace performance that improves include:
- Motivation and Energy;
- Concentration and Decision-making;
- Resilience; Coping with pressure, change and uncertainty;
- Coping positively with critical feedback; and supporting colleagues;
- Having a client/customer focus;
- Being reliable.
While various initiatives have gotten off the ground to address problems relating to sickness absence, interventions that inculcate independence and self-help are yet to gain a foothold. We suggest that Wellbeing at Work coaching is an intervention that will contribute considerably towards recruiting and retaining a highly motivated, productive and engaged workforce.
This is brought about by enabling people to find meaning in and through work by locating a sense of purpose; this includes but moves beyond financial rewards to incorporate social contact, status, opportunities to learn and a sense of community. Finding purposeful work is important because this is linked to our own identify, by how we culturally relate to our work colleagues, and to the organisation in which we are employed. It is sensible to conclude that those without work often experience a lowered sense of wellbeing due to a lack of opportunity to access the benefits that belonging to an employed social group brings.
Once we have found purpose and meaning we move on to developing resilience, this is vital as it develops the skills and mindset to ‘bounce back’ from negative workplace experiences. Bouncing back from negative workplace experiences may prove difficult for some, especially if the experience has brought about traumatic stress. The good news is that while resilience can be developed in response to experiencing lower levels of workplace stress, post traumatic growth can be triggered by higher levels of workplace stress during the aftermath of the trauma. This means that coaching, as an intervention, is particularly useful in bringing forth learning and a positive mindset that can bring about re-engagement with work and life.