Indicators of a healthy workplace


By Alison Sweeting, CIPFA Training Delivery Manager

Even in the most traditional professions, health and wellbeing in the workplace is increasingly recognised as vital to both day-to-day productivity and career development. The first step to improving wellbeing at work comes from management – or more specifically, how workflow is managed and how all employees (including managers!) are supported in their roles day to day.

The advice and conciliation service ACAS highlights six indicators of a healthy workplace. Here are some tips on how you as a manager can support a cultural shift in this direction. 

1. Line managers are confident and trained in people skills

Line managers should be the first port of call for members of staff experiencing wellbeing issues in the workplace. It is hugely important that managers are seen to understand the importance of personal wellbeing for staff to have confidence that they will be heard.

However, not everyone will be comfortable broaching the issue of wellbeing in a professional context. Training in how to recognise signs of stress or anxiety, and how to broach the subject with sensitivity, will support managers to intervene early. 

Such training will also support managers to identify and take action on their own triggers of stress, as well as those of others.

2. Employees feel valued and involved in the organisation

Studies show that many people who quit their jobs cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as their reason for leaving. Individuals’ sense of wellbeing is strongly linked to their sense of ownership of their work, and their belief that their viewpoint matters.

Regular one to ones between line managers and direct reports will maintain open lines of communication. These sessions represent an opportunity to both celebrate individual successes and to reflect on learning for the future, while larger scale, cross-business meetings offer opportunities for senior leadership and the business as a whole to actively involve staff in discussions and decisions that affect them.

3. Managers use appropriate health services to tackle absence and help people to get back to work

Where you are unable to point to suitable resources, or your direct report would be more comfortable discussing issues with someone else, make sure they have access to someone who will listen without judgement and who will be seen as there to support and help when needed. 

This could come in a number of forms, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with your organisation’s offer to its staff. There may be an employee helpline or counselling services available for them to access. Being knowledgeable about the organisation’s offer to its staff will help you provide the best possible support to your direct reports. For example, at CIPFA, we have an employee assistance helpline which offers staff free, confidential advice about a range of issues.

4. Managers promote an attendance culture by conducting return to work discussions

It is important that if staff are absent from work, there is a return to work interview carried out. This is an opportunity for managers and staff to explore whether any support or changes are needed for the employee as part of a supportive work environment.

5. Jobs are flexible and well-designed

Flexible workplaces are becoming a necessity for the modern workforce. A survey by the International Workplace Group at the start of this year found that 80% of people, when faced with two similar job offers, would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working. 85% said that their productivity had increased as a result of greater flexibility. 

Being able to accommodate flexible working arrangements, including adjustable working patterns, reduced or compressed hours, and working from home, can have a huge impact on how people feel about their jobs. Let staff work to live, rather than live to work! 

CIPFA offers home-working to staff as well as part-time and job sharing, which enables us to keep hold of good members of staff who need or want a change in their working pattern.

6. Managers know how to manage common health problems such as mental health and musculoskeletal disorders

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that 70% of work related illnesses are made up of musculoskeletal disorders, followed closely by stress, anxiety and depression. Such issues reduce productivity and can potentially lead to long-term absence. 

To support staff, working environments must be conducive to wellbeing. Ensure that appropriate lighting and equipment are provided. Encourage your team to take breaks away from their screens. Lead by example and make a point of not eating lunch at your desk!

And above all, be sure to promote the use of annual leave. The Office of National Statistics found that 23% of UK employees regularly check emails while on holiday due to concerns around getting behind. This is not conducive to a healthy work-life balance. Uninterrupted breaks are key to a refreshed and focused workforce.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Health and wellbeing can mean different things to different people, but managers are well placed to instigate cultural change. We are lucky that within CIPFA, we have a member of staff who is a qualified nutritionist and who runs events for staff where he shares his knowledge – perhaps you have resources in your own workplace who could help with something similar?

Safeguarding responsibilities around CIPFA’s levels 3, 4, and 7 apprentices is hugely important and all our training staff have received training on this, including how to identify vulnerable adults. We are working with our CIPFA South East Student Network to pilot some health and wellbeing activities and training with a view to making these more widely available.

So what are you waiting for? Help your staff, and help yourself, bring their best and whole selves to work each and every day.

This article first appeared in Public Finance.

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