Staff wellbeing: crucial to increasing productivity


Alice doesn’t feel the same way about work anymore. Something’s changed. She used to approach it with a vocational spirit. She’d happily
do extra hours because she believed in what they were doing as an organisation. They were in this together.

But now things are different. A new management structure has made her voiceless and depressed. Decisions she was once part of are taken behind her back. And the result? Discretionary effort – going the extra mile, working beyond contractual obligation – has been withdrawn. The goodwill has gone. Alice takes more sick days now.

This situation, replicated in thousands of other employees, is costly for business across the country. Productivity in the UK is famously poor. And now companies may use the cost of the pandemic to reduce support further.

The Numbers

According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2019, people took off 17.9 million days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression – a record level of absenteeism. 

This is up 3 million on 2013 when a BUPA report said that failure to unlock employees’ ‘discretionary efforts’ cut a potential £6bn from the UK economy in 2012. Yet some people still think caring about staff is ‘the soft stuff’.

There’s no one simple answer to loss of motivation because there’s no one simple cause. Everyone in business knows the debilitating effect of poor management on a workforce. This is crucial.

Then there’s the widespread disillusionment with the present economic climate in which the rich seem to be getting richer, (especially, some say, if they have friends in government) and the poor, poorer. 

Pay differentials are now worse than in Victorian England and cynicism in the work place is an insidious force. What can follow in companies is the withdrawal of optional extra effort: ‘Why should I pay for my bosses new boat?’

What is there to be done?

But if there’s no one simple solution, clearly a little happiness helps. A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness in the workplace led to a 12 per cent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10 per cent less productive. That adds up to 22 per cent productivity difference.

As the research team put it: ‘We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity’.

It’s not rocket science. Yet how many companies regard a commitment to wellbeing as a reluctant doff of the cap to some passing fad – rather than a serious investment in the future?

In my work I encounter stressed managers in the struggling hospitality trade; shattered morale among teachers; weary doctors and nurses; pressured recruitment consultants trying to seal the deal; commission-only phone operatives who can work a day and earn nothing. Their emotional well-being is not a luxury, it’s the energy from which they’re able to perform – or not.

And well-being is measurable beyond people subjectively feeling better.

The benefits of emotional wellbeing.

Jutta Tobias from the Cranfield University School of Management says this: ‘If you were to practice mindfulness for a couple of minutes right now, and a medical doctor had taken your blood pressure pre and post this short practice, your blood pressure would probably be measurably reduced after.’ A good exercise for any decision-maker surely?

Both staff retention and absenteeism are live issues for business today: according to Investors in People, 57 per cent of the work force plan to leave their jobs this year.

How will companies hold on to the staff they want to retain? Simple – by looking after them. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence estimates that an average company with a thousand employees saves £250,000 per year by engaging with employee wellbeing.

So will the number crunchers now accept it makes financial sense to care about employees’ happiness, and treat them with respect?

It’s a question worth asking in every place of work.