Prioritising employee wellbeing

Although today is Workplace Wellbeing Day, Dr Karen O’Connor from Datapac, says workers’ wellbeing should be a priority all year round.

Workplace wellbeing is becoming increasingly important to the growth and success of organisations of all sizes, across all industries. It encompasses all aspects of working life, from how people feel about their work to their mental and emotional health in the workplace.

Today (28 April)  marks Ibec’s 9th annual Workplace Wellbeing Day and in reflecting on the day’s theme we are reminded of the responsibility that employers have in nurturing a culture that fosters a supportive modern workplace.

“Regardless of where an organisation is in its wellbeing journey, listening to the needs and wants of employees is critical”

It is a time for organisations to take stock, introspectively reflect, and examine the needs of their employees, while identifying opportunities to create a more fulfilling, productive, and harmonious environment. Although a vital opportunity to raise awareness for an important concept, it’s vital for employers to view workplace wellbeing as far more than a one-day event.

As any organisation with a longer, more established heritage can attest, many trends and technologies will come and go over the years and decades. There is only one constant – it is people who are responsible for driving continual success, improvement and evolution. To that end, the conversation around employee wellbeing needs to go beyond just policies and procedures and actually address the wellbeing of people, as the individuals they are.

Addressing the fundamentals

Taking a step back to evaluate and improve basic workplace practices, many of which are already statutory, can have a profound effect on the overall well-being and satisfaction of an organisation’s team members. It is crucial to examine whether people are able to fully disconnect from work outside of their regular hours. This includes assessing if they are working excessively long hours, and whether they feel the need to be reachable during their time off, such as while on annual leave.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is a must for creating a positive workplace that prioritises well-being, as it ensures that people are still able to give their energy to their personal lives and interests.

Communication and Culture 

Wellbeing cannot operate to effectively enhance the lives of people if it is merely bolted on as a box-ticking afterthought. It needs to be baked into the very culture, values and ethos of how the organisation operates. Communication is key; team members need to know that they are just that: a valued member of the team, and as such should feel encouraged to seek help and support to overcome any obstacles they encounter while traversing life’s path. This is particularly pertinent to today’s worker who is tasked with evolving in-line with the rapid pace change in technology, innovation and the modern workplace. As contemporary working arrangements, such as remote and hybrid work, continue to cement themselves as the norm, maintaining team spirit and a real shared comradery is perhaps more important than ever to ward off feelings of isolation and enhance wellbeing.

Total life enhancement

Ensuring the wellbeing of an organisation’s team members cannot start and end with the work day. People live full, rich, diverse and often complex lives, of which their employment plays just one part. Employee wellbeing needs to recognise this reality and support the lives of people in totality, not just from nine to five. A person’s connection to their friends, family and the broader community plays such a tremendous role in their life, and employee wellbeing must take this aspect of total life enhancement into full consideration.

Over the past number of years, many people have struggled with rebuilding connections to their communities, connections which may have been damaged over the course of the pandemic. As a step towards tackling this challenge, last year we launched our Community Contribution Initiative (CCI), which gives our team members the freedom and peace of mind to give back to the communities, causes and charitable organisations that matter to them through the provision of an additional three paid days leave per year for this purpose.

Some organisations, including Datapac, have instituted Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which must be designed with the goal of delivering best-in-class support to the organisation’s team members, irrespective of their location and circumstances. EAPs can provide free, round-the-clock, confidential counselling and supports to help people tackle their individual challenges. These programmes also equip those in leadership positions with the tools they need to support their teams. Managers often find themselves in unchartered waters, dealing with issues outside of both their expertise and comfort zone, and they too need to be supported. By investing in these initiatives, employers can work to proactively have a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, as opposed to trying to resolve an issue that has already occurred.

True assistance can only be provided by addressing an individual’s needs holistically, beyond just the scope of their employment, and so should be made available not only to the employee themselves but also their family members.

It is vital to normalise and encourage the concept of taking mental health days as a regular practice, rather than limiting them to a set number of days. Every employee has their own unique life experiences and personal challenges outside of work, and their mental health needs may vary from person to person. As such, the approach to mental health in the workplace should be personalised and reflective of each team member’s individual needs.

Going above and beyond

While it’s important for organisations to have more formalised wellbeing initiatives in place, indeed in Datapac we only continue to expand our own growing range of formal supports available, these can’t be where the buck stops in terms of offering valuable support to those who need it. Employers must compassionately empathise with the individual needs of the people who add so much value to the organisation, and take each request for support on a case-by-case basis. No two people are alike, so trying to encompass the multitude of scenarios and challenges that accompany the human condition into one of a few pre-determined initiatives isn’t enough.

To combat the stressors people face on a daily basis, be it through an individual’s personal or professional life, employers must go beyond both the base statutory requirements and official company policy, treating each case with the dignity, respect and attention it deserves. Some organisations will have detailed and documented rules and procedures outlining exactly what support should be given in a multitude of scenarios – bereavement leave, mental health leave, additional assistance to support fertility or menopause issues etc. However, if the approved support options available is limited to say an additional five days leave per year, one has to question the validity of the approach as a means to genuinely help people.

In Datapac, we actively foster a culture of trust and approachability to ensure people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. We can then tailor the support offered in a way to ensure that it actually helps, rather than meeting a base policy requirement.

Listening to people

Regardless of where an organisation is in its wellbeing journey, listening to the needs and wants of employees is critical. By regularly checking in with people and sincerely seeking their feedback, employers can create a sense of ownership and engagement among their team members.

In Datapac, we’ve just launched our Wellbeing Calendar. This initiative embodies a tangible representation of our year-round commitment to supporting our team members’ wellbeing every day of the year through a range of events, activities, and initiatives that are designed to promote wellness both internally and externally in the community. Wellbeing Calendar events will be driven by a volunteer representative committee of employees, ensuring that they are relevant, effective and impactful.

National Workplace Wellbeing Day serves as a valuable reminder for businesses to prioritise employee well-being. However, it is essential to recognise that wellbeing is not a one-time event but a continuous process that should be woven into the fabric of an organisation. It must be viewed as a fundamental component of any business strategy, rather than a once-a-year initiative. By embedding wellbeing into an organisation’s very culture, employers can create an environment that fosters employee well-being and encourages people to thrive both personally and professionally.

Dr Karen O’Connor
Dr Karen O’Connor is General Manager at Datapac, Ireland’s leading technology solutions and services provider. Karen has strategic and commercial responsibility for the ICT Services and Solutions business within the company.