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ThinkFM 2016: Why wellbeing is now vital

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Photography: Carmen Valino

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10 June 2016 | FM World team


Dr Jill Miller, research adviser, CIPD


Setting an aspirational agenda for wellbeing that’s good for employees and for business


11:35-12:05



Work, the workplace, and the workforce are going through a period of drastic, rapid change. 


Jill Miller began her address by outlining the role technology has had in disrupting many areas of society, culture and commerce. 


Automation is increasing, with the very idea of drones delivering presents or lorries driving themselves seen as science fiction only a few years ago.


In terms of our expectations for work, Dr Miller quoted CIPD CEO Peter Cheese as saying that today we don’t necessarily have a job for life, but rather a life of jobs. This stands in sharp contrast to the workforce of the 20th century. Fewer people now have traditional 9-5 jobs, with roles often spread globally across different time zones. 


The make-up of the workforce has also changed significantly. Today, as many as four generations working side by side. It’s a complex, shifting landscape that represents a huge challenge for employers, added to which are the needs of those with parental responsibilities and the many workers caring for children and elderly relations – the so-called ‘sandwich generation’. The question is: how do we design in the flexibility to cater for these changes?


Miller discussed the idea of ‘Uberconnectedness’ which implies that however much intelligence we have in our heads, we can create far more thought power when our ideas and thoughts are combined with those of others.


But ‘Uberconnectedness’ has led to our being constantly switched on, which undoubtedly has implications for wellbeing. Indeed, some organisations are deciding to switch off their servers overnight or at weekends. 


The question comes down to how we balance the needs of the employee versus the needs of the organisation. This is not simply a HR issue – it’s a question affecting the entire business. 


Stress-related absences are on the rise and reported mental health problems rose from 21 per cent to 41 per cent in 2009. This latter figure may be influenced by the fact that, as a society, we are now better at talking about mental health. But increases in the volume of work and changing management styles cannot be ignored. 


Around this issue, terms like ‘presenteeism,’ and ‘leaveism’ have emerged, describing the tendency for overworked employees to work outside of office hours, and take leave in order to keep up with work. 


So what does a healthy workplace look like? Firstly, there’s a major difference between wellbeing policies that are bolted-on to the ordinary working practices of an organisation, as opposed to being embedded within them. 


Employees themselves may not be aware of, or choose to ignore, unfair or over-demanding working practices, if they are compensated for them. (For example, if late workers are eligible for free pizza, they may not question why they are working late so often.)


Dr Miller suggested practical solutions, such as providing an employee assistance helpline phone system. 



Summary

  • Wellbeing at work is a complex challenge, but sensible and flexible policies are the key to success.
  • It is FM, HR and IT’s job to work with organisation leadership to look after wellbeing.