Paying attention to your staff and your self is the best way to pay attention to your business. This was the key message to emerge from a week of mindfulness and wellbeing at The Supper Club.
This week saw both our inaugural Founders' Retreat, at the wonderfully restful Birch in Hertfordshire, and an online learning session on employee wellbeing strategies. The key messages to emerge from this week of wellbeing were that, because we are all different, with unique demands in terms of our mental and physical wellbeing, the only real rule in terms of effective wellbeing offerings is that there are no rules.
Flexibility is the watchword, especially when it comes to looking after the needs of a team. The effects of the last 18 months are being felt across all age groups and demographics, with an increase in cases of stress, anxiety, isolation, depression and a host of other mental health issues. The challenge for business founders is to acknowledge these growing threats to wellbeing and to offer meaningful solutions. That may be traditional employee benefits, such as health insurance or employee assistance programmes (EAPs), or more digital offerings, such as apps and subscription-based services.
At our event to discuss employee wellbeing members spoke about various tools, tricks and tips they are deploying to counter this potential wave of mental and physical health issues. The discussion covered possible strategies and tactics for boosting wellbeing and some of the challenges in implementation.
One point that came across clearly was that this can't be done in a half-hearted way. It touches on fundamental aspects of the psychological contract between employer and employee that wellbeing policies will have a huge impact - both positive and negative.
Participants shared the difficulties of maintaining strong connections and morale during lockdown. For one member, whose company has expanded throughout the pandemic, there is a whole new team that have hardly ever (or never) met one another. While there is a wide array of virtual pizza nights, quizzes and other online social activities on offer, there's a danger in trying to fix Zoom fatigue through more Zoom-based activities.
Other members spoke about the positive impacts of a wide range of wellbeing tactics and benefits including:
An annual £500 wellbeing bonus: A bonus or voucher employees can spend how they like (within a certain framework) to boost wellbeing. This may be a gym membership, cookery classes or a new bike.
Mindfulness Mondays: Time allocated for employees to stop and take stock and enjoy some calm time.
App subscriptions: Plenty of participants spoke of providing employees with access to apps, ranging from special wellbeing apps (such as Calm.com) through to wider applications (such as Audible.com or Masterclass.com). The costs vary a lot, from a few pounds a month to hundreds of pounds, and take-up was mixed. Some had given up, others found it went down well.
Health insurance or a health cash plan: Many were either already offering such support or were about to. All agreed that keeping employees fit, positive and mentally strong in all aspects of their life was good for them as employers.
The group agreed that wellbeing is an important part of the employee benefits function. Keeping staff engaged and happy is essential in having a productive and profitable business. This is even more important with remote or hybrid teams, who rarely get together in person.
The wellbeing of business owners and founders - often feeling isolated at the top of the company - was the focus for our retreat. And here much of the discussion covered similar ground, but amplified by the fact that many founders feel responsible for the pressure and stress of their teams. Alongside looking after their own wellbeing - and often instead of looking after themselves - they want to look after their teams.
But without the founders being 100% fit and ready for anything, the business is less likely to fire on all cylinders. Teams rely on leaders and leaders set the tone, not only in being able to admit the need to take time out
All founders this week agreed that while already important, wellbeing will become an even more significant factor in the battle to recruit and retain key talent. And a ever more complex range of wellbeing benefits will become accepted and expected as standard in reward and incentive packages.
The biggest lesson from the group was that, like most successful benefits and activities, there is no substitute for listening to employees, understanding what they want, delivering a package flexible enough to meet the needs of most people and crucially remembering to communicate the benefits. Following up to see what's worked and keeping a close eye on take-up is also crucial to knowing if the benefits have landed as hoped.
Wellbeing strategies require a more flexible approach to reward and benefits. A one-size- fits-all offering won't cut it for long when it comes to something as diverse and complex as employee wellbeing.