The link between employee wellbeing and performance

The link between employee wellbeing and performance

Employers are increasingly turning their focus towards wellbeing in the workplace as a key driver in improving company culture. It’s becoming clearer that a healthy and happy workforce is more productive, motivated and engaged – ultimately leading to organisational success.

Business goals and demands are also driving a significant change in the approach to performance – no longer do we rely on the old school annual appraisal to get the most from our employees. But what exactly is performance and how can we achieve high performance alongside business success?

What is performance?

In the business world, performance is often referred to as ‘task performance’ or ‘proficiency’. These definitions solely focus how effective an employee is at their job and whether they are meeting the organisation’s objectives. In reality, performance encompasses much more than just how well an employee performs in their role.

It’s important to note that success and high performance don’t necessarily mean the same thing. We see high performing employees as demonstrating other valuable behaviours which aren’t always directly related to task performance outcomes. These behaviours include adaptability, innovativeness, proactivity, work quality, technical competence and participation in learning.

This means that high performance isn’t automatically achieved by being successful and meeting organisational targets. High performance requires hard work, discipline, focus and sacrifice at individual level – it’s not just a straight forward fix from HR by implementing a strategy.

So how can we encourage employees to become high performers? The truth is not everybody is willing to put in the necessary extra hard work to deliver high performance, but we can make a positive difference by supporting employee health and wellbeing.

What is wellbeing in the workplace?

Wellbeing can cover many aspects of the way people feel about their lives, which includes their job and relationships with those around them. There are of course many other factors outside of work which influence an individual’s wellbeing, such as their character, and their home and social lives.

However, we spend the majority of our time in the workplace, so businesses need to create an environment where people are educated and encouraged to make better lifestyle choices. Encouraging healthier behaviours empowers your people to be the best they can be, which will help them and your business perform better.

Company culture and the way that an organisation is run can also have a huge impact on employee wellbeing. Creating a culture of wellbeing is much more than just providing free fruit and a discounted gym membership. It’s not just a box ticking exercise – all elements of employee wellbeing must be taken into account, including mental health and the emotional side of wellbeing - not just the physical.

A genuine workplace wellbeing strategy will only work if the precedent is set from the top down. Starting with just simple actions, such as ensuring employees stick to healthy working hours and encouraging staff to take lunch away from their desks can make a big difference. It’s also important to raise the profile of mental health within the workplace and to promote an open door policy so that employees feel comfortable enough to speak out.

By implementing a strategy that puts health and wellbeing at the centre you have the potential to influence the wellbeing of your staff. Wherever you are able to make a healthy difference to the wellbeing of employees, you are also likely to see improvements in performance.

What’s the link between wellbeing and performance?

High performance is beneficial to everybody within the organisation, and wellbeing is essential for it to happen. It’s also important to reduce or eliminate factors that can negatively affect wellbeing, such as burnout and high job demands.

Workplaces are social environments where employees interact, so the wellbeing of one member of staff can easily produce a knock on effect. This means that not only does wellbeing affect an individual’s performance, it can also affect the performance of colleagues around them.

However, research conducted by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in 2014 suggested that high levels of wellbeing amongst some employees doesn’t always cancel out low levels of wellbeing amongst others, so taking steps towards avoiding low levels of wellbeing amongst all staff is more important than trying to achieve higher, but dispersed, average levels of wellbeing.

So whilst it’s unrealistic to assume things will change overnight, making ‘marginal gains’ by gradually improving small aspects of the health and wellbeing of all employees will contribute to increased overall performance levels over time.

What else can be done to improve human performance at work?

In the workplace, being able to effectively manage performance also has huge potential as a tool to improve employee wellbeing. If employees feel comfortable, are able to be open and honest, and know they have access to the right support, they are much more likely to achieve great things.

Regular catch ups between line managers and employees are important. They give staff a voice and help to make conversations about work-life balance, stress and mental health easier. As previously mentioned, openness and honesty is key to success.

To find out more on implementing an effective health and wellbeing strategy, download our free Health & Wellbeing Toolkit, which contains all the information you need to start creating your company's strategy, featuring help and advice on everything from building the business case and exploring supplier options, to implementing and evaluating the process.

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Rick Haslam 28 Jan 2019

Great article Donna!