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Paul Corris, a Senior Associate in the Employment team at international law firm DAC Beachcroft, looks at how businesses can deliver a wellbeing culture. This article first appeared in Business Insider North West, October 2022 edition.
Prioritising health, safety and wellbeing are central to the creation of a well-being culture, bringing benefits to employer and employee. Evidence shows that businesses who think about and engage with their employees can benefit from improved attendance, productivity, performance and retention – not to mention reducing their risk of claims and regulatory intervention. Neglect of well-being can not only result in employee absence and resignation; businesses can also face claims of constructive dismissal, discrimination and whistleblowing, as well as seeing higher levels of accidents, industrial diseases and personal injury. In some cases, businesses can also be prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive, with the added risk of fines and criminal liability – and, in the worst cases, imprisonment of senior management and directors.
Simply paying lip service, following competitors, or doing what customers and investors expect, is not enough. Now more than ever businesses need to live and breathe their values and culture – and that must come from the top. A suite of comprehensive employment policies and meaningful communication are fundamental to the creation of a well-being culture.
Businesses with five or more employees are legally obliged to have a written health and safety policy, but other policies will undoubtedly include: dignity at work; equal opportunities; bullying and harassment; grievances; and whistleblowing. Policies on staff benefits, such as holidays, family leave, medical cover, and income protection should also be included. Increasingly, we are also seeing policies covering work related stress, home working, menopause and general wellbeing. This recognises that employees need to know that they are safe as well as valued.
The HSE sees “involvement / communication” and “effective role modelling” as the two pillars of good policy. They then encourage: building and promoting a shared vision; being considerate and responsive; providing support and recognition; promoting fairness and trust; and encouraging improvement, innovation and learning. That can apply to all policies.
Involving employees in policy-making is invaluable, through employee forums, health and safety committees or union representatives. Meaningful consultation can also reduce any adverse impact of change, making people feel more in control, reducing stress and increasing commitment. Taking external advice and nominating senior business figures to lead on / take ownership of the policies can also show employees the importance of the relevant policies.
Once approved, effective communication is vital. Policies should be shared with employees in a considered way, including education around standards and expectations and why they are important, rather than simply uploading them to the intranet without introduction or fanfare. It is then incredibly important that all levels of management, from the top to first line managers know and (are seen to) live by the policies, and deal properly with breaches. Keeping new systems under review, being receptive to feedback and having the agility to adapt will help keep the approach relevant and effective.
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