Nic Marks: Improve employees’ wellbeing and prosper

Improving employees’ wellbeing sounds like a good idea, but how many organisations see it as important? Why does wellbeing matter? Perhaps the best place to start is with a clear definition of what is really meant by wellbeing. I describe it as “people’s experience of the quality of their lives” — a broad definition, but one grounded in individuals’ actual experiences.

Low levels of wellbeing are expensive. The CBI/Axa Absence and labour turnover survey 2008 estimates that each year sickness absence costs an organisation more than £500 per employee in lost productivity and knock-on effects such as customer satisfaction and team morale. Many of these days are lost as a direct result of low wellbeing. Stress-related illnesses are now cited as a major cause of the 40 million working hours lost in the UK every year.

The cost of staff recruitment can also be related to low wellbeing. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Recruitment, retention and turnover survey (June 2007) estimates that the direct costs are between £2,000 and £5,000 per position, but that fails to account for the hidden costs of employing a temp, loss of productivity, and the time taken for a new employee to get up to speed, all adding up to, on average, a further £10,000.

A positive atmosphere at work creates high performance. High-performing teams are characterised by positive, inquiring and supportive atmospheres where team members are able to co-operate in a mutually beneficial way.

Creating good places to work has been an aim for many organisations for a long time, but the reality is often that these softer issues are squeezed out by hard data on the bottom line. To address this need for hard data on what have previously been categorised as soft issues, we are developing wellbeing-at-work audit tools. These will provide feedback based on real data that will enable employers to build on internal good practice and to address negative trends. To really liberate the potential in an organisation, we would recommend this information is not trapped at the centre of the organisation but is used to create a feedback loop at team level, so creating a genuine learning organisation.

Nic Marks, founder of the Centre for Well-being at The New Economics Foundation