Nobody questions the case for rigorous health and safety in manufacturing – it is the right thing to do ethically, legally and for the bottom line. Less understood or appreciated, but nevertheless a related concept, is the idea of employee ‘wellbeing’ at work.
CEO of EEF, Stephen Phipson examines the case for a holistic approach to employee wellbeing.
The UK has a longstanding productivity puzzle. While a number of issues, such as investment, technology, innovation and skills have been cited as both part of the problem and part of the solution to improving the UK’s manufacturing competitiveness, the extent to which the wellbeing, health and safety of the manufacturing workforce is a barrier or enabler is largely unknown.
Although there is an increasing volume of data and insight into the impact of health and safety on business, much is concerned with safety, risk management and compliance; driven from the perspective of sickness absence for example.
Our recent report with Westfield Health shows that almost two-thirds of manufacturers intervene to assess the risk of physical injury and to promote better physical safety.
In contrast, however, fewer than 15% assess the risk that work will damage mental health and only a fifth invest in measures to promote mental health, a factor which studies have suggested can influence productivity by as much as 20%.
Wellbeing makes business sense
For manufacturers, the business case for supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce is becoming clearer as research suggests that health and wellbeing is a key ingredient for productivity gains.
Studies in lean production manufacturing environments show that significant productivity improvements can be generated, even in demanding environments, if adequate resources and support are made available to employees, including those which pay sufficient attention to the promotion of positive mental health, emotional wellbeing and employee engagement.
This article first appeared in the July/August issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
By investing in such practices, more and more employers are recognising that if they want employees to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work and exert maximum effort, energy, vitality and creativity in their jobs, then spending time and effort on this often-overlooked area can bring significant rewards.
This goes beyond the aim of protecting the physical health and safety of employees – it brings business rewards in terms of a better-motivated workforce, fostering one that is more resilient and adaptable to change, and which is likely to be more engaged with the priorities of the business.
Employee wellbeing can be achieved in a number of ways, from providing facilities which actively encourage employees to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and access occupational health checks, through to more business- and role-related issues.
Examples include: job design, delegated authority to make decisions and act autonomously, communication of, and involvement in, business objectives and a culture that creates an overall positive psychosocial work environment.
The concept of ‘wellbeing’ is a relatively new idea for many firms and, while it has several overlaps with the more familiar health and safety disciplines and practices, it has some important additional dimensions which relate to the physical, emotional and mental states of employees, both at work and outside of work.
This makes wellbeing a much more holistic idea and one which should be seen as being complementary to health and safety rather than an alternative to it.