Manufacturers urged to boost investment in workforce wellbeing to reap productivity rewards

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Britain’s manufacturers are being urged to grasp the opportunity of greater investment in the wellbeing of their workforce and reap significant rewards of improved productivity and performance, according to a major survey and study.

The study and survey, published by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Westfield Health and carried out by the Institute of Employment Studies coincides with the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week. It shows that the overall mental health and wellbeing of employees is inextricably linked to motivation, engagement and performance in the workplace.

In particular, it shows that good wellbeing can bring significant benefit to those companies employing lean manufacturing processes, especially if the focus is on good mental health, resilience, autonomy and involvement at work. According to the study this can bring productivity improvements of up to 10%.

By contrast the study highlights that poor wellbeing can increase costs, reduce motivation and employee engagement and take up management time dealing with issues such as absence and occupational health costs.

Commenting Steve Jackson, Director of Health, Safety & Sustainability at EEF, said: “More and more companies are recognising the benefits and opportunities of promoting the wider wellbeing of their employees. This can being significant benefit to companies with employees who are better motivated and engaged.

“Giving employees support and a positive psychosocial work environment has a proven impact on productivity and means that employees who embrace the challenges and demands of work with more energy and commitment.”

Director of Wellbeing, Richard Holmes, of Westfield Health added: “Workplace-related stress, illnesses and mental health issues are becoming a bigger concern than ever. When workers’ minds aren’t completely on the job it can potentially lead to costly mistakes, accidents and health and safety risks.

“At Westfield health, we ‘believe in well beings’. When you believe in the physical and emotional wellbeing of your staff it can completely transform the face of your business, improve productivity and create a positive working environment. But it needs to start from the top down, business leaders need to create a culture where people’s health and wellbeing is prioritised.”

Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at the Institute for Employment Studies said: “This research shows that there is a clear business case for investing in workforce wellbeing. This goes beyond saving money and extends to issues of product quality and customer service too.”

According to the survey, manufacturers to date are continuing to address health and safety in a very traditional way. This leads to a focus on compliance, physical health, risk assessment and promoting good health and safety practice rather than addressing psychosocial and mental health factors, which can equally impact on employee performance.

80% of companies do see improving productivity as a reason for investing in wellbeing measures, but just 8% see it as the most important reason for doing so. Furthermore, fewer than a third of companies invest in healthy living programmes for their employees – this is despite evidence showing that employees in good health are up to three times more productive.

The survey also shows that whilst over 60% of companies carry out a physical risk intervention, just 15% currently assess work risk to mental health and only 1 in 5 invest in measures to promote mental health. Additionally, fewer than a third of companies engage in training managers in managing stress and just 1 in 5 companies are using well-known interventions such mental health first aid (MHFA) training.

According to EEF, the lack of attention to wellbeing and mental issues means that employers are missing out on potential opportunities and benefits of improving productivity and performance through good job design, positive mental health and supporting management in maximising the productivity benefits of ‘lean’ and other processes.

The study suggests three key areas where employers should focus to maximise the wellbeing of their employees and improve the psychosocial workplace environment:

  1. Job Design – Not only preventative in promoting health but employees in jobs that allow control, autonomy and a degree of discretion over what they do tend to be more engaged and productive.
  2. Employee Involvement – Research has shown that workplaces with high degrees of employee involvement tend to be more high performing. High levels of work involvement and collective decision making promotes positive mental health, even in pressurised environments.
  3. Employee Engagement – This is both with the organisation and its values, as well as the job itself. There is a strong correlation between high levels of psychological wellbeing at work, high levels of engagement and higher performance and productivity.