I live and work in Wales and I’m proud it was Welshman Aneurin Bevan who helped introduce the NHS. But as we know, right now, the NHS is struggling with record waiting lists, and social care is in crisis too. We’re also living in a chaotic world going through a cost of living crisis, climate catastrophe and more, and we’ve just come through a traumatic pandemic, with millions fighting long Covid-19.
A cultural shift is taking place — cradle to grave care, which was promised 75 years ago, doesn’t exist like it was intended. As a result, individuals are increasingly taking responsibility for their own physical and mental health and wellbeing, as expectations of the state begin to change.
Because of this societal shift, I’ve been asking myself: do businesses need to step in more to care for their workforces where the state cannot?
Whilst I realise many in our industry are facing financial headwinds, where possible, it’s vital to offer health and wellbeing support. Employees spend so much of their lives at work, it’s almost an employer’s responsibility. It’s also a bottom line imperative — according to figures released last month, staff sick days are currently at their highest level in a decade, with workers getting poorer and sicker, costing the UK economy £43bn a year.
At Folk, we do our best to care: like many companies, we provide health insurance as part of our occupational health offering, so you can book GP or mental health professional appointments almost immediately. Of course, fewer staff sick days benefits your business, but caring in this way boosts retention, engagement and team happiness too. Often it’s the small gestures that make staff feel most cared for. We give an extra day off for every year worked for us as an anniversary thank you, plus little awards for jobs well done, like £50 for a takeaway or a haircut. When someone was going through a stressful time financially after being hit with an unexpected shock, we’ve topped their expenses card up with money to buy a big food shop. For a new parent we sent a cleaner. We even send little care packages or lunch to employees when they’re off ill.
Having a caring culture is crucial, and I believe the benefits far outweigh financial outlay
As a leader, I also believe self-care is essential to be able to care for my employees. The old adage about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others is more timely than ever. I know it can be easier said than done. Right now, my partner is immobile, laid up after a leg operation. So I’m working easily past 11pm, trying to look after him, caring for our young son, and running an agency. But I try to run on my treadmill for 20 minutes every other day or so. It’s insane how much better I feel and more able to cope with stress afterwards.
However, what really helps me, my employees and my business is flexibility — I truly believe hybrid working is vital when it comes to caring for employees.
We have a three days a week office-based policy, but we do have flexibility outside of this. Having flexibility and not always having to be in the office reduces a huge amount of stress and anxiety when it comes to the likes of tackling child care, looking after elderly relatives or ill family members, and gives staff greater autonomy when it comes to self-care, whatever that means to them. For example, some neurodivergent people might need to WFH to concentrate on some tasks, others prefer the office for their mental wellbeing. It’s never one-size-fits-all.
It’s important staff do come in some days though, as it’s hard to properly take care of them if they’re purely remote. And it’s hard to know if someone might be struggling if you only see them on a Teams call. To me, hybrid working is essential. There’s so much noise right now demanding people be back in the office 9-5, five days a week, and I think it’s totally misguided, not least in the current climate. It puts unnecessary pressure on people, which certainly isn’t caring.
So while you might not have the funds to finance a company wellness budget or health insurance, remember, it can be the little things that matter — and most importantly, for all the current bluster about back to the office, hybrid working can be the key to care.
Featured image: Alexander Suhorucov / Pexels