Six ways to improve employee wellbeing
Employee wellbeing is a key concern for human resource professionals more so than ever.
As Janice Benning, BiteSize Learning’s Wellbeing Lead explains “prevention is so much better than cure – while there are times when an employee needs to take time off, taking proactive steps to promote good mental wellbeing and prevent work-related stress is both ethical and makes commercial sense”.
Rising mental health issues
At some point in our lives, one in four of us are affected by mental health issues.
That moment hit for many during the last year. One in five adults in Britain experienced symptoms of depression in the early part of 2021 according to the Office For National Statistics. That’s more than double the figure observed before the pandemic.
Covid has left many people – particularly younger adults, women, people with disabilities and those who rent, feeling isolated and coping with extra pressures. Depending on the demographics in your organisation you may recognise patterns here.
The therapeutic benefits of the natural environment
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10 – 16 2021) was chosen because of its importance to our psychological and emotional health.
Findings from the Office for National Statistics suggest that interacting with nature positively supports our wellbeing. Around one in nine people surveyed by Natural England in May 2020 agreed natural spaces are good for mental health and wellbeing.
Research from the University of Derby suggests people who feel more connected to nature have greater eudaimonic wellbeing – a type of contentment that goes beyond feeling good to include personal growth, competence and meaningful purpose in life. Other studies have found the natural environment can promote cooperative behaviour and decrease impulsive decision making.
Janice Benning observes “spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional wellbeing. Over the last year lots of people have used walks and gardening as really successful coping strategies”.
Difficulties getting out into nature
Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to the greenspace. Some of the groups hardest hit by depression may also find it harder to access the natural environment. One in eight UK homes do not have a private garden with that figure rising to one in five in London where a higher percentage of young people and renters live. People with disabilities, whether they have a mobility issue or not, can face significant barriers to experiencing nature.
Some people have been reluctant to use public green spaces due to difficulty maintaining social distancing in overcrowded spaces and the risk of catching Covid – a major concern for those more vulnerable to Covid.
Six simple ideas to improve employee wellbeing
At BiteSize Learning we find that it is often easy to underestimate the importance of small changes. Here are some suggestions to support all employees with their mental health and wellbeing:
- Buy lots of small plants for the office or give employees a personal plant allowance for their workspace and team up with a supplier. A study found that just looking at a plant can help to improve mental health at work – researchers found that those with a small plant on their desk had lower levels of anxiety and stress after four weeks than the control group.
- Encourage employees to take walking meetings – you can either walk with others or take part in a remote meeting with a handheld device and data. One study found that even a walk in a park or any natural area outdoors can reduce signs of depression in the brain. Sunlight is also proven to boost mood and reduce depression and anxiety.
- Repurpose an outside space at the office – such as a roof space – use plants to create a natural environment for employees to eat lunch outside and socialise.
- Send employees a wellbeing pack including seeds and instructions for growing plants at home such as salad leaves or herbs in a small space such as a window box, plant pot or vertical planter.
- Signpost employees to the charity Mind’s resources to connect with nature. Ideas include listening to natural sounds such as recordings or apps that play birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall. This can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol which affects the body’s flight of fight response.
- Build employee engagement and wellbeing with a volunteering project. Contact conservation projects such as Groundwork, Wildlife Trusts, The Conservation Volunteers or find out whether there is a City Farm or Community Garden in your area that your business can support.