11/09/2017 - 14:58

Workplace wellness and culture a virtuous circle

11/09/2017 - 14:58

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SPECIAL REPORT: Businesses in WA are working towards workplace culture and leadership styles that drive employee wellbeing and productivity.

Workplace wellness and culture a virtuous circle
Michael McNulty says flexibility and trust are two important qualities in the workplace. Photo: Attila Csaszar

An organisation’s culture affects the lives of its executives and employees every day – from the moment they step into the workplace (or in some cases upon waking) until the moment they go to sleep.

And although the uptake of yoga and meditation classes, relaxation initiatives, annual fitness programs and healthy habits in the office have increased in response to wellness trends, the workplace culture that executives and employees experience day to day is not always as closely monitored.

Business advisers spoken to by Business News emphasised the role of leaders in providing a positive workplace culture, both through their actions and by communicating with employees, to deliver wellness and productivity.

Bartlett Workplace chief executive Glen Bartlett, who provides legal advice and training services for workplace issues, said managers’ inability to effectively communicate with their staff was one of the most common issues he encountered.

“We promote our best operators into positions where they’re responsible for people, and we don’t train them or give them an induction or tools on how to treat people,” Mr Bartlett told Business News.

“A managing director I encountered was having an interview with a senior manager, who was a strong performer with a back problem, and he said, ‘Can I just lie down on the floor?’ and the MD said, ‘Yeah sure go ahead,’ and ran the meeting for another 31 minutes and then sacked him while he was lying on the floor.

“He didn’t say, ‘hey are you okay? Do you need some medical treatment? Should we have a short break and then we’ll reconvene?’”

It’s in these kinds of instances that a lack of people skills becomes a big problem, he said.

“The elephant in the room is investment in our management to manage people, that’s the biggest productivity issue,” Mr Bartlett said.

He said waiting for an annual appraisal to unload a year’s worth of feedback, or handballing issues to human resources should take a backseat to open communication and consistent feedback from leaders.

“It’s about creating the best environment for your people to develop and an environment where feedback around behaviour is a good thing,” Mr Bartlett said.

Glen Bartlett says managers need better people skills.

Companies could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees if they prioritised management training.

“An example is a partner who had a burnout was off on sick leave, at the suggestion of a staff partner, and the chairman just kept on writing him letters directing him to go and see a psych when they didn’t even know what the nature of the illness was,” Mr Bartlett said.

“I got involved and we settled that for a six-figure sum,” he added, saying that outcome could have been prevented if the parties had communicated.

Bartlett Workplace offers training workshops in Perth, Melbourne, Darwin and Adelaide that coach managers on dealing with everyday situations in addition to more difficult workplace issues.

Mr Bartlett said his training sessions included interactive role-playing and hypotheticals, placing leaders in uncomfortable positions that might come up at work – from basic issues like addressing tardiness to bigger problems, such as workplace bullying. 

Professional services firm Deloitte managing partner Michael McNulty told Business News a culture built on open communication was vital for a healthy workplace.

He said flexibility and trust were two of the qualities that he felt were the most important.

“When I do stuff with my kids I’m very open about it. If I go to a school play in the middle of the day, people know,” Mr McNulty said.

He said partners who stayed back at work because they wanted to be seen working late are setting a bad example and negatively affected workplace culture.

“If people need to go home at 3:30 in the afternoon it’s perfectly alright and they shouldn’t be going down the lift pretending to be going to a meeting,” Mr McNulty said.

“That’s the sort of culture that we’re trying to breed, (one) where people can be open.”

In a bid to drive wellness from new angles, Deloitte has engaged in Medibank’s self-assessment platform called Wellbeing@Work Index.

The Wellbeing@Work Index survey was distributed among Deloitte employees, focusing on the themes mind, body, purpose and place.

“(As a result) we’re doing walking meetings to get people out of the office; we’ve got sit-stand desks all around the office, and also providing education around the importance of getting the right amount of sleep,” Mr McNulty said.

Holding mental health awareness programs for partners, managers and directors to help them understand mental illness warning signs has been another of Deloitte’s initiatives to improve workplace culture.

“We’re not trying to create experts out of anyone but we’re just trying to be aware of, firstly, how prominent it is, and secondly, if you see someone you’re concerned about, the action you should take to get the right help,” Mr McNulty said.

KPMG partner in charge for people and change, Stefanie Bradley, said she worked with leaders to meet culture objectives and grow it through practice.

“What you have to be thinking about around creating a positive culture is to define what positivity means for the organisation,” Ms Bradley told Business News.

“We have a look at all the data from the typical indicators of retention and engagement, then use that data to look at things and (identify) deep-seated issues within the employee population,” she said.

“So what’s at the root that is causing problems around productivity or performance or engagement, and what are the various conventions we can put in place to manage those issues?

“And that could be training, it could be capability building, it could be designing forums to address some of those issues.”

Stefanie Bradley says it’s important to find the root causes of issues at work

Physical wellbeing

KPMG’s performance clinic works with leaders and teams to drive capability and ‘performance moments’ by aiming to balance stress and recovery.

Performance clinic chief operations officer, Jason Murray, said the clinic worked with heart rate variability software to monitor stress and recovery in relation to performance.

“If we’re going to work with an executive team, we’ll do a before-and-after shot, because what we want to do is have tangible, scientific, measurable results, that you can then link to a person’s strategy or individual performance to see the improvement,” Mr Murray told Business News.

“Nervous systems are actually in stress all day long, but you can switch that into recovery through breathing techniques, visualisation, increasing your sleep, your nutrition, your physical fitness, your mental state.”

Services provider Healthier Workplace WA put particular emphasis on the need for physical fitness and nutrition in the workplace.

The organisation’s chairman, Trevor Shilton, said engaging in workplace programs around physical wellbeing improved staff morale, retention, engagement and employees’ view of their employer as one of choice.

“We know that healthier workers see increased productivity of around 29 per cent, reduced sickness absence of around 21 per cent, reduced injury and improved overall health of around 24 per cent,” Mr Shilton told Business News.

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