Wellbeing in the Workplace

My Grandfather once gave me some advice as I proudly told him I had become a manager for the first time, in my burgeoning fundraising career with the RNLI.  “Always focus on happy staff, as that will give you happy suppliers and happy customers”.  Now, my Grandfather was an insurance underwriter and, as a cocksure twenty something, I thanked him for his advice, lodged it somewhere in the back of my brain and embarked on my exciting fundraising career.

But his advice has recently dislodged itself from far recesses and got me thinking.  Is our brilliant charity sector currently doing enough on its focus on ‘happy staff’?

Wellbeing is an oft used phrase in the sector.  Indeed, it is the primary purpose for many in delivering public benefit and we’re good at shouting loud and celebrating it.  The Annual GSK IMPACT Award for improving health and wellbeing in communities is a celebrated example of how we recognise brilliant organisations.

And employee wellbeing and mental health issues are definitely high on the wider UK plc’s agenda.  For good reason.  A 2016 CIPD survey reported that 31% of employees stated that they had experienced mental health issues in the workplace. The Centre for Mental Health calculated in 2017 that stress and poor mental health costs UK businesses £34.9 billion – that’s £1,300 for every employee in the UK workforce.   There have been emotional debates in the House of Commons on mental health, Royals and celebrities alike speak publicly and clearly on the issue.

There is a compelling reason to get staff wellbeing right.  Research from Soma Analytics in 2017 reported that FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%.

So is the charity sector doing enough to support its own workforce in being well?  The sector is currently facing a triple whammy of stressful matters.  Public trust is under scrutiny.  GDPR and data issues are being grappled with.  And fundraising pressure is mounting all the time.  Any one of these issues brings more pressure to bear.  Dealing with all three at once is a real challenge to any employee.

Mind, the national charity for better mental health, has committed to publishing an annual Workplace Wellbeing Index.  For its 2016/2017 report, 30 organisations, representing 15,000 staff, took part.  Four organisations were from the charity sector.  The report clearly highlights the importance of organisations to focus time, effort and resources on improving workforce wellbeing.  Not enough is being done.  But delve into the detail and there are some worrying facts for the charity sector.

56% of the charity sector workforce said they felt that their colleagues had a good awareness of mental health issues, as opposed to only 26% in the private sector.  Not surprising perhaps for a sector that does so much in its work to address wellbeing for its beneficiaries.

Yet when it comes to describing the actions and policies organisations are putting in place, the charity sector is seemingly falling behind private and public sectors.  The Mind Wellbeing Index reported that only two in five organisations reported having a staff wellbeing or mental health policy in place – but none of the charity sector organisations did.

Voluntary sector employees who had disclosed a mental health problem and asked for support tools were less likely to be offered any adjustments (47% compared to 57%) in both private and public sector organisations.  Charity employees were also least satisfied with their physical working environment compared to private or public sector colleagues.

The Mind Report makes a clear recommendation for the charity sector: “Public and voluntary sector organisations, along with medium and smaller organisations, could benefit from putting in place some cost-effective wellbeing initiatives to support their staff.”

For a sector that is so focused on the wellbeing of its beneficiaries, it’s a worry that we are potentially falling behind the private and public sectors.  It should be entirely possible for charities to lead the charge.  It’s in our DNA.  The evidence is there on the importance of ‘happy staff’.

A happy charity sector workforce will, ultimately, improve our sector’s outcomes.