Improving, or protecting, employee wellbeing is a valuable goal in itself. Yet the evidence shows that there is a significant knock-on effect of treating your people well: it causes productivity to rise. Fostering a sense of belonging can also help keep businesses going during adversity. Focussing on workers’ wellbeing and thinking about the various ways in which better jobs can support employees to be satisfied, happy, with a sense of purpose and in good mental health, can in turn support the business itself.
Productivity was low even before COVID-19
The ONS revealed that over 80% of businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector and in the accommodation and food services sector had temporarily closed or paused trading during the period 23 March to 5 April 2020.
They also found that over 60% of all businesses that were continuing to trade saw their financial turnover lower than “normal”.
But even before the pandemic hit, the UK has been struggling with a productivity puzzle: despite increased work intensity compared to other European countries, productivity has stagnated since the 2008-2009 recession and has “failed to bounce back” to the 2% pre-recession growth rate.
Stalled productivity growth puts the breaks on employee wages, company profits and shareholder value, tax revenues for governments as well as the affordability and quality of products or services for consumers. In the public sector, productivity growth could enable more and better quality goods and services to be produced, without an increased cost to public finances.
Links between job quality, wellbeing, and productivity
While macro-level pressures are out of any one organisation’s control, the evidence suggests that productivity can be impacted by changes within workplaces, including through job design, flexible working arrangements and strengthening relationships with managers and colleagues.
It is likely that the strength of our social ties and social capital being activated throughout this crisis will be “the only thing that can mitigate the negative economic and health shocks that we’re seeing” according to Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the University of Oxford (also co-editor of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report).
Data collected before and after the 2008 recession, showed that workplaces that had been hit by the recession, but where employees had a strong sense of organisational identity, they were more than four times more likely to have withstood negative effects of recession on employee wellbeing than workplaces with a weak sense of identity and almost four times more likely to have maintained high levels of organisational performance.
There is a growing body of research suggesting a strong association between quality jobs and an organisation’s performance in the longer term.
For instance, the 2018 Global Happiness Policy Report asserts that workplace wellbeing is predictive of employee retention and customer loyalty. Businesses scoring in the top quartile on employee engagement achieve one and four percentage points higher profits and between 25% to 50% lower turnover than those in the bottom quartile.
Our factsheet for employers also identifies evidence which finds that higher investment in employee wellbeing can improve performance, creativity and reduce costs:
Organisations with high levels of employee wellbeing outperform the stock market by around 2-3% per year, over a 25-year period.
The average annual cost of absence and presenteeism due to ill health is around 8% of a company’s wage bill, and presenteeism costs the UK economy £15bn annually.
Organisations promoting health and wellbeing are seen as 3.5 times more likely to be creative and innovative.
What can you do?
Take a holistic approach to monitoring job quality. We are more productive at work when the various drivers of wellbeing at work are addressed simultaneously. This means having flexible working arrangements, job security, adequate physical environment, a decent pay, managerial and colleagues support, and so on.
During the pandemic, give special attention to building a sense of belonging and flexibility. “Priorities shift during crises”, says researcher Jan-Emmanuel De Neve at Oxford University, and we should be giving special attention to these fundamentally social aspects: “Belonging and flexibility are especially important for workers right now, and companies that prioritise these will see long-term advantages. Employers should use clear, open communication to keep workers informed and give them a sense of control and — whenever possible — they should find creative solutions to keep people in jobs.”
For a systematic measurement of wellbeing at work you can use our snapshot survey.