As if we needed more proof of how important physical and mental health is for staff, the recent crisis further highlighted this reality as employees struggled to remain flexible, withstand pressure and work remotely. As if we needed more proof of how important physical and mental health is for staff, the recent crisis further highlighted this reality as employees struggled to remain flexible, withstand pressure and work remotely.
Recent studies indicate that, in France, an employee that is fulfilled is an employee that is less frequently absent and sick, while also being more motivated, efficient, creative and loyal.
Nevertheless, although it might be easy for a company to recognise the importance of human capital, it is not so obvious to know how to take care of it.
How can the concept of well-being at work be understood in all its complexity? What are the associated indicators and how can it be practically managed? How can it be reconciled with the company’s performance? What are the impacts in terms of management?
To better understand the impact of well-being at work, we spoke with Almudena Cañibano, whose research focuses on the effects of the new working methods on workers’ well-being. You can read the complete interview in the latest Executive Education white paper “Well-being at work: why has it become the strategic issue for companies?”. What follows are excerpts from this conversation.
Associate Professor of Managementat ESCP Business School
How do you define well-being at work?
Almudena Cañibano: The concept has evolved over time and changed as interest in the topic has grown. Historically, the idea of well-being at work was limited to the absence of ill-being. In the late 1950s, the World Health Organization transitioned from defining it as the absence of disease or infirmity, instead referring to a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being. This comprehensive definition offers a vision of health–including at work–in all its forms, yet it is also very broad and demanding: who can claim to have achieved this absolute level of fulfilment?
There is no doubt that this is a major challenge in human resources management – in terms of both recruitment and team performance – yet we do not know how to fully measure it. It is fairly easy to calculate the costs of ill-being in terms of absences, turnover, sick leave and accidents. For example, the cost of accidents at work and occupational diseases is estimated at €2.68 trillion worldwide and €476 billion in Europe.
Recent research shows that human resource practices focused on well-being are linked to individual performance because they influence employee happiness and confidence.
What advice do you give to companies and managers facing ill-being among their teams and who want to improve their well-being?
One effective tool is […] the analysis of demands and resources, then the efforts to balance them. I witnessed the practical application of this model at the consulting firm I studied. The firm was facing a turnover problem in some of its teams.
A design thinking programme helped the firm better understand the teams’ demands and needs and create appropriate solutions. It is often important to focus on leadership as well, not to mention toxic management, which sometimes exists. A team leader may be mismanaging resources or placing too many demands on employees. This leads to an imbalance, which is a source of ill-being.
In general, I believe it is important for executive management training to include modules on well-being at work
How is well-being affected by new working arrangements, like flexibility and remote work?
I have studied these phenomena very closely, and they are complex and even paradoxical because they are dependent on the employees’ perceptions based on the context of the company and its discourse. Remote work can be experienced as a positive opportunity or might generate anxiety if perceived as a means of adapting to a crisis–which was the case during the financial crisis in Spain.
Flexibility is generally experienced in a paradoxical way because it is understood as both an advantage (or inducement), since the company is trusting their employees and granting autonomy, and as a contribution since they must be more flexible and available, including outside working hours.
[…] Regarding flexibility, we also know that it can have different repercussions depending on its nature: workers who report a high level of formal flexibility and a low level of informal flexibility have a lower level of well-being than those who benefit from low informal flexibility but high formal flexibility.