Kelly Feehan, Service Director, CABA, compiles her thoughts on what the workplace wellbeing trends in 2019 may look like and why employers need to consider them seriously
Believe it or not, another year is about to end. As we think back over what’s happened in 2018, it’s clear that employee wellbeing has been one of the trends dominating the headlines – from the state of the nation’s mental health through to whether working whilst commuting should be counted towards an employee’s working hours. Following what we’ve seen this year, we’ve compiled our thoughts on what we think will be the major workplace wellbeing trends for 2019, and why employers should think about them seriously.
The evolution of the working week
Since the Industrial Revolution, 1 workplace trend has remained an almost constant – working 9-5, 5 days a week. Granted this is not the case for everyone, but for the majority of employees, this is stipulated in their employment contracts. However, is this going to change? Increasingly we are hearing calls for a shift to a 4-day week, to allow employees more time to relax and recharge as the pressures and strains of work become more intense.
The TUC recently called for this change to best benefit workers, and in New Zealand, a trial was carried out to test if employees reacted better to working a shorter week. The results? Work was completed, and both teamwork and engagement increased. It wasn’t all plain sailing – some employees had to revert back to a 5-day week during a busy period and whilst the quality of work didn’t drop, it didn’t improve either.
So, it may not yet be the productivity fixer we’re all craving, but it could be a way to engage employees and encourage a more rested, relaxed workplace. And this was just 1 experiment – with a tailored approach to different workplaces, some employers may find the results are more positive, so if you’re looking to shake up employee wellness, a 4-day week might be the answer.
‘Hidden’ diseases being properly addressed
Over the past 5 years, employers have become increasingly aware of the threat of ‘hidden’ diseases, such as mental ill health. Following business leaders’ calls for better mental health training and the government’s commitment to mental health first aiders, we fully expect businesses to soon be able to support mental ill health as comfortably as they do physical health.
However, the next challenge is getting employees to speak openly about these problems – including the more taboo physical health problems. Be it OCD, ME, Dyslexia or endometriosis, these hidden diseases have a significant impact on an employee’s wellbeing, and if employers really want to boost employee wellbeing, they need to continue finding ways to break down barriers and have open conversations about the health of their workforce.
The rise of the robots
In 2018 the conversation around Artificial Intelligence (AI) has really ramped up. As companies become more used to automation, they are starting to see how technology such as AI or machine learning can work to complement their workforce. For example, Commerzbank has started trialling AI to write analyst reports to save employees time. In the legal sector, firms are using machine learning to help code and sort previous cases, freeing up legal teams to add value in other places, and allowing them to partake in more interesting, career-advancing work.
Whilst AI won’t add value to every workplace or may be too expensive to implement, for some workplaces, it could help lessen the burden of menial, administrative tasks on employees and help them advance their career by letting them learn skills in other business areas.
Whilst slightly reminiscent of 1984, another workplace wellbeing trend we’re seeing is employee monitoring. Or more specifically, microchipping. Biohax, a Swedish company has already microchipped 4,000 employees internationally and is coming to the UK following increased demand. Ease of access to buildings, alongside making travel easier are the benefits cited, which for many time-poor employees could be appealing. It may take a while to take off and won’t sit comfortably with everyone, but it’s already making waves and we won’t be surprised if we see more about this trend next year.
As we sink into the depths of winter, it’s easy to forget the importance of natural light and how it affects our mood and bodies. Recently there has been a lot of debate about the changing of the clocks and whether it should be scrapped. Police data from the past 6 years shows that in the 2 weeks after the clocks go back 1 hour, there are an average of 278 more injuries on the road than in the previous 2 weeks.
Additionally, 3 in 4 of the extra collisions occur in the afternoons, which are darker after the clock change. Not changing the clocks could improve employees’ ability to get out in the light more, which could benefit their wellbeing. This is especially true if commuting time is now included in the working day, as this would enable employees to leave earlier, work on the way home and maximise daylight opportunities.
As another year comes to a close, it’s important to reflect on the progress made over the past 12 months and learn what more can be done next year. It’s undeniable that the workplace is changing at an exponential rate, so employers need to keep up to make sure they’re not only offering their talent the best support, but also to attract new employees to help drive the business forward in 2019.