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Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE
50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health, Manchester Business School
Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE

Wellbeing at Work

Authors: Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE Professor Cary L Cooper

14 May 2012

About a month ago Stephen Bevan, myself and Patrick Watt of Goldman Sachs did a webinar on wellbeing in the workplace. We heard from Patrick about what Goldman Sachs was doing to enhance wellbeing amongst its staff, and how this has led to bottom line results for their organisation. By emphasising that wellbeing is not just a fuzzy, soft, ‘good to do for cosmetic purposes’ activity, but one that has a bottom-line impact on the organisation’s KPIs, Patrick reinforced the view that it was a strategic business issue. It is about engaging your staff, keeping them motivated, retaining them, keeping them healthy and reducing their stress levels and enhancing their productivity.

 Indeed, stress-related sickness absence is now, in most organisations, the leading cause of workplace absence, amounting directly or indirectly in over £26b costs to the UK economy (as estimated by the Centre for Mental Health). What is even more worrying is the ‘presenteeism’ is twice as costly as absenteeism, which is the hidden part of the stress iceberg!

Presenteeism is when people turn up to work even when they are ill, when they are job satisfied and when they are totally disengaged; and in all these cases, these individuals contribute little added value to their products or services. They all turn up because they are job insecure, and feel they need to show ‘face time’ so that they are not the next tranche of people made redundant. In a large scale study (sample size of over 39,000 employees in a variety of organisations), Robertson and Cooper, in their book Wellbeing:Productivity and Happiness at Work (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), found that only 35% of the working population are fully functioning and productive most of the time, the rest are absentees or presentees!

Extensive research has already done us what depletes an individual’s mental capital: lack of control and autonomy over their job, unmanageable workloads, unachievable deadlines, working consistently long hours, job insecurity, bad communications by managers, the poor management of change, lack of engagement at work and an ineffective or incompetent managers. Research conclusively shows that wellbeing is linked to sickness absence, to health and to productivity (see Robertson and Cooper book), but systematic action to eliminate the sources of workplace stress and create organisations that enable individuals to flourish is the answer. As John Ruskin, the 19th Century social reformer once wrote:”In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed. They must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it”. Creating this kind of workplace climate is what HR practitioners, occupational health psychologists and line managers have as their challenge.

Cary L. Cooper, CBE, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School, co author of Wellbeing, and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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