By Ciaran Strachan MIML
I read an article served as an excellent reminder on what a wellness program is and isn’t.
It is not, yoga, yoghurt or other health foods, or an app bolted onto your HR Information System that improves the “employee experience”.
It is educating your staff, engaging them, and introducing real benefits that employees need to access in order to reduce stress in times of need. Some examples include access to special leave and flexible working arrangements.
Benefits of flexible working
Unfortunately, when legislative changes to flexible working arrangements were introduced in 2018, it was largely publicised as yet another legislative change to be complied with. While this is partly correct, the intent of the change – including its benefits – were not conveyed to employers as effectively. Articles such as the one above outlining the benefits of flexible working arrangements in combating mental health problems, should have been the focus in 2018.
Flexible working arrangements increase productivity (they have been identified as a key attribute for high performing organisations), they ensure more working parents stay at work, and provide a tangible resource for those suffering from non-bullying related mental health issues who need to remain in the workforce. It increases employee engagement (which has a direct relationship with customer satisfaction) and will prove critical in the coming years for businesses to develop and maintain competitive advantages as the talent shortage increases and the gig economy grows.
People are priority
As a manager in the public service I encouraged staff who suffered from stress and anxiety to use flexible working arrangements. This allows them to retain their jobs whilst working through a difficult period of their life. One staff member told me that my support in arranging flexible working enabled her to get through a tough period of heavy anxiety and medication changes. She still keeps in contact with me today, even though we last worked together almost 10 years ago.
The fact that flexible working arrangements had to be adjusted at a legislative level to increase accessibility for employees is so serious, that it should have been highlighted for what it was at the time. An economic red flag that indicated employers in Australia have issues understanding how to increase productivity, support women in the workforce, and what a mental health problem is, and how to assist the employee to work through it.
The underlining issue right now in Australia is that we do not need to focus on creating more working condition entitlements, or reform awards that some believe are too complicated, or increase fees to deter disingenuous claims for unfair dismissal.
A change in strategy is needed and that change is pretty simple, more education for employers on the benefits of the flexible working arrangements (FWA), National Employment Standards (NES), and awards.
It is time for HR to lead the national discussion for increasing productivity, reducing mental health issues with real wellness programs while working with both management and safety professionals. This could be achieved with a change of focus towards increased education with employers no matter their size.
Ciaran Strachan is the Director of Strachan Consulting which specialises in strategic human resource management for SMEs.