The holistic needs of the workplace

Written by Emma Dawson • Online since 3.03.2016 • Filed under Press Release • From Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016 page(s) 42-43
The holistic needs of the workplace

Workplace productivity continues to be a worry for organisations and, in South Africa alone, absenteeism is believed to cost the economy approximately R12 billion annually, with an estimated 4.5% of the workforce absent on any given day. EMMA DAWSON talks to BEATRIZ ARANTES from Steelcase WorkSpace Futures about how to combat absenteeism.

ACCORDING to AIC Insurance, the R12-billion cost of absenteeism to South Africa’s economy is especially worrying when you consider its impact in a significantly lowered economic growth environment. As much as low morale and compensation are among the best known contributors, another considerable factor is working conditions.

Even though companies are increasingly placing emphasis on the wellness of their human resources, many tend to focus on the most obvious aspects and do not have a clear view of their employees’ holistic needs. Beatriz Arantes, Senior Design Researcher at Steelcase WorkSpace Futures, believes that the mind, body and environment are intrinsically linked and organisations need to think of wellbeing beyond physical and mental health but, rather, from a physical, psychological and cognitive perspective.

Arantes has conducted extensive research that uncovers how the physical places in which we work can support mindfulness, as well as five other dimensions of worker well-being. She has found that the physical environment offers behavioural cues that can promote, or hinder, employee’s physical,  ognitive and emotional wellbeing.

Emma Dawson (ED): Why is absenteeism such a problem and how far reaching is the effect of an absent member of staff?

Beatriz Arantes (BA): Absenteeism has a ripple effect because we are impacted by the behaviours that we observe around us, and especially negative behaviours – these tend to have more of an impact on people than positive behaviours. However, absenteeism should be seen as a symptom of a bigger problem that requires an employer to step in and try to investigate what that problem is.

ED: What are employees’ needs in terms of their holistic wellness?

BA: Our research shows that we need to holistically take note of an individual’s cognitive, emotional and physical wellbeing. This also requires that the individual is in a materially and socially supportive environment. For instance, employers need to consider not only the work conditions but also other urban conditions (for example, whether their employees have access to healthcare and education). It is also important to recognise the social context and take note of the individual’s social support structure (do they have people that support them when they need help, are they receiving encouragement?), which is also key to sustaining wellbeing.

ED: How do meeting these needs have a positive impact on employees and the organisations they work for?

BA: When an employee has positive social relationships at work, including with management, they are more engaged and therefore become more dedicated to their work because they don’t want to let their peers down (they know that people are counting on them so they feel committed to them). This is key for engagement because when people don’t feel personally valued or taken care of, they don’t want to take care of others and their work. Another important factor goes back to our basic biology – when we’re feeling under threat or attacked, or that there’s something wrong in our personal or professional lives, we are distracted and focused on those problems. This results in less mental and emotional ability for our work. So, when people are taken care of holistically, they are a little more care-free, giving them the ability to focus on their work. When people are in a positive state of mind they are more creative, more willing to help others, and to build more trusting relationships, which positively impacts the employee and the organisation.

ED: How do employees’ physical environments offer behavioural cues that promote or hinder their physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing?

BA: The physical environment offers the possibility to engage in certain activities and also demonstrates the values and the permissions of a company. Everything around us is made for a certain intention, and that communicates. For instance, if we see an environment that has social spaces, it tells employees that the company thinks that it’s important to have that social time, and gives employees the ability to congregate – and the permission to congregate. When a company invests in providing thoughtful and pleasant spaces, supporting the dimensions of wellbeing, this indicates to employees that they are valued and that they are supposed to take care of themselves while giving them the possibility to do so.In terms of authenticity, employers also need to look at spaces that relate to the language of the home rather than the traditional office. This indicates that employees can be more relaxed and speak a bit more freely, rather than formally. Some cues for this are, for example, having more colour and softer patterns to make people feel ‘more at home’ and a bit more relaxed.

ED: What should employers consider to ensure a more productive and happier workforce?

Employers should carefully consider how well their company mission and employee objectives are understood. One of the most important things that work provides to people is a sense of meaning and a sense of purpose in their lives. If they do not feel a sense of purpose in their work it will hinder their productivity (when employees feel like they are making an impact, they are willing to go the extra mile which helps work and productivity). When people feel that their jobs are not just jobs, but rather a calling (they think of their work as a personal vocation rather than solely the means to earn a living), then they’re more likely to be dedicated to it. Employers also need to consider whether their employees have the necessary tools and resources to accomplish.Generally, as long as you give people the means to do their work they are more likely to do it well. It’s also important to give feedback to people about how they are making a difference.

Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016

Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016

This article was featured on page 42-43 of SABI Magazine Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016 .

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