Manufacturers must focus more on employee wellbeing, EEF survey warns

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A focus on employee wellbeing can bring significant benefit to companies employing lean manufacturing techniques, a survey by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Westfield Health has shown.

The overall mental health of employees is inextricably linked to motivation, engagement and workplace performance. A focus on good mental health, resilience, autonomy and involvement at work can bring productivity improvements of as much as 10%, according to the study, which was carried out by the Institute of Employment Studies and released in time for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May).

The survey urges Britain’s manufacturers to invest more heavily in the wellbeing of their workforce in order to reap the rewards. By contrast, poor wellbeing can increase costs and reduce motivation and employee engagement, as well as taking up management time dealing with associated issues such as absence and occupational health costs.

“More and more companies are recognising the benefits and opportunities of promoting the wider wellbeing of their employees,” says Steve Jackson, EEF director of health, safety & sustainability. “This can being significant benefit to companies with employees who are better motivated and engaged.

“Giving employees support and a positive psychosocial work environment has a proven impact on productivity and means that employees who embrace the challenges and demands of work with more energy and commitment.”

The survey highlights the ‘traditional’ way many manufacturers deal with health & safety. In turn, it says, this leads to a focus on compliance, physical health, risk assessment and promoting good practice rather than the psychosocial and mental health factors that can also affect performance.

Of the companies surveyed, 80% said that improving productivity is a reason to invest in wellbeing measures, but only 8% saw it as the most important reason for doing so. Under a third of companies invest in healthy living programmes for their employees – in spite of evidence showing that employees in good health are as much as three times more productive.

The survey also shows that while 60% of manufacturers carry out a physical risk intervention, just 15% currently assess the risk work can pose to mental health, and only one in five invest in measures to promote mental health. Under a third of companies train managers to recognise stress.

There are three key areas, according to EEF, where employees should focus to maximise the wellbeing of their employees and improve the psychosocial workplace environment:

  • Job Design – Not only preventative in promoting health but employees in jobs that allow control, autonomy and a degree of discretion over what they do tend to be more engaged and productive.
  • Employee Involvement – Research has shown that workplaces with high degrees of employee involvement tend to be more high performing. High levels of work involvement and collective decision making promotes positive mental health, even in pressurised environments.
  • Employee Engagement – This is both with the organisation and its values, as well as the job itself. There is a strong correlation between high levels of psychological wellbeing at work, high levels of engagement and higher performance and productivity.