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Why wellbeing is a better motivator than money

September 28, 2022
Liz Naulls

Hands up if you like money? Yes, so do we! Clearly, pay can be a great lever to attract and retain or incentivise employees, it’s been used to do that for years. However, it has its limits. There’s only so far you can push pay. And ultimately, no matter how well paid a position, if people are unhappy, they will disengage, walk away or simply burn out.

When you prioritise employee wellbeing, and consciously place it at the heart of your business, something rather magical happens. There is a knock-on effect in almost every area. Employees who are happier and healthier, who feel good about coming to work, who know that their employer genuinely cares about them, are more likely to be productive and remain in their jobs. When Gallup compared employee engagement levels and then analysed the performance of most and least engaged teams, they found an increase of 81% in absenteeism among those with the lowest levels of employee engagement, and a 23% increase in profitability among those with the highest (Gallup, 2022).

Of course, it’s not rocket science. We all understand that when you feel valued and healthy, when you have support with whatever issues you may be facing in your life, you feel better equipped and more inclined to go the extra mile. For example, based on our own research, when asked about employee benefits that directly support physical and mental health needs, a third (34%) of employees said it would make them happier in their job while 28% said it would increase their level of motivation (Lime, 2021).*

What does it take to put employee wellbeing front and centre?

The first thing to recognise is that a commitment to employee wellbeing needs to be genuine and holistic. It will not work as a tick box exercise. There is absolutely no point in sticking on some whale song and hoping that will cover for the fact that people are overworked or stressed by a toxic environment.

Secondly, it’s important to create an environment where employees can feel comfortable talking honestly about whatever support they need. Our research has shown that the vast majority of people (75% in fact) feel like they have to hide how they really feel at work, putting on a brave face in front of their colleagues – a phenomenon we call Pleasanteeism. The pressure this puts on employees is considerable, and has a very real impact with more than half (54%) claiming that they have taken time off work and 32% saying that they were less productive directly as a result of not being able to be honest with colleagues about their feelings (Lime, 2021).
Third, think about your health and wellbeing benefits. Are they truly of benefit? Do they help tackle the problems your people are facing? Do people feel able to make use of them? What proportion of the workforce do they currently cover? To be effective, health and wellbeing benefits need to be simple, accessible and people must feel empowered to use them.

Finally, your secret weapon: line managers. Managers are absolutely crucial when it comes to prioritising employee wellbeing – in almost every aspect. They are the on-the-ground champions of any organisation’s culture, and through them, wellbeing lives or dies. Encourage line managers to prioritise wellbeing. Proactively train and empower line managers to support people with their wellbeing. This doesn’t have to be onerous or difficult, it’s a case of providing them with the tools they need to support people where they need it and to empowering people to help themselves, whether that’s through accessing available health and wellbeing benefits or simply being honest about having a difficult day.

Of course, pay remains important. But nowadays pay is a given, not a motivator. According to Gallup, almost 85% of employees are not engaged (or are actively disengaged) at work, despite businesses’ attempts to engage them (Gallup, 2022). Throwing more money at people is unlikely to solve that problem. However, if you can work with people to help them feel valued and supported, if you encourage them to speak up when they have an issue and help them, as far as possible, to feel healthy and happy at work, you’ll reap the rewards.

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