We all know having a job is about much more than earning a salary. We spend a huge proportion of our lives at work – it work defines who we are, provides opportunities to develop new skills and aspirations and can provide a great feeling of self worth. This is as good for businesses as it is for individuals and families. As are the latest employment figures, which show that the number of people in work is over 30 million, an increase of 250,000 over the quarter and of almost half a million compared with a year ago.

Employers need to take the wellbeing of their staff more seriously. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because happier, more fulfilled individuals contribute directly to better long-term business performance. Research shows that happy workers are 12% more productive. They tend to also be healthier, boosting productivity as fewer days are lost to sickness absence.

Most people’s lives are incredibly busy, and failing to strike the right work-life balance can cause additional anxiety and stress, inevitably affecting performance in the workplace. Where possible, employers need to take account of the changing patterns of modern life.

This is one of the reasons why we are introducing shared parental leave from April 2015, giving parents the option to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth. This will also allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child and help mothers to return to work at a time that’s right for them.

From 2014, we are extending the right to request flexible working to all employees.

We want to remove the assumption that flexible working – meaning working part-time, job sharing, using flexi-hours or choosing where and how you work – only benefits parents and carers. The 2011 Workplace Employee Relations Survey shows a clear link between the job satisfaction and availability of flexible working. And businesses with good employment relations are more likely to be able to weather economic shocks.

If we are managed well, we feel empowered and capable of making a real contribution. We generate new ideas and are more likely to go the extra mile. But, as we all know, poor management can lead to alienation and potentially departure for pastures new, with all the disruption and cost this entails for the employer.

What makes one person happy may not work for another. So on the face of it, employers may think that it is too difficult to tailor their management style to each individual staff member. But there are many things that businesses can do to improve the wellbeing of all their staff.

Jobs need to be well designed – giving people the freedom to make their own decisions where possible. Whitehall Studies of 18,000 civil servants found that jobs in which people have little control over how they operate caused high stress and low levels of wellbeing. Wellbeing was unsurprisingly poor among those with jobs that required a lot of effort with little recognition.

The government’s Employment Law Review is implementing a range of measures to support employers as they work to achieve the best possible employee relations. This includes encouraging early conciliation – meaning that any issues relating to employment rights abuses would first go to Acas rather than an employment tribunal service. This encourages employees and employers to talk to each other to avoid relationship breakdowns, which can be stressful and unsettling.

I want employers to make wellbeing an integral part of how they manage their employees. They should regularly review how their staff are doing and take action as and when required. There is a wealth of support out there to help managers with these issues. Government-funded Acas services can play a key role in helping employers get the best out of their staff and build productive partnerships with their employees. Their support ranges from free confidential telephone advice for employers to detailed online guides to help with every aspect of employing people – be that recruitment, managing challenging situations and advice on letting staff go. You can contact Acas on 08457 474747 or find them at acas.org.

The government strongly believes that progressive workplace practices have a vital role to play in increasing productivity and supporting a stronger economy. A greater focus on wellbeing at work will benefit everyone, building both a stronger economy and a fairer society.

By Jo Swinson, as published in The Huffington Post on 19.12.2013

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