How to improve workplace wellbeing and performance

Charities are behind the curve in fostering the wellbeing of their staff, says workforce specialist Jessica Pryce-Jones

Jessica Pryce-Jones
Jessica Pryce-Jones

The recession has presented organisations in the third sector with a complex set of challenges. The combination of fears of a 20 per cent drop in donations, rising costs due to inflation and an increase in demand for services is creating a difficult operating environment that is putting increased pressure on staff as they struggle to deliver more services with fewer resources.

This situation inevitably affects the mood and motivation of staff and this in turn impacts on productivity. ‘Happiness’ and ‘wellbeing’ are not some kind of soft concept, but can be finely calibrated. The iOpener Institute, the consultancy I work for that focuses on workplace problems, has collected more than 30,000 management interviews assessing the identifiable key components of ‘happiness’ at work' – positive factors such as recognition, respect and time on task, as well as negative indicators such as likelihood of leaving or sick days off.

Our research, which compares the not-for-profit sector with the average score across all industries, found that there are some areas of employee wellbeing in which charities are behind the curve. For example, managers from the charity sector are 8 per cent less motivated than their counterparts in private and public sector organisations. And this is affecting their ability to accomplish tasks – the findings show that third sector employees are 6 per cent less efficient at completing jobs than average.

As the charities seek to adapt to the tricky economic climate, managers would be well advised to examine the well-being of their staff and the effect that this might be having on output.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Five key drivers of productivity

Driver 1 - Effort: Staff will never be productive without clear goals, without precise and well-articulated objectives that lead to those goals and without addressing problems that arise on the way. 

Constructive feedback helps employees contribute even more, while personal appreciation goes a long way to boosting productivity. Interestingly, negative feedback that is poorly given doubles sick leave, and of course increased sick leave affects productivity levels.

Driver 2 - Short-term motivation: Good organisations encourage motivation by helping partners and staff own issues and take responsibility. And they do that at a level that fits with an individual’s skills, strengths and expertise levels.

Driver 3 - How well you fit into your organisation: Performance and happiness at work are both boosted when people feel they fit within their organisational culture. Feelings of belonging are likely to be damaged if decisions in the workplace are perceived to be unfair.

Good organisations can address this by being as transparent as possible about why decisions are made, explaining why resources are allocated in the way they are, and making sure that their approach is as equitable as possible.

Driver 4 - Long-term engagement: This is about commitment and the long-term engagement between employee and employer. Having to work hard in a job you feel stuck in is energy-draining at best, and associated with higher illness at worst.

This tells organisations that they need to communicate strategy regularly and convincingly, along with tangible proof of how that strategy is being implemented.

Driver 5 - Self-belief: If staff are not confident, they won’t make decisions, take risks, or invest in development. Confidence is the gateway to productivity and our data shows that a primary indicator of confidence is that things get done.

Jessica Pryce-Jones is joint founder and partner of the iOpener institute for People & Performance, which examines the factors that contribute to resilience and how it can be maintained

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