Staff care: How well are your staff feeling?

A proactive wellness policy could affect your bottom line as well as staff morale.

Third sector organisations are still experiencing difficulties with staff burn-out and exhaustion. The very organisations that are the most keen to promote a healthy work-life balance are those that attract passionate people willing to work over and above the terms of their contracts, often to the detriment of their own health.

Working Families' report from 2005, Changing the World, clearly identified that a long-hours culture exists at two-thirds of charities and voluntary organisations. Eighty-five per cent of respondents felt that staff worked more hours than they were contracted to because of their level of personal commitment.

This has real implications for our organisations, not least financial ones. Nearly 90 per cent of Changing the World respondents agreed that working long hours reduced their effectiveness, leading to increased costs caused by sickness and absenteeism. The wellness of our staff and the integrity of our organisations depend upon us tackling this.

Wellness is about being challenged in our work, but it is also about being in an environment where we can succeed in our challenges. Central to wellness are things like feeling valued and competent, having opportunities for professional and personal growth, having the space to celebrate success and achieving that all-important balance between work, life and play.

But how do we do this within the confines of our sector? Our reality is one of small staff numbers, smaller budgets and massive remits, which we work at during non-standard office hours and long days.

Kitemarks such as Investors in People give us a standard to work to and a range of specific tools and methods to improve the way our organisations perform and look after their workforces. As well as setting achievable work goals and creating a healthy and inspiring place to work, we should consider such ideas as a quiet time for staff, when phones are turned off and email auto-replies on.

In addition to allowances for sick leave, consider 'wellness leave' for people who want to focus on activities outside of work, or paid or unpaid creative or personal development leave.

A proactive wellness policy will benefit everyone. Avoiding exhaustion in staff members will leave you with a more motivated, productive and less stressed workforce. And with loyalty going up as absenteeism goes down, your bottom line will be looking healthier as well.

- Kate Larsen is acting programme director at arts charity Shape

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