Staff wellbeing programs help social relationships and reduce bullying

December 12, 2021

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Staff wellbeing programs help social relationships and reduce bullying

We’ve recently done a lot of work on bullying and I was fascinated by a new study which showed that programs aimed at supporting employees’ health and wellbeing can also benefit their social relationships and reduce bullying.

Researchers found that the more employees engage with health and wellbeing programs (HWPs), the better the quality of co-worker relationships, the less they experience bullying over time, and the better their longer-term wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Unexpectedly, the results suggest that even when senior managers are not committed to these initiatives, employee engagement with HWPs is associated with better relationships at work and the same subsequent positive benefits.

The researchers say the findings are particularly relevant given the new patterns of working which have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizations are increasingly adopting HWPs, yet further understanding is required of the underlying processes or conditions that may influence their effectiveness on employee outcomes, such as wellbeing and job satisfaction.

The programs vary in scope and comprehensiveness but can include a broad range of information, health screening and activities which attempt to reduce health risks, prevent chronic disease, support healthy behaviors or attempt to identify and change potential health-related problems.

This three-year study used data from 7,785 UK employees at 64 organizations. Its findings are published in the British Journal of Management.

The researchers said the evidence showed that promoting wellbeing interventions in the organizations has “unintended” positive consequences.

What the researchers say: “While organizations may adopt these programs primarily to target employee health and wellbeing directly, we found that employees’ social relationships also benefit,” the lead author said. “When organizations invest in wellbeing they communicate care for their employees and this is reciprocated with more respectful interpersonal interactions. This in turn significantly reduces the onset of workplace bullying and improves longer term mental and physical health as well as job satisfaction.”

“These findings are especially relevant for managers to consider as organizations develop new patterns of working in the post-COVID era. People’s wellbeing has been significantly affected by the pandemic. Investing in HWPs brings both relationship and health benefits that can help support employees adjusting to the new normal,” the researchers added.

The research used data from “Britain's Healthiest Workplace,” an annual study that provides one of the largest and most comprehensive datasets on organizational performance and wellbeing of UK organizations and their employees. The study looks at personal, social, lifestyle, job and workplace information from the employee and organizational perspective using self-report questionnaires.

“This study confirms just how wide-reaching the benefits of implementing employee health and wellbeing programs can be. There are numerous positive consequences of wellbeing interventions—beyond the obvious intended benefits—for the organization and its employees, and wider society,” the researchers commented. “By offering such programs, organizations not only directly affect employees’ wellbeing, they help to create a culture of positive change in which employees are more likely to thrive.”

So, what? A business, or any organization is simply a tribe, and the essence of any tribe is mutual support. People stay with a firm because it offers relational support, because it gives them a sense of tribe. An HWP is a signal of that support, even if individual employees never use it.

The sense that you are being supported leads to loyalty to the organization you work for and because of this you will try harder to make the tribe successful. This has been true since the days of hunter-gatherers who many researchers say were the highest performing teams ever.

All the things that CEOs prize—engagement, productivity, profitability, innovation, collaboration—arise from employees sensing that they are tribe members who will be supported by each other and their management. This is one of the reasons that researchers have found that mergers almost never work out (80% fail)—employees are sacked, and the sense of mutuality and “tribe” are lost.

For more on the mutuality of needs, click here.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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