Defining our worker’s needs – the role of the employer

This article is available in Bulgarian.

Klimentina Rasheva
Managing partner at Denkstatt Bulgaria

What does wellbeing at the workplace depend on? It is determined by us. We often want to create a sense of wellbeing at the workplace, but we don’t always have clarity on what we actually want to achieve.

We need information:

– What is our starting point?

– How do we define wellbeing – what definition are we using and what levels are there (achieved and desired)?

– What goals are we setting?

This is a standard approach to an unusual theme in the business world. Wellbeing is more a result of the personal efforts of people rather than something that we as company managers, owners and leaders can take care of.

Wellbeing is a result of the capacity for personal development, but for the people in business wellbeing is a state of prosperity – both personal and professional. Achieving it is a matter of our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual condition. It is clear that whoever takes up the task of creating wellbeing is responsible for creating workplace conditions that fulfill these needs. Note that the employer’s responsibility is not to shower their employees with gifts to make them happy, nor is it to try and nurture new habits and behaviors in them. The most appropriate role of the employer is to understand how the environment in the company influences and helps employees to meet their own physical, emotional and intellectual needs.

What are these needs?

How often am I healthy and how often am I sick? Do I have back pain that prevents me from being relaxed at work? What are my options for rest and recuperation at the workplace so that I can enjoy full energy during the entire day? Also: what are my responsibilities at the company? To what extent can I be relied on? What capacity and possibility do I have to change things that I don’t like at my workplace? How do I deal with my problems? How do I deal with change? What is my income and what are my bonuses? How heavy is my workload and what are my working hours? Do I enjoy myself at the office? To what extent am I able to disconnect from my job outside of work? How helpful and valuable am I with my knowledge and skills? To what extent is my need for new challenges met? How much stress do I face? Am I accepted by my colleagues at work? Do I get along with them?

There are many others questions along these lines. They help us to see the big picture of wellbeing at the workplace and what potential our company holds in this regard.   

Actually, the last two example questions are some of the most key indicators for how well people feel and how engaged they are at work. Salary and bonuses are also among the influential factors, but they are often of average importance.

Many of the questions above can’t be answered using standard employee engagement surveys – at least not in the way they are currently carried out at most companies. One of the reasons for this is that wellbeing and “standard” motivational practices are different – they are different in their understanding of wellbeing; of what wellbeing means; its significance relative to business goals; the breadth of requirements it carriers with it that a company has to become sensitive to.

What determines whether and how well the members of a team will prosper?

The most important factors are how well the members connect with each other and how their needs (some of which we mentioned above) are taken care of by their leaders. How well their needs are recognized and defined, what decisions are made in relation to those needs, how much importance and space is granted to these issues in the overall development of the company and what organizational changes have they led to? These are all important factors.

Lately people’s physical needs have increasingly come under consideration because the issue is often ignored in our sedentary companies. In some ways, this is where we started our change efforts at denkstatt years ago. From the very beginning we noticed that our colleagues from the various offices were complaining of back pain. The cause, according to many of them, was sitting all day long. One of our offices decided to purchase new chairs, which is not a bad idea, but it is not enough by itself. We decided to invest in physical activities for our employees. We set aside time, dedicated ourselves and set goals. Over time we designed the physical space in our office to allow anyone at any time to take care of their exercise needs. Along the way we learned to take active breaks and to organize our workflow in accordance to our needs instead of simply following a linear 9 to 6 schedule, making our time management more healthy and realistic. We now have a dedicated exercise space at our office and we bring in personal trainers twice a week while encouraging all employees to attend the sessions. Everyone has health goals that help us achieve physical wellbeing at the workplace, which also translates into work performance.

That was an easy example, which has been so successful, that other companies have shown interest in doing something similar. People not only feel well physically, but they also feel respected by virtue of being allowed to take care of themselves at work and they gain a sense of confidence in respect to the company’s main goals. Making the decision to spare some “priceless” work time actually ends up paying back major dividends for the team and company.

I would like to share a few more words on why, from an operational standpoint, this makes sense. Physical energy is not linear like our 9 to 6 work schedule. People don’t work the way marathons are run. A person can remain focused for a maximum of 120 minutes, with 60-90 minutes being a more realistic figure. Breaks are needed after periods of focus so the brain and body can recuperate their energy. People take these breaks by going for coffee, chatting with colleagues, making phone calls, organizing personal matters, smoking or browsing the web. Unfortunately not all of these examples help people to recuperate, which can lead to one of the worst things that can happen to a worker and those who depends on them – multitasking. Of course this is a matter of personal organization skills, but also bad management of physical energy. The conscious work of properly organizing tasks according to time constraints and physical energy needs is a treasured ability for every team. For example, sit down meetings can be replaced with walking meetings. It’s also entirely acceptable to lay down for a quick nap in the office – even if you don’t fall asleep, your back will get some rest. I know that many colleagues would balk at the thought of employees rolling around on the floors of their luxury offices, but we shouldn’t dismiss the idea, strange as it may seem at first. If you think about it, it is our own prejudices that keep us from accepting people with all of their needs. If the idea is implemented well and owned by everyone, it can become accepted and even cool.     

The examples of how we organize the discourse on what meaning everyone sees in their work are much more interesting. This, however, is an entirely different article.

The text was published in Economist, issue #45, November 9, 2018.

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