There are many reasons why work wellbeing (the attitude of valuing employees embedded into the culture of an organisation) needs to be at the top of the agenda of workplace leaders. The legal profession, perhaps more than most sectors, faces significant health concerns from people being overworked and stressed, which not only impacts people’s personal health and ability to thrive, it also leads to increased absenteeism, turnover and impaired productivity. All of these issues will affect a firm’s ability to perform well.
But is work wellbeing essential or is just nice-to-have? Our research with workers, employers and leaders shows that work wellbeing is important for not only thriving individuals but thriving teams, organisations and societies in these rapidly changing times.
The importance of work
Work – where we spend more than a third of our waking hours – is an important place to get wellbeing right. Such a significant investment of our lives must then be a means of finding purpose, meeting social needs and having a societal impact.
According to our research of 1,160 employed Australians, workplace wellbeing was the top-ranked expectation of employment, with seven in ten workers (72%) saying it is extremely/very important to them. It ranks above collegiality, flexible working hours and workplace leadership.
A workplace’s commitment to wellbeing can also have an impact on workers’ sense of meaning in life. In our national study, 84% whose workplaces had a commitment to the wellbeing of their employees said they definitely/somewhat had a sense of meaning in life, compared with 60% of workers whose workplaces did not have a commitment to wellbeing.
This is in line with the increasing societal focus on mental health and wellbeing. Personal wellbeing requires a sustainable pace, down time and manageable work-life integration. Amid our culture of burnout, workplace stress, the office in our pocket and always-on technology, reinstituting work and rest rhythms are imperative.
Work wellbeing benefits the individual, the employer and broader society
While the legal profession offers many great employment benefits such as relatively high remuneration, status, large firms and global opportunities, these are not the top attraction and retention factors for young workers today. Rather it is a fulfilling job role, career pathway, workplace culture, organisational values and an engaging management style which are highly rated. These are all factors of wellbeing.
Our surveys of workers also showed that a commitment to the wellbeing of employees had a direct impact on their likelihood of making the same choice about their current workplace, their engagement in their workplace, how likely they would be to recommend their workplace to others and – if it were up to them – how likely they would be to still be working in their current place of employment in two years’ time. A focus on work wellbeing not only improves workplace culture, it can reduce turnover and its associated costs.
Our research has shown that if organisations and leaders invest time in ensuring their workers are engaged, energised and enthusiastic, this investment will bring a return. If people enjoy what they do they are more likely to experience less stress and give their best selves to their work.
Wellbeing is key to the future of work
In our survey of Australian workers, we asked about the trends likely to impact the future of work. Of the seven factors we tested, ‘mental health and stress of workers’ was the one workers believed would have the most significant impact (62%). This was above demographic trends (55%) the physical workspace and where work will be done (55%), sectors disappearing (52%), computerisation of robotics (52%), global workforce trends (46%) and the gig economy (41%).
The reality is that the world of work is changing – from demographic shifts to technological advancements and a global pandemic. COVID-19 has simply increased the recognition that health, social connection and purpose – wellbeing – is an essential factor that will impact and define the future of work. Workplaces need to adapt and respond, so that workers are looked after while also being stretched and grown in capacity, and all in an environment in which they can flourish and thrive.