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Strong wellbeing policies raise morale, performance and retention

Organisations that invest in staff wellbeing are set to become employers of choice, and the benefits to business are clear

We hear a lot about workplace wellbeing and that’s as it should be; given that we devote at least one third of our lives to work, being miserable at work is pretty much a recipe for being miserable in life.

Yet research published earlier this year as part of a survey of mental-health-and-wellbeing promotion in 1,500 businesses across Ireland found that 80 per cent of employers are not investing in workplace mental health at all.

The report, Healthy Workplace Ireland: A Survey of Mental Health and Well-being Promotion in Irish Firms, led by Jane Bourke and Niamh Lenihan, found that mental health-related absenteeism was on the rise.

But with growing awareness about the importance of self-care, particularly among younger generations, organisations that can demonstrate investment in the health and wellbeing of staff are set to become employers of choice.


That’s already proving to be the case at Jones Engineering, a multi-disciplined engineering contracting company that employs more than 4,000 people around the world.

“Nothing is more important to us at Jones than the safety and wellbeing of our employees,” says its chief people officer, Carmel Walsh.

“Engineering is a disproportionately male and young sector, a demographic which can find wellbeing difficult to talk about, and historically there’s been poor knowledge of mental health in the sector. We’re making great efforts to change the culture around mental health in the industry through our employee health and wellbeing platform and our wellbeing-focused toolbox talks.”

The company provides a range of workplace wellbeing initiatives.

“We run a regular schedule of toolbox talks throughout the year. These range from mental health and wellbeing, and ‘being present, being focused’, to cancer awareness and safely working in extreme weather – for example, driving safely during wintertime in colder regions and working safely in hot weather in warmer regions,” says Walsh.

The company has also launched an employee health and wellbeing platform.

“This gives our employees unrestricted access to qualified counsellors as well as psychotherapists. In addition to counselling, the platform gives our staff supplementary support services, including guidance on financial matters, legal advice, career coaching, meditation and even more,” adds Walsh.

Jones Engineering is seeing the fruits of this in the labour market.

“The recruitment and retention of the best engineering and craft talent is a priority for us, and workplace wellbeing plays a significant role in this,” says Walsh.

“Increasingly, people expect that employers have these types of programmes in place and it’s important for us that our people are happy and healthy. This really helps with recruitment, creating a positive and appealing work culture that attracts top talent.”

Kirby Group is a leading mechanical and electrical engineering contractor operating across Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe. It employs 1,500 people and regularly recruits project managers, planners and engineers, as well as quantity surveyors, site supervisors and apprentices.

For human resources director Fergus Barry, an effective workplace wellbeing policy is a mix of surveys, feedback, and keeping ahead of best practice.

“All of the above are required to understand what our people really want, to learn from best practice innovations and to listen to people,” says Barry.

“But where the policy really gets traction is where the line managers – our local leaders – put people first and care for their people. This is about values and culture. We are lucky in Kirby that over the last 60 years our culture is shaped by real values of putting people first.”

If you don’t manage wellness it will cost in lost time, poor productivity, poor retention and poor innovation

—  Fergus Barry, Kirby Group

A good wellbeing policy has a positive impact on morale and productivity.

“We measure satisfaction and engagement and are able to follow the trends,” adds Barry. “Our productivity is also measurable and our business outcomes are clear. We believe our wellbeing initiatives produce real value for our company and our valued customers.”

At Kirby, a good wellness policy is not a ‘nice to have’, in Barry’s view: “It is needed. If you don’t manage wellness it will cost in lost time, poor productivity, poor retention and poor innovation. On a positive level, investing in wellness produces a more growth-focused mindset, with greater performance and innovation.”

Kirby Group brings its wellness policy to life in practical ways, he says. “Our key piece is that every manager ‘puts people first’ in making every decision,” he explains.

“We are genuinely a people business. We invite top wellbeing experts, such as Bressie, quarterly to present their tips and insights. We have trained our HR and environmental health and safety people to become mental health first aiders.”

For employees seeking out companies with a good corporate culture, filtering for those that have won awards and accolades can be a handy short cut. Certainly Cathal Divilly, chief executive of Great Place to Work, a programme that rewards good corporate culture, sees the benefits first hand.

For him a good workplace wellness policy is one that measures culture and wellbeing together in one survey.

“It’s a great way to start to get a sense as to what you are doing well and what you can do better,” he says.

From there, build a plan for investment and improvement based on what employees and managers want.

“Any wellbeing plans need to be grounded in performance in order to be sustainable,” says Divilly. “A good wellbeing programme helps better performance; hence it is right for the business and the people.”

However, a wellbeing programme is only effective where there is high-trust leadership and communication is strong, he cautions.

“Been recognised as a Great Place to Work is a great way to drive recruitment as it is seen as the standard for talent when it comes to workplace culture,” says Divilly. “In 2024 we are also announcing our Best Workplaces in wellbeing for workplaces of all sizes, so from the one survey you can be recognised as a Great Place to Work and also a Best Workplace in wellbeing.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times