‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This quote, often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, is one that more company bosses should consider, because those who look after their staff will reap the productivity benefits of a happier and more engaged workforce.

It also breeds loyalty, as the tale of one ex-Warburtons chairman tells. The story goes that he personally drove a delivery driver to the physio each week after the workerʼs legs were badly injured in an accident. He was treated until fit again and repaid the act by working for the family bakery until he retired as a senior director.

Another leader who believed that cared-for staff make for better and more successful organisations was John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership. He implemented pastoral care and employed a chief medical officer, GPs, physiotherapists and chiropodists to support department store colleagues. This was before and after the formation of the NHS.

I saw the benefits of this approach in the 2000s, when I was retail director of Waitrose. We had just taken over a number of competitor shops and I recall one poorly performing store having roughly one out of every 11 employees off sick at any one time.

By focusing on well-being and happiness, sick absence fell to below 3pc in less than six months. Staff turnover also decreased by two thirds. It not only brought immediate savings, but because experience was retained and improved, service standards and productivity increased. The shop went from being a loss-maker to generating a healthy profit.

In 2017, an estimated 131m working days were lost in the UK due to sickness. Absence will cost the economy £26bn by 2030. Something must be done to improve the situation. When I built my engaging.works website, which measures the workplace happiness of thousands of individuals, I wanted to find out how employees felt about their well-being at work.

Four questions of the overall 13 provide an answer. These are: do you rarely feel depressed or anxious at work; do you feel that the organisation cares for your well-being; do you feel that you have a good relationship with your line manager; and do you enjoy your job? Respondents answer on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

The first two make up a “health hygiene” score, while the other two form a “job satisfaction” score. Plotted on an axis and ignoring those with no strong opinion either way, you can see several types of employee.

People who score low on health hygiene but high on satisfaction are what I call “stoics” (they endure personal problems due to their job being good enough). Oppositely, those who report high on health hygiene and low in encouragement are “discouraged”.

“Thriving” employees score more than seven out of 10 on both, while those who score low on both are “neglected”. Finally, there are
“prospering” workers, who donʼt score as highly as thriving colleagues, but still well.

Whatʼs striking is that almost one in four employees (24pc) scored themselves badly in terms of health hygiene, with one in 11 (9pc) falling into the “neglected” quadrant. That may sound like a decent score, but if 90 employees in a 1,000-strong organisation are suffering and have no job satisfaction, thatʼs a huge chunk of disengaged and unproductive staff.

Women make up the greatest numbers in the “neglected” camp, with 8pc of female managers in this group versus 5pc of male managers. For non-managers, itʼs 11pc versus 8pc, respectively – and for women and men over the age of 35, itʼs 10pc versus 7pc.

Women are also lacking when it comes to the “thriving” camp, with 31pc of male managers in this category compared to 28pc of their female counterparts. But there is one glimmer of hope at the non-management level; “thriving” women outscore men 29pc to 26pc.

What else? If youʼre in a non-management role, your health hygiene score is likely to be significantly worse than your manager (managers outperform non-managers in the “thriving” and “prospering” categories). Millennials are also more likely to be thriving than their older colleagues.

The results are clear that businesses must focus on improving the well-being of their female employees – managers in particular. Older colleagues and those on the front-line also need attention.

They could start by following Lewisʼs example and provide healthcare and mental health support. But importantly, employers should focus on the things that improve workplace happiness: fair reward, recognition, adequate and appropriate information to do a job well, trust, empowerment, career development and supportive line management.

Mark Price is a businessman, writer and was previously minister of state for trade and managing director of Waitrose. For a free copy of this report, email mark.price@engaging.works


By Mark Price

Published by Telegraph February 1st 2019