Working in Ireland: Looking After Number 1

Adapted from an Irish Times article by Olive Keogh

by | Apr 12, 2022

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“What the last two years have demonstrated is that there is no longer a clear roadmap, and every organisation must spend time understanding the needs of their workforce in a way they never had to do before.” These are the words of Lisa Stevens, an industry veteran of 30 years and now the global chief people officer and head of human capital solutions at professional services firm Aon. “The more agile and flexible organisations are, the better they’ll be at winning the war for talent”.

Aon employs 50,000 people across 120 countries, including more than 700 in Ireland. Stevens believes a holistic approach to employee wellbeing, which covers people’s emotional, physical and financial health, will play a critical role in helping organisations keep on top of their personnel needs in the future.

Discrepancies between client and employee needs can impact the quality of work in a company: “Traditionally, clients came first and that can’t be the case anymore,” she says.

“Wellbeing is so much more than an individual programme, and it requires buy-in to create a business culture that fosters it. Central to this is recognising that the important thing is how people work, not where they work.

A recent global wellbeing survey by Aon, conducted with more than 81 companies in Ireland, looked at the top wellbeing risks having an impact on company performance. For the Irish respondents, work-life balance was identified as the top concern followed by mental health issues and burnout.

The survey also indicated that Irish companies were ahead of their international competitors in terms of embracing employee wellbeing, with 96 per cent of businesses here having at least one initiative (mainly around physical and emotional supports), compared with 86 per cent of firms in Europe.

The survey also showed that companies that improve employee wellbeing by 4 per cent see a 1 per cent increase in company profits and a 1 per cent decrease in employee turnover.

Going beyond employee wellbeing, we now know that a business’ profitability can be even further hampered by not addressing carbon emissions that are produced by activities such as employees driving to work.

A company’s greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three “scopes”. Scope 1 are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy. Scope 3 are all indirect emissions that occur in the value chain. As such, emissions produced by a person’s commute to work are classified as Scope 3 emissions. Research shows that the cost of carbon (heavily influenced by using cars to commute) has gone from €4 a tonne in 2017 to €6 a tonne today. If not addressed, this will add substantially to the cost of doing business.

To cut out carbon usage, cycling to work is the obvious solution. Not only will the cost of doing business fall for the company in question, the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of employees can drastically improve when they travel to work by two wheels instead of four. The Cycling Solutions Ireland Self Evaluation offers a comprehensive dive into all aspects of cycling in the workplace, from bike storage facilities to showers and cycling promotion within your business, we use a tailored index to streamline the cycling needs of your business.

Aon also uses an in-house tool as part of its commitment to employee wellbeing, called the human sustainability index. The index assesses people under eight different professional and personal headings including mental health, meaning and purpose, competency and financial health.

“We need to be curious and to understand what it is our colleagues need in order to feel resilient and that they belong,” says Stevens. Asked what this looks like in reality, especially where people are working remotely, she acknowledges it’s not that simple.

“Where a manager may not have seen someone for maybe two years, it’s not enough to casually ask ‘How are you doing?’ It needs to go deeper to get at how someone is actually feeling, and questions may need to be asked more than once and you need to really listen for the answer,” she says.

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