Prioritising team well-being: A pathway to business success

Emma Walsh is the founder and CEO of Parents At Work, Australia’s first service dedicated to helping parents return to work. 

Parents At Work supports parents and organisations to better manage the challenges that employees face when balancing work and family life. The company was recognised in Westpac’s 2017 list of Australia’s Top 200 Businesses of Tomorrow.

As a mother of three, Emma is a passionate advocate for flexible work rights for working parents. In this chat we spoke about work-life balance and prioritising your team’s well-being.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Emma Walsh on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Emma Walsh, Founder and CEO of Parents at Work.

The most successful small businesses often share one crucial characteristic: a focus on the well-being of their teams. The concept of employee well-being has changed quite dramatically, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, it’s widely acknowledged how important it is to look after your team’s well-being and create a business that is not just a place to work, but a place in which people actually want to be and contribute. In fact, employees are less likely to have negative experiences when using flexible working policies and are more satisfied with their work-life balance. Let’s explore why well-being is so important for small business owners and how you can implement strategies to enhance it.

The shift in leadership

Recently, there’s been a big change in how business owners think about employee well-being. It’s now seen as crucial for success. Companies that focus on building a positive workplace are more likely to attract and keep talented workers, which boosts their overall performance. The connection is clear: Happy, valued employees work harder and stay longer.

However, many leaders aren’t really prepared to handle this new focus on well-being. It’s tough because traditionally, business owners simply pay people to do a job. Now, leaders are also expected to learn how to support their team’s well-being and psychological needs. Being a people person has become one of the top skills a good leader needs.

Family-friendly workplaces

Part of this shift in leadership is the attitude towards supporting families or home lives in the workplace. The idea of a ‘family-friendly’ workplace often gets misunderstood. Some think it’s only for businesses that don’t care about making a profit or employ mostly women. But that’s not true. Supporting employees in both their personal and professional lives actually leads to better work output, more commitment, and stronger loyalty, which all increase profits. It’s a strategic move.

Every business has competition. There are almost 30,000 plumbing businesses in Australia, all doing the same job. What makes them different from each other? The people and the culture. If you create a workplace where employees feel they can be their best selves, both at work and at home, you’ll attract better talent and build a team that can deliver better customer service. These top employees will choose your business over others because of the care that you offer. It’s about setting up a culture that stands out, attracts, and retains the best people, ensuring your business delivers outstanding results.

You need to create a thriving workforce

Now that we know why prioritising well-being is so important, how do we integrate it into our business practices? The key to a thriving workforce lies in understanding your team members – knowing what they need, their skills, and how they want to balance work and family life. It’s about seeing how everyone’s roles fit together. More importantly, it’s about making sure your people can be agile when needed.

When COVID-19 hit, businesses that were flexible about how they operated managed better. These businesses knew their teams well and how each person’s role fit into the bigger picture, which helped them adapt quickly to new ways of working. Being connected and understanding each other’s roles in depth means you can face new challenges effectively as they come. This doesn’t just happen, though. You need to build a work culture where people support each other and can balance their work with their personal lives.

Some businesses rely on very strict processes, which can work when everything is under control. But in reality, no business has everything under control all the time. Being prepared for the unexpected and being able to adjust quickly is crucial. This flexibility helps your business not only survive tough times but thrive through them. The only way this can happen is if you develop a culture that supports individual and collective growth within and beyond the workplace.

Improving employee well-being

To start improving the well-being of your employees, the first step is to talk to them. Understand their needs both in and outside of work. This not only helps you create a more supportive environment but also builds a community at work where everyone feels they belong and have a voice.

For small business owners, like those running a landscaping or plumbing business with just a handful of employees, the idea of prioritising well-being might seem daunting or counter-intuitive. But, if you’re in these trades industries, you already have a very high degree of care on physical work health and safety. You just need to extend this to include emotional support. Your workplace should be physically as well as emotionally safe, so everyone can do their best work. 

Start simple: talk about well-being openly with your team. Recognise both the physical and emotional needs of your employees. Discuss how you can all look out for each other. This promotes teamwork and a caring environment. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s okay to ask your team for their ideas and feedback. This can lead to better solutions that you might not have thought of, and it spreads the responsibility, so it’s not all on you.

Your employees are your gift – use it. Ask them what it is that they might need more of or less of to support their well-being at work and at home. What are some of the things that they have seen, friends or family or others that they know in different workplaces? You’ll find these discussions can lead to valuable ideas and make everyone feel more invested in the workplace.

Integrating well-being into business policies

Improving the well-being of your team should be integrated into your policies. But when we hear the word “policy”, we often think, “Too formal. Too complex. Too scary”. If you think of business policies as processes, where you’re setting up a new routine or system, it won’t seem so complicated. You already have systems around customer service, billing, ordering supplies and so on. Employee well-being is no different.

Think of it as setting a practical protocol or practice. You don’t need a 30-page document; start simple. Discuss with your team what needs to be done, jot down a few key points, and let it evolve from there. Implement these practices bit by bit. Look for quick wins or small changes that can make a big difference. Remember, something is always better than nothing. Starting small allows you to adjust and improve as you go.

Regularly review and update these processes. Just like you might do a ‘spring clean’ of job roles at the end of the year, do the same for your well-being initiatives. This keeps everything fresh and relevant, ensuring that the systems in place genuinely support your team. This approach makes the process dynamic and continuously responsive to your team’s changing needs.

Aligning with common purposes

Part of building a good company culture is first finding and nurturing employees who share your business’s core values and goals. When your team resonates with what your business stands for, their jobs become more than just work. This alignment boosts motivation, pride, and individual and group productivity.

If your team members don’t share a common purpose—the fundamental reason they chose to work for you—then it’s tough to meet their expectations. Without this shared purpose, you’ll find that everyone’s needs and desires are different, which can feel like trying to satisfy a crowd of hungry kids.

To avoid this, make sure in your hiring process you focus on finding people who are genuinely excited about what your business does. Employees should wake up proud of where they work and committed to the shared goals. Then you can build a culture where everyone is working together towards common goals, enhancing the overall success and growth of your business.

Prioritising your team’s well-being creates a better workplace and build a more resilient, adaptive, and ultimately successful business. As leaders, our challenge is to continuously innovate and respond to our employees’ needs with empathy and understanding. By doing so, we not only enhance our business’s performance but we also show our commitment to the people who make our business possible.

Remember, improving well-being in your business is a continuous journey. Focus on making steady progress rather than seeking perfection. Start with small steps, actively seek out feedback, and be willing to make changes.

For more information on building a family-friendly workplace, visit Family Friendly Workplaces.