Guest opinion: Ivan Robertson, managing director of Robertson Cooper and Emeritus professor at the University of Manchester

What employees crave is to feel good and their psychological wellbeing can result in greater commitment and energy, particularly if bosses know how to use it to its greatest effect, says Ivan Robertson

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All enterprises want to get the best possible results. They do this by directing and sustaining the energy of their employees. To be successful, organisations need some quite specific things from their staff including: high productivity, low levels of sickness absence, a high number and quality of applicants for jobs, retention of key people, good levels of organisational citizenship, and effective learning and problem solving.

In short, organisations want an engaged and committed workforce. Employee benefits clearly have a role to play in helping to build motivation and commitment within an organisation.

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But what is it that employees really want? As a psychologist, I am very clear about the answer to this question. As anyone who works in the employee benefits field will recognise, employees value different things when it comes to benefits. But, underneath it all, there is one fundamental thing that all people value.

What employees (and indeed all people) want is to feel good. Of course, there are huge differences between people in terms of what makes this happen. This depends on factors such as their circumstances, background issues and personal history. For one person, acquiring a small amount of money could cause a big psychological high; for another giving away a large sum could have the same effect. Either way, the key motivator is the same for all of us – to feel good. This goal is referred to as psychological wellbeing.

This is the central motivational goal for most people and, at the deepest level, it is what every employee wants. If they have it, they will feel more motivated, committed and energised. So it’s critically important for organisations and staff to get psychological wellbeing right.

Firstly, if psychological wellbeing is the main motivational force for staff, all processes including systems for reward and benefits need to enable employees’ psychological wellbeing to be enhanced and sustained. Even expensive perks will have less impact if accompanied by low levels of psychological wellbeing.

Secondly, this in itself is associated with a number of highly-desirable factors. People with higher levels of psychological wellbeing learn and problem solve more effectively, are more enthusiastic about change and relate to others more positively. Is there another set of characteristics, apart from job-specific skills, that are more important to an organisation’s success? Psychological wellbeing is also dynamic – it ebbs and flows. Most researchers acknowledge that it is not fixed and stable because it can be enhanced or damaged as time passes.

People have a reservoir of psychological wellbeing which events and relationships can drain. Of course, some people are more resilient than others, and people’s wellbeing is damaged or enhanced by different things. But no one can go on forever without replenishing their reservoir.

Finally, and most compelling, is that organisations do better when people have higher levels of psychological wellbeing. This means that it delivers direct bottom line benefits. Individuals with good psychological wellbeing are more effective leaders, managers and employees. Research shows productivity is also determined by this, implying that there is an advantage available for all organisations to tap.

Employee benefits professionals are in an ideal position to help their organisations maximise the feel-good factor. As well as considering the more traditional employee benefits, it’s time to consider the more intrinsic benefits that can be offered. Psychological wellbeing can be seen as a foundation for more tangible benefits and can either magnify or shrink their perceived value.

I believe that this represents a more holistic and ultimately effective approach to employee benefits than some traditional ones and offers organisations a genuinely new source of competitive advantage.