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Four things we can learn from children about how to create happy employees

From candid observations about life or constantly questioning why, children are renowned for cutting to the truth. Earlier this month, the Office of National Statistics released qualitative data on what children think about their well-being and what makes for a happy life1. So we thought we’d take a look at how this translates for workplaces…

Gig workers

Social wellbeing

Children reported that feeling loved and having positive, supportive relationships were key to a happy life. And the same can be said for a happy workplace; focusing on employees’ wellbeing can help improve productivity and profit2. The children also spoke about the need for trust, including having someone they can rely on and talk to – and someone who ‘never lets you down’. These ideas all translate into the workplace – creating an open culture, using an Employee Assistance Programme, utilising mental health first aiders and encouraging supportive people managers – and ensuring this type of support is in place can help benefit both social and professional wellbeing.

Children also described how belonging to a peer group can provide feelings of inclusion and confidence and reduce loneliness, with clubs, groups and mentors all cited as key opportunities for children to make friends and improve their social life. Companies can also develop social frameworks to further inclusivity and reduce the likelihood of loneliness – using surveys to uncover opportunities, creating professional groups, and encouraging employees to network across any perceived boundaries.

Children spoke in depth about how their relationships with others can affect their wellbeing; socialising and being able to talk to others were also seen as highly important – this need for trust and reliable support is echoed in the workplace. Socialising is an important component of workplace wellbeing, and a lack of social interaction due to COVID-19 restrictions need to be addressed. Similar to a ‘buddy bench’ in the school playground, workplaces could adopt a similar approach by facilitating regular conversations through virtual ‘buddy’ networks.

Find out more about combatting workplace loneliness in our guide >


Celebrating individuality

Children reported that being able to express their individuality and be themselves without judgement was crucial to their mental health and wellbeing – which aligns with the idea of employees bringing their “whole selves to work”. It’s a concept which is rooted in employees being able to bring authenticity, vulnerability and personality to the workplaces, and has grown in popularity in recent years. Between 2012 and 2014, Google undertook research across 180 teams which showed that the most significant element of team success is psychological safety3; a culture of trust, risk-taking and acceptance of mistakes. Unsurprisingly, children also described the importance of feeling safe as an essential element of their happiness – albeit it in physical spaces rather than psychologically.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the children suggested that generational differences were the cause for their parents lacking understanding of their emotional needs. Although a workplace context is inherently different, employers still need to consider multigenerational needs. With a wide mix of generations currently in the workforce, it is critical that companies understand generational requirements, provide an inclusive workplace and communicate effectively to all employees.

Reducing Stress

Children identified numerous drivers of stress; being overworked, pressure to undertake extra-curricular activities, bullying, family finances and bereavement. These are not too dissimilar to the themes we identified in our Contemporary Drivers of Mental Health report. Children also highlighted the importance of seeking professional support; echoing many company’s investments in mental health provision – including employee assistance programmes, mental health first aiders, targeted workshops and wellbeing apps.

For many parents, a key driver of stress during lockdown will have been the lack of childcare and the expectations of home-schooling (potentially whilst continuing to work). For those who continue to have lack of access to childcare support (perhaps due to shielding family members, or changed circumstances), employers can provide support through emergency childcare benefits.

Financial wellbeing

Although they are not responsible for family finances, the children interviewed acknowledged the importance of good financial wellbeing. They highlighted the link between financial stress and mental health – “finance is really stressful” – and how good financial wellbeing is rooted in having enough money to meet basic needs. It’s a familiar concept; at Aon, we define financial wellbeing as having enough money to support both short-term and long-term goals.

Although we wouldn’t advocate using children to inform your employee wellbeing strategies, it is reassuring to see how on-the-mark their observations about life are. It also brings hope for the workforce in the next 10-20 years; their open discussions around mental health, financial health and inclusivity can only bring positive changes to the workplaces they grow into.

In discussing their future happiness and wellbeing, the main areas raised included living in a country at peace and where children's needs are considered by those in positions of power, empowering children to express themselves and have a say in decisions that affect their lives, and preservation of the environment and addressing climate change. And, perhaps most insightful of all; "they should listen to children because sometimes the children are right".





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