Five wellbeing lessons Britain can learn from Romania

Stella Photi is founder and managing director of wellbeing holiday experts, Wellbeing Escapes. Stella founded Wellbeing Escapes after feeling burnt out in her corporate job and recognising the importance of taking time out and embarking on meaningful getaways that rejuvenate both mind and body. This inspired her to found Wellbeing Escapes, a specialist travel company that offers a range of results-driven wellness programmes and offer down-to-earth, objective advice.


Romania has one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, posting the biggest economic growth in Europe in 2016 and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will have the highest economic growth in 2017. Its major industries include precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, petroleum, steel, aerospace and telecommunications. These industries are well-aligned to the biggest industries in the UK (machine tools, electrical equipment, aerospace, metals, chemicals and petroleum) – and this could be an example of (just like a business) – a large country learning from its smaller, more agile, fast-growing counterpart.


Although it may seem surprising, according to the Global Employee Engagement Index (GEEI), Romania boasts the highest scores across Europe for mental vitality, motivation, staff retention and importantly, productivity. In Romanian culture, family represents an important value with great significance placed on long-term relationships based on trust, respect and loyalty. We look at how these values embed themselves in the workplace and what we can we learn from Romania when it comes to HR practices in the UK.

Stella Photi, founder and managing director of Wellbeing Escapes, details five wellbeing initiatives from Romanian working culture and explains how and why HR Directors should be adopting more of these in Britain.


1. Promote Work-Life Balance & Prevent Corporate Burnout

In the UK, full-time employees are entitled to 28 days annual leave (including eight UK bank holidays). In Romania, all employees are entitled to 20 days annual leave, there are 12 national holidays each year and two additional days of holiday exclusively for Government and Public Sector employees. On top of this, employees are entitled to paid leave for exceptional family events or other situations.


This includes:

  • Five days for the marriage of an employee
  • Two days for the marriage of an employee’s child
  • Three days for the death of spouses, children, parents or parents-in-law
  • One day for the death of grandparents, brothers or sisters
  • In the UK, there is no statutory right for you to have paid leave after bereavement, although workers are entitled to a ‘reasonable period’ of unpaid time off.


Although companies can encourage work-life balance off their own backs in the UK, Romania has chosen to set the bar that little bit higher when it comes to annual leave, and the results show it’s making a positive difference in the workplace.
Encouraging better work-life balance by offering flexible working and annual leave options will reduce turnover rates while productivity will increase. A recent study conducted inside a Fortune500 company found that employees who were placed on a flexibility programme were both happier at work and less prone to burnout and psychological stress when compared with colleagues who were not on the programme.


2. Investment in Employees

In Romania, investment in wellbeing initiatives and investment in employees themselves has increased significantly. The market for wellbeing programmes has expanded by over 50 per cent in the last three years, with companies investing between €5,000 and €30,000 in programmes for employees (Creative&Bright, 2017).With unemployment at 5.3 per cent (EU average 7.8 per cent, Eurostat, April 2017) and an increasing number of multinationals opening offices in Romania, finding and keeping talent has become a challenge. As a result, along with investing in wellbeing initiatives to retain staff, businesses have been directly investing in their employees. According to Smartree statistics, wages rose on average by 9.35 per cent in 2016 and bonuses offered by companies increased by almost 19 per cent over the same period. In contrast, average weekly earnings in the UK increased by 0.2 per cent including bonuses, and by just 0.1 per cent excluding bonuses over the year (ONS). Although most employees are not driven purely by financial rewards, balancing increased investment in your employees (whether monetary or otherwise) with investment in wellbeing schemes is key to employee retention.


3. Recognition of Generational Differences in the Workplace

Recognising that employees are individuals that want different things from their role in order to feel satisfied at work is critical. In Romania, employees who worked the early days of multinational presence in Romania continue to value ‘Flexicurity’ – the popular labour market theory of the 90s which places flexibility, security and financial rewards as the most important job satisfaction metrics. In contrast, millennials value career progression, learning, fun and meaning from a role.Recognising the importance of individuality, multinational businesses based in Romania have begun offering employees ‘pick n’ mix’-style benefits to cater for these differences, where employees can pick benefits that suit their lifestyle, from English classes and shared learning events to health insurance and wellness programmes.


4. A Focus on Mechanisms that Support Mental Wellbeing

According to the Global Employee Engagement Index, Mental Vitality, Workplace Atmosphere and Job Satisfaction are ranked higher in Romania than anywhere else in Europe. Interestingly, these findings are backed up by the results of the latest European Working Conditions Survey which found that: 69 per cent of Romanian employees ‘never’ worked more than 10 hours a day in a month – in contrast to just 56 per cent of employees in the UK, and 81 per cent of Romanian employees agreed that they had enough time in their working days and weeks to get the job done ‘always or most of the time’, in contrast to 66 per cent of UK employees. Having the capacity and headspace to do your job effectively is hugely important to mental vitality and job satisfaction. Alarmingly, half of UK employees don’t take their full annual leave, and it’s likely that this is because they feel they can’t afford the time off due to the stress of work commitments – when in fact, these are the people that need the time off the most in order to carry out their role effectively.


5. Culture-Focussed Office Environments

Following extensive research and investment in wellbeing initiatives, this investment has also been made into innovating the office environment to encourage employees to be active, further their learning and merge the worlds of work and play.
UK-based Betfair’s Romania offices are a great example of this – winning the country’s ‘The MOST Office Award’ 2016 which celebrates the best offices in Romania. The concept behind the office space is ‘The City Within the City’ in order to turn Betfair Romania into a space that constantly fosters creativity and innovation. The design combined traditional Romanian motifs and modern patterns in order to obtain a friendly and multifunctional atmosphere that fits the work style of the employees – stand-out, urban-inspired spaces include a fishing port, tennis courts and even Grandma’s Cottage. Blending aspects of the culture into the workplace environment is a smart way to further instil Romania’s traditional values into the workplace.


On company review website Glassdoor, Betfair Romania is currently rated 4.3 stars out of five, with 100 per cent of reviewing employees agreeing they would recommend the employer to a friend – testament to the company’s investment in both its employees and the workplace environment to create somewhere employees want to work.  Recent years have seen a greater awareness of the value of wellbeing at work, but there is more that can be done.

According to the CIPD, UK businesses are losing 6.9 days per year per employee due to absenteeism, while almost a quarter of UK firms (23 per cent) report non-genuine absence, estimated to cost the average business £554 per employee. It really does pay to look after your employees.

There is an undeniable link between productivity and workplace wellbeing. Wellbeing Escapes offers wellness programmes (from stress management and managing change to optimising fitness and healthy eating) at destinations worldwide – to find out more, visit

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