Wellbeing in the time of COVID-19
How organisations can employ new training and technology to support workers in isolation
Wellness in the time of COVID-19
How businesses can support people working in isolation
The new wellness challenge
Understanding the risks of isolation
Remote working has been slowly creeping into the lives of the UK’s workers for some years. Advances in technology and security have given people the tools and capability to work from home, whilst employee perception around work/life balance - combined with new legislation around workers' rights to flexible working – has led to increased demand.
And millions are reaping the rewards. According to research released by This is Money by Lloyds Bank, more than a quarter of Britain’s workforce works flexibly – that equates to around 8 million people. Much of this has been about the benefit of flexibility – to be able to attend different offices, hold meetings off-site. Remote working has meant variety of location, atmosphere and faces.
But COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief a very different set of circumstances, where workers are not so much remote as isolated – away from office colleagues, either alone or with family members also struggling to adjust. There can be no doubt that this situation – which looks to be part of a prolonged period of change - brings a real risk to workers’ sense of wellbeing and overall mental health.
This risk extends to the health of the business. Research has backed up what many already instinctively knew: that wellness is not only directly linked to productivity but also to the bottom line.
In Autumn 2019, before the current pandemic took hold, Capita released a new piece of research, ‘Human to Hybrid’, which examined the impact of our changing world on the employee workforce. Within it, nearly 59% of HR leaders identified increased productivity as one of a host of benefits of prioritising wellbeing.
It is essential that businesses – led and empowered by their HR teams – address wellness as a priority not just for the benefit of their workforce, but for the long term good of the business too.
Please rank the following reasons why employee wellbeing may be important to your organisation.
The chart shows areas ranked first by respondents.
What factors impact wellbeing?
When it comes to causing stress it can be of no surprise that factors such as workload pressure (identified by 86% of HR leads) and job insecurity ( identified by 84% of HR leads) come top of the list. And without question both of these will be exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.
But a number of other factors – including lack of social contact (77%) – were also identified, and combined, these have the ability to cause unprecedented levels of anxiety amongst our workforce.
So how can businesses guard the health of their workforce during this period of change? We’ve identified 3 opportunities for organisations to act – small changes that will make a big difference.
What factors within your organisation do you see compromising employee wellbeing today?
Managers are your front line
Employee wellbeing is closely tied to productivity and thus the bottom line.
As a strategic imperative, it must therefore be instilled through corporate culture, which is owned and led from the top, from the Board down.
But in times of isolation, where a sense of culture becomes much more remote and intangible, this isn’t achievable. Instead, individual line managers must step up to support their teams and take responsibility for their wellbeing.
However, this puts considerable onus on the line manager – many of whom are not equipped to identify and deal with issues such as anxiety or mental health issues.
Capita's Human to Hybrid research confirmed the challenge, with 56% of HR leaders citing a lack of mental health training across the workforce.
This challenge is exacerbated in the COVID-19 world, where there is no opportunity to meet in person: the impersonal nature of digital communications makes it challenging to manage remote workers on a day-to-day basis, never mind then identify a problem or get employees to open up.
Fig 3. Capacity of line managers to identify early warning signs of poor mental health.
How well equipped are line managers in your organisation to identify the early warning signs of poor mental health?
Organisations can mitigate this risk by offering training for people managers that covers:
- Managing remote workers: train your leaders in how to manage a remote workforce and deal with issues such as workload, capacity management (both in terms of too much and too little), how to offer training and development, and monitor overall productivity and engagement.
- How to support mental health: ensure that your managers understand not just how to spot issues quickly, but deal with them effectively and – where necessary – call on wider support from the business.
The advantage is that much of this training can itself be delivered remotely using a combination of webinars and online courses, meaning businesses can deploy now and see immediate benefits.
2. Take a holistic approach
Blurring the line between work and home
Workplace pressures are no longer just about work. The research reveals that a large majority (81%) of HR leaders recognise the need to focus on employees as ‘whole people’, looking at wellbeing in a more rounded way.
This means considering all aspects of the person, both inside and outside of the workplace, and providing support aimed at physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Yet 45% of HR leaders report that their organisation’s current approach to wellbeing is siloed and inconsistent. Most significantly, the research suggests organisations are continuing to separate wellbeing in the workplace from general wellbeing outside of work. This is problematic when employees are focusing more and more on their perceived work/life balance.
Fig. 4. Organisational support for wellbeing for staff offered today
Employers need to consider the 'life' side of the work/life balance
With current isolation policies, the line between work and home life has blurred; many people are not just working from home, they are actively juggling the roles of worker, carer and even teacher.
With many thinktanks predicting that increased home working is something that is here to stay, businesses need to support wellbeing by taking account of these individual pressures, investing in the supportive benefits packages, and adopting more flexible working policies to help their employees navigate this new work/life balance.
Fig.5 Activities to improve employee wellbeing over the next 5 years.
Which of the following scenarios do you think would positively impact wellbeing in your organisation in the next 5 years?
3. See technology as a solution – not a barrier
Technology can help tackle social isolation head on
Technology is often treated with caution and scepticism, especially where employee wellbeing is concerned, and rumours abound that workers will be replaced by AI and robotics.
In reality, the vast majority of technology is there to augment the human workforce, making it part of the solution. What’s more, it can play a huge role in wellbeing, addressing everything from workplace design to better collaboration and teamwork.
Many businesses are already investing in these solutions to support wellbeing, as the research shows.
Fig. 6. How AI/tech can help address wellbeing concerns
In which ways so you think AI and technology can help to address wellbeing concerns?
4 quick wins using tech
There are also some specific solutions that can be deployed now to help organisations tackle loneliness and social isolation head on:
1. Using apps to support mental health
Apps such as Headspace have seen considerable uptake by those looking to undertake mediation or mindfulness exercise at home. Offering corporate packages can encourage this activity and help people reduce their levels of stress and anxiety.
2. Invest in video conferencing to combat social distancing
The research identified loneliness through lack of face-to-face or social contact as being significant risk to wellbeing. By encouraging the use of video conferencing through communications solutions such as O365, people can maintain some semblance of face-to-face contact with their colleagues.
3. Maintain productivity through online training
Not enough work to do can be as demoralising as having too much – especially when people have concerns around job security. Online training allows people to remain productive and improve their skillset, giving them flexibility to attend around their work schedule. This benefits both them and the business.
4. Give staff peace of mind on pay
Using time management apps allows homeworkers to log their hours and absences remotely using web and mobile devices; this gives employees peace of mind that they will be paid accurately for the work they have done.
Wellness at the heart of your workforce
Wellness at the heart of your workforce
The advantages of establishing a strong culture of wellness are enormous — increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, improved retention and a stronger bottom line.
Small changes can be made today that will ensure that sense of wellness remains intact as workers and businesses are put under unprecedented levels of pressure. Looking ahead, those same small changes may lay the foundations to future ways of working, as we adopt to new norms post COVID-19. Remote and home working, enforced by necessity, are now a proven and viable option for many who were denied this flexibility in the past.
Organisations need to prepare now for a very different workforce tomorrow.
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