As organisations confront the hurdles of the coronavirus pandemic and start to reopen their office doors, employee wellness needs to be considered a critical organisational priority. If nothing else, the current crisis has shown us the importance of showing humanity and understanding, something which steadfastly applies to the workplace.

When it comes to ensuring employees are happy and healthy at work, it all starts with wellness programmes, which play an integral role in enabling employees to bring their whole selves to work, while being productive and engaged. Even before the coronavirus crisis, wellness programmes were favoured by both employees and organisations. A recent survey from REBA finds 68.4% of HR respondents have a well-being strategy in place, and analysis by Deloitte reveals that investing in mental health programmes can result in a return of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.

Indeed, wellness programmes are becoming much more than gym memberships and healthy breakroom snacks, and as organisations plan for work’s new normal, employee wellness must be part of an overall strategy to ensure organisational survival and growth. Below are five ways organisations and HR departments can support employee well-being:

  1. Leading with humanity

The simplest way to drive employee well-being is through leadership that truly cares about its employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has called on business leaders to provide employees with much more than operational strategy. Human-focused leaders are taking centre stage as they seek to keep employees feeling valued and engaged, despite current uncertainties. There’s no better way to do this than by building trust.

A simple way for leaders to gain the trust of their employees is by showing vulnerability through uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. This could mean leaders opening up about a personal challenge they’ve faced during the pandemic, taking responsibility for a mistake, or reaching out to a team member who seems to be struggling. By seeing managers as vulnerable human beings, connections and humanity in the workplace will grow stronger.

  1. Managing stress and mental health

It’s not surprising that the constant changes the pandemic is making to our everyday lives have taken a toll on people’s mental health. As employees deal with the stress of juggling home and work commitments, amongst other worries, it’s vital that any employee wellness programme should offer resources to help employees get through this challenging time.

Many organisations are already promoting and encouraging mental health, from advocating for recognition of mental health conditions, to a surge in mindfulness programmes, to consumer products and services transforming into corporate benefits, like FitBit Health Solutions.  

Another tactic is to support employees through a recognition programme. Gratitude can lessen stress and increase positivity in general, and by recognising employees who actively participate in stress management programmes, you can encourage mindfulness and wellness. 

  1. Enabling flexible work

Before COVID-19, flexible remote work arrangements were not commonplace, with organisations lamenting the technology and cost required to support such a practice. Now, organisations are recognising the value of flexible work and are seeking the best ways to support remote workers for the long term.

When it comes to well-being, listening to and understanding employees’ desire to work more flexibly – whether to better manage child care, cut down their commuting time, or because they feel more productive working at home – is not only key to winning their trust, but also supporting their overall well-being.

  1. Providing well-being activities during work hours

To have a wellness programme that truly suits every employee’s needs, it must become part of their day-to-day, even with the majority of people still working from home. Having well-being activities during the work day, such as company-wide yoga classes over Zoom, is not only good for the body and mind, it also brings an organisation together through positive connection.

Many organisations have already taken this step. Brilliant Earth, for example, encourages physical fitness, both through regularly scheduled stretch breaks as well as “Fitness Fridays,” where employees do in-home workouts together as a team. SAP has a programme focused on mindfulness strategies for employees and leaders as they go about their day. Given the stresses of today’s environment, encouraging employees to set time aside to focus on their well-being is a must.

  1. Fostering an environment of connection

The best work happens when individuals collaborate in a trusted environment, whether they’re working from home or in the office. Here are some ways you can build that feeling of connection:

Implement a social recognition programme – When employees feel their work is valued and appreciated by managers and peers alike, you’ll build an environment of engagement, trust, and belonging. Social recognition tools can also bring teams together by enabling them to celebrate shared accomplishments. 

Encourage frequent check-ins – By regularly touching base with managers, peers, and mentors, collaboration and trust increase as employees feel their concerns are being heard and they are more connected to their teams. This practice can be made easier with a continuous performance management tool, which can help managers see where employees might need extra support and where the good work is being done.

Celebrate life events – We spend more time with our colleagues throughout the day than anyone else. Why not bring a little bit more humanity into our relationships by celebrating each other’s personal milestones, from getting married or purchasing a home, to getting a new pet? These shared celebrations bring employees together and help them feel more connected to each other. Especially in today’s environment, where the coronavirus crisis has begun to transform work-life balance to work-life blending, celebrating the important events in the lives of others is a powerful way to bring work and life together.

As we start to emerge from the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little expectation (or desire) that the workplace will return to the way it was before. New technologies, workplace practices, and styles of leadership are already beginning to take hold in a world of flexible, employee-first work. Indeed, employee well-being has truly come into focus, and priorities are shifting to treat employees as human beings who will bring their best selves to work each day when they are treated as such.

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