It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent upheaval has had a significant impact on individuals’ wellbeing all over the world – and this can be clearly seen in the workplace. Employees are struggling with the isolation caused by multiple lockdowns and ongoing remote work, and are longing for a lost sense of connection at work.

In Workhuman’s recent report, ‘Two Years Into Covid’, a shocking 54% of workers across the UK, Ireland, Canada, and the US said they feel mentally exhausted and drained after every workday. Furthermore, 44% said they struggle to stay focused at work, and 58% said they are simply functioning on autopilot.

In the face of this wellbeing crisis, how can HR and business leaders overcome the challenges of the past two years, and support their struggling employees? Hybrid work – seen by many as inevitable – may actually hold the solution.

The power of hybrid

Working parents, caregivers, and many other employees with busy personal lives have benefited from the flexibility afforded by the remote and hybrid work practices introduced during the pandemic – and few want to give this up. In fact, Workhuman’s research into the Great Resignation found that flexibility is a key motivating factor for employees when looking for a new job. So most organisations will need to at least consider hybrid work policies in the long term.

There are many obvious benefits to a hybrid work approach overall – such as an increased talent pool – but the benefits to the employee experience and wellbeing may be greater still. With its focus on flexibility, hybrid work allows for a much better work-life balance. For example, allowing for remote work means that employees can be present and spend valuable time with their families, whilst still getting their work done. Meanwhile, those who have struggled with the isolating effect of remote work – which is naturally detrimental to mental health – can choose to come into the office and socialise with their colleagues.

In short, a hybrid option allows employees to have the best of both worlds: collaboration and face-to-face time when necessary, while still having days at home to decompress. This freedom to choose how and when to work will take the burden of unnecessary stress from employees, and so is a great first step in supporting their mental and physical wellbeing.

An equitable experience

In order to ensure all employees can reap the benefits of hybrid work, organisations must ensure that any policies they implement have equity at their core. This so-called ‘hybrid equity’ approach is vital not only because it is what employees have come to expect, but also as part of “a broader ecosystem of conversations that we’re having about equity across society,” said Steve Pemberton, Chief HR Officer at Workhuman, in a recent interview. This includes equity in terms of access to healthcare; the full participation of women in the workforce; and equity for racial and ethnic minorities and those with disabilities.

There are practical steps organisations can take in the short term to achieve this goal – for example by providing the necessary tools and resources to employees to ensure all can succeed in a work-from-home environment when needed. HR and business leaders may also consider specific types of diversity, such as neurodiversity, and provide different tools and policies to support these particular individuals. Key to this is that leaders educate themselves first, both through external resources and by taking the time to listen to their own employees.

To truly succeed in the long term, organisations will need to commit to creating and nurturing a culture of connection and belonging – in which all employees feel respected, valued, and psychologically safe.

A culture of caring

In Making Work Human, Eric Mosley and I posited: “If wellbeing (and its related benefits) were foremost in the minds of leaders, most companies would be cathedrals of caring. Most companies haven’t made that cultural journey yet.”

This cultural journey is one that must be ongoing, but the long-term benefits to employees’ wellbeing will be worth it. Employees who feel a sense of belonging and who are encouraged to take the time and space to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing feel empowered and respected. And when employees have this positive employee experience, they are much more likely to being their whole selves to work – which in turn leads to higher levels of engagement, productivity, creativity, and innovation.

Organisations can enhance this positive employee experience by promoting trust and gratitude throughout the company. Workhuman’s 2019 international employee survey report, “The Future of Work Is Human,” found that trust is a form of relational currency that can be leveraged especially during times of change and uncertainty. The data also suggests a strong relationship between more frequent communication and higher levels of trust, respect, and engagement.

This goes hand-in-hand with peer-to-peer recognition, which encourages employees at all levels to regularly give thanks to colleagues and managers alike – ensuring that everyone feels valued and appreciated for the work they do. This approach leads to genuine, positive human connections at work – no matter where your employees are physically located – and this is sure to improve employee wellbeing in the future of hybrid work.  

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