The workplace has changed forever. So much so, that 83% of employers say they expect remote working to change how they operate in the future, and an impressive 70% of employers say they have found better ways of working during lockdown. According to Gartner, 64% of HR leaders say they plan to prioritise the employee experience more highly than they did before the pandemic.
This pandemic forced employers and their staff to think more carefully about wellbeing. Workers’ concerns about their mental health have increased dramatically since lockdown began.
When the Coronavirus pandemic forced millions of us to change how we work, employees quickly realised the balance they can achieve in their lives by working remotely and flexibly. New research by Direct Line has found that improved financial wellbeing, less time commuting, more time spent with family, and better health top the list of reasons why employees want more flexible and home working in the future.
Wellbeing has moved up the agenda
Employee wellbeing was already expected to top the CEO agenda for 2020. Back in January, AON found that 71% of employers agreed that they have a responsibility over all areas of employee health. At that point, mental health problems were already costing UK employers up to £45 billion. Suddenly, a pandemic hit and less than a third of people rated their wellbeing as ‘positive’. Americans’ sense of wellbeing fell to great recession levels and experts warned that our mental health would take years to recover.
This pandemic forced employers and their staff to think more carefully about wellbeing. Workers’ concerns about their mental health have increased dramatically since lockdown began. As a result, 60% of employers now say they will be looking to enhance their wellbeing programmes to improve stress and mental health management services.
If you do one thing to support your employees’ wellbeing post-Coronavirus, it should be to create a place for them to go when they need support
Employees have been very critical about the lack of support some employers have offered, however. More than half of employees say their employers hadn’t taken any steps to improve their wellbeing since lockdown started. More than 62% of construction employees said they haven’t had any support from their employer at all. It’s clear we will be dealing with the emotional and financial wellbeing fallout of this pandemic for many years to come. If organisations are to provide enough support to their staff in the near future, they must take action now.
Here are my top, low-cost tips on how employers make those first steps, utilising what most organisations already have available to them.
1. Build a home for wellbeing
In May 2020, the CIPD urged employers to step up their mental health support for employees in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Research by the CIPD and Simplyhealth found that only a third of managers were sufficiently confident to initiate discussions around mental health and direct employees to the appropriate support.
If you do one thing to support your employees’ wellbeing post-Coronavirus, it should be to create a place for them to go when they need support. Consolidating your wellbeing experience into a central hub helps to fill that communal gap for employees who are working apart. This singular place provides a comfort point that employees can access from anywhere, at any time, giving them a reliable source of information, a way to improve their health literacy and a place that can signpost them to professional wellbeing support and advice.
Research by RAND Europe and VitalityHealth indicates that although most employers now offer a range of wellbeing initiatives at work, access to those is an issue for employees. Less than 20% of employees say they are aware of where to go to access their wellbeing initiatives.
One of the primary recommendations of a 2019 report by the Federal Reserve and a 2017 report by HM Treasury and the FCA was to give staff a user friendly, web-based portal so that staff can access information, education and signposting that will help with their financial wellbeing. As financial concerns are the biggest wellbeing worry for employees during this crisis, this is a great place to start.
2. Utilise your existing benefits investment
When the Coronavirus pandemic first took hold, many employers immediately turned to their benefit providers. Already a huge investment for most employers, this was an obvious place to start.
As a result of the pandemic, almost half of employers have committed to increasing their benefits communications. Raising awareness of benefits, features and additional support available to employees under their existing benefits arrangements has resulted in record levels of take up. We have seen significant increases in EAP calls, anytime health calls and virtual GP services. Cycle to work schemes have grown dramatically since lockdown began, as employees find new ways to get outside and exercise.
We have also seen a huge increase in demand for essential benefits like life assurance and income protection, as employers communicate the wider merits of these. In fact, mental health is now the leading reason for income protection claims (around 30%). These benefits offer so much more than just a payout, however. Access to qualified counsellors, virtual GPs, health MOTs, dedicated nurses and mindfulness apps are just some of the extras employees and their families can access for free.
As lockdown begins to ease in parts of the UK, two in five employees say they are anxious about the return to work. Consumers also say they are concerned for employee wellbeing. Long after lockdown ends and a vaccine is produced, employees will need wellbeing support at work.
This pandemic has created many issues that employees may not have had to deal with before. The increase in poor financial and emotional wellbeing over the last decade has been tipped over the edge by this crisis. Employees have never needed the support of their employer more, and while the cost to employers of inaction could be huge, the positives of taking proactive measures to improve employee wellbeing will be significant and very much appreciated.
Interested in this topic? Read The wellbeing framework: a useful tool to support leaders and their teams in difficult times?