Should I leave this critical Zoom meeting to calm a toddler tantrum? How long has it been since I last talked to someone face to face? How will I cope on this much money?
These are just some of the concerns people have faced since COVID-19 began ravaging our bodies, our freedoms and our finances. I’ve felt it personally trying to run an agency and parent two small children – and I know that I’ve been one of the lucky ones.
The evidence is mounting of the impact on mental health: research by Simetrica-Jacobs and the LSE found “substantially worse” levels of wellbeing and psychological distress across the UK in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
I believe employers have a both responsibility and an opportunity to act here. There’s a responsibility to move past the lip-service approach that we’ve seen from many organisations in recent years, and an opportunity to reshape entire organisations, internally and externally, around wellbeing.
It could mean the rise of a new type of organisation: the wellbeing organisation, supporting employees in very practical ways.
- Maintaining the conversation
The Mental Health Foundation reported a rise in 16-24 year olds feeling loneliness from 16% before lockdown to 44% after it. This group, along with the elderly, have probably felt the negative mental impact of lockdown and home-working most acutely. For them work offers not only money and opportunity, but also access to new social groups in often unfamiliar cities. These have disappeared.
Social contact is something that employers can provide easily. Aside from asking employees how they’re doing, they can also help maintain networks that used to exist face to face. This can be formal and informal. And as lockdown eases, employers should suggest social gatherings as soon as they’re allowed. It needn’t be mandatory, but it should be readily available.
- Reducing the money worries
Money worries can amplify mental health concerns, reduce productivity and increase absenteeism. In these times, employees need clarity around their financial position, first of all, then support around what they can do to improve it. And they shouldn’t have to rely on Martin Lewis.
Transparency is vital, but a platform to discuss and dissect these issues could be invaluable. And where possible, this should be responsive, targeted on specific needs rather than blanket advice.
- Keeping it flexible and physical
Wellbeing has long been a sticking plaster for other failings. Overbearing, micro-managing line-manager? Not to worry, here’s a selection of office pot plants. Unsociable, miserably long working days? That’s ok, there’s a free bar on a Friday.
It needn’t be this way.
By giving employees the trust and flexibility they need, and actively encouraging them to fit their work around their life, including exercise – Joe Wicks would thank you for that – line-managers can play a crucial role in employee wellbeing. Assuming the best, rather than the worst, will also go a really long way in improving employee mental states.
The wellbeing organisation
The world of work is already learning the positive lessons of the pandemic. Remote working is possible. Flexibility is desirable. Support on wellbeing is essential. Those who succeed in offering it, who become wellbeing organisations, will find themselves at a major advantage in hiring top talent.
That means integrating wellbeing at the highest level possible in an organisation’s brand positioning. It should no longer be sat hidden in the ‘benefits’ package, but front and centre in any EVP and employer brand.
The C-suite must also lead. Leaders must exemplify, support and promote better ways of working, and they must push through the agenda at all levels.
Time will tell if this will indeed happen. But with how much everything else is changing, we may see it happen sooner rather than later.