The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the biggest disruptions to the modern world. The workplace is still experiencing the seismic effects and adjusting to the new normal.
Suddenly, most companies had to shift to a fully remote workplace. Employees and employers alike had to adopt new policies and technologies to adjust to a fully virtual world and learn to make it work.
For most companies, however, the pandemic has served as a wake-up call to the value of employee wellbeing. While employee wellbeing was an initiative for some organizations pre-pandemic, it is now top of mind for most. Employers are learning that as their biggest asset, employees need and deserve support to maintain positive wellbeing.
So what lessons have employers and HR professionals learned from this experience in the last 18 months? We've compiled a list of the most important findings related to employee wellbeing.
Remote work during the pandemic has introduced more pressure and longer work hours for many employees. Before COVID-19, wellness programs were a coveted employee benefit viewed as a nice-to-have.
As remote work blurred the lines between home and work, employees found it hard to find a balance, catapulting employee wellness to a necessary initiative. From small policy changes like no-meeting time blocks to larger initiatives like new benefits programs, companies will have to make work-life balance a priority.
Uncertainty became rife as entire industries lay dormant and thousands of people lost their jobs. For those lucky enough to still have a job, there was a nagging thought about whether they'd be next. It dawned on employers that there was a need for regular communication to offer some certainty.
Further, employees need to hear about the actions employers are taking to keep them safe. They also need communication to feel connected to the business. Pre-pandemic, office life gave employees a sense of community so many felt disconnected working virtually.
While individual check-ins with every employee are not feasible, hosting company town halls, administering pulse surveys, posting in slack channels are ways to foster communication.
Before the pandemic, according to the Human Resource Executive, most employers did not have the programs or culture to offer mental health support at work.
Even before the pandemic mental health was a growing topic among workplace leaders. Employers had already invested time and resources into identifying symptoms of mental health issues. Many companies had started offering free or low-cost virtual mental health visits.
The pandemic, however, has generated a sense of urgency among employers to expand their resources to meet the need for mental health support as experts point to extensive mental health issues and as employers begin to feel the effects stress and anxiety have on their employees. Two-thirds of employees report poor mental health has decreased productivity in their job responsibilities.
It's also crucial that employers understand the particular concerns of their team members to best support their mental health and future ways of working that boost their mental health.
Further, introducing employee resource groups can help them to connect better with others. According to the Harvard Business Review, resource groups created to cater to mental health also promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for workers struggling with mental health. Additionally, giving monthly rest periods and focus days helps them get enough breaks from work. A subscription to mental health apps and regularly availing counseling to anyone who needs it creates a sense of feeling valued.
Companies that have already adopted flexibility with work schedules report increased levels of job satisfaction and much less absenteeism among their employees.
The pandemic highlighted an already existing crisis. Employees who also have caregiving responsibilities had a difficult time balancing their caretaking and job responsibilities.
According to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving, family caregivers now account for more than one in every five people in the US. Alarmingly, caregivers are in worse health than they were five years ago.
A similar report from the American Psychological Association shows that caregivers record higher stress levels compared with the general public. However, the study also showed that caregivers who feel sufficiently supported have much lower stress levels than those who don't.
With a growing older population, the public and private sectors can collaborate to create solutions to support family caregivers and caregiver employees.
First, employers can help caregivers by creating a supportive culture and adopting caregiver benefits like Papa, which connects families to pals to help with caregiving needs, transportation services, house help, and more.
Secondly, adopting a culture that allows employees to choose their work hours and remote work when needed can be highly beneficial to overall employee wellbeing. Health experts say that flexibility with work schedules can particularly help alleviate stress, reduce chances of burnout, and even result in increased happiness.
The pandemic was a catalyst for change, and even after it's over it's clear that the workplace will never be the same again. Employee wellbeing programs and initiatives are only growing in popularity. While the pandemic may have highlighted employee wellbeing issues, these lessons can help create a healthier, more inclusive workplace moving forward.