We all know the importance of workplace wellbeing. Over the past five years, employee wellbeing initiatives have gone from ‘nice-to-have’ to becoming a core business fundamental. In 2020, Reba’s Employee Wellbeing Research found that wellbeing initiatives are fast becoming a defining feature of business cultures. The study also concluded that organisations with a clear mental health strategy were performing better than those without.
Of course, with the pandemic still looming large and most people continuing to work remotely, mental health and wellbeing have never been more important - or more at risk. From loneliness and burnout to juggling homeschooling, childcare and work, employee wellbeing is more critical than ever before.
Here are some wellbeing initiatives tipped to be big in 2021…
Mental health supporters
The good news is that the number of employees who feel their organisation supports their mental health is on the rise. BITC’s 2020 report on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace found that the number who agreed rose from 55% in 2019 to 63% in 2020. However, with the effects of the pandemic, it’s vital that more employers offer adequate mental health support.
One of the ways to do this is through Mental Health First Aid England. The organisation works with over 20,000 businesses, teaching employees how to recognise signs of mental health issues, as well as how to seek support. Their aim is to de-stigmatise mental health problems, and to empower people to recognise symptoms of ill mental health - both in themselves and in others.
Another tool employers have at their disposal is the use of technology. Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer can help your employees meditate, practice mindfulness, and get to sleep more easily. While some of the content on these apps can be accessed for free, employers have the option of paying for their staff to use the premium content on offer.
Set healthy working hours
Since the dawn of the digital age, switching off from work has been a major challenge. However, COVID-19 has taken it to a whole new level. When we worked away from home there was at least some delineation, but now we’re all working remotely, people are finding it harder than ever to stop working all hours.
In 2019, a study by Myers-Briggs found that nearly one in three people were unable to mentally switch off from work. This was pre-pandemic. Now, with work and home combined together, it’s easier than ever for people to be constantly ‘on’. There’s no commute, no break times, no respite. This can lead to employee mental stress, and, ultimately, burnout.
One way to combat this is by creating a strict ‘no evening and no weekend emailing and calling’ company policy. Agree upon what constitutes working hours and ask employees not to step outside these parameters. Make it part of the corporate culture: rest is as important as work. This encourages everyone to switch off and unwind.
Offer free or discounted fitness and wellbeing activities
One of the big downsides of working remotely in a pandemic is the lack of physical movement. Many employees used their commute as exercise time; some walked, others cycled, and some even ran to work. Even if it was a short walk to the bus stop or tube, people were getting some form of regular daily activity.
Being active is, of course, important for physical wellbeing - but it’s equally important for mental health. Exercise helps to combat depression, anxiety and stress; that’s why it’s so important that employees stay active while working from home. An effective way to encourage this is by offering your employees access to free online fitness classes, yoga sessions or wellbeing groups.
The key is making these activities accessible to everyone by making sure there’s a good range to choose from and that they’re heavily discounted or free. You could even go wild and start your own company fitness session via Zoom!
Assessment of home working arrangements
Are your employees sitting comfortably? Many offices these days have ergonomic workstations. From chairs that offer proper neck and back support to sit-stand workstations, designed to combat too much sitting, organisations have woken up to the importance of our bodies being correctly supported while we work. But what about at home?
The wrong set-up in terms of supportive seating, desk height and computer position can lead to serious musculoskeletal issues, causing back pain and neck pain as well as hand and wrist complaints.
An effective way to ensure work setups are healthy is by carrying out an assessment of each employee’s home workspace. Taking the time to monitor home working arrangements could prevent future health issues and reduce employee absence caused by back and neck injuries.
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Flexi working and flexi leave policies
Flexi working and flexi leave are two of the fundamentals of employee wellbeing - particularly within the context of the pandemic. However, while many employers say they offer flexible working, in reality, some fall shy of the true definition of the term.
Flexi working allows employees to fulfil their work obligations in a flexible way in order to accommodate childcare or other commitments. Flexi leave is similar: if you work extra hours, you can take these hours as time off in lieu (TOIL) or you could take time off in advance and make it up at a later date.
If you have these systems in place, the challenge is ensuring they’re adhered to whilst employees work from home. It’s important that flexibility is not conflated with home working - especially as most are working from home anyway. A large part of this comes down to trust.
You need to trust your employees to do the work they’ve been assigned, however they want to organise their time. A good way to manage this is by changing work structures. If workloads are organised into distinct projects with defined outcomes, it’s easier to measure productivity and see what’s actually being achieved by deadlines, rather than falling into the trap of counting hours.
It’s good to talk
Regular, clear communication is a cornerstone of any successful organisation. However, with so many of us working from home, it’s become paramount. Keeping in regular contact with employees creates a sense of cohesion and team spirit, and helps to combat loneliness and isolation.
Staying in contact via regular newsletters, online team meetings, and Q&A business sessions is an effective way to boost morale and overcome the physical distance between colleagues. All of these tools can help to keep spirits high and boost work productivity. But there’s also the scope for fun.
A weekly office quiz, a ‘virtual cuppa’ (a 15-minute online tea break where you chat about anything other than work), or fun resources for the children of employees can make all the difference to your employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Anything you can do as an employer to keep people connected and communicating will have a significant impact.
The wellbeing of your employees has never been more of a challenge or more crucial. At its core, employee wellbeing is about listening, being proactive rather than reactive, and viewing it as a core business value. If your employees are happy and healthy, the same will follow for your business as a whole.
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