A Mckinsey & Company report showed that 62% of employees globally consider mental health issues to be a top challenge during the Covid-19 crisis, with higher reporting among diverse groups. It also shows that while 96% of companies globally provided additional mental health resources to employees, only one in six employees reported feeling supported.2020 has been a hard year for everyone around the world. While ensuring business continuity remains the top focus for most organizations battling the different waves across regions internationally, it is imperative that leaders, specifically HR professionals view the landscape from a broader horizon. According to the recent 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, employers need to reimagine their strategy and shift focus from surviving to thriving. With the varying disruptions in work practices resulting from the pandemic, it is imperative for organizations to re-architect work priorities and make employee well-being central instead of secondary.
Physical & Digital Wellbeing
According to a recent survey by Monster, 69% of employees working from home, experienced severe burnout and 42% of global employees have experienced a decline in mental health since the pandemic began. Some of the major factors impacting employee mental wellbeing during these times may include Performance Pressure, Poor Job prospects, Work Family Contact, Relationship Problems with Colleagues, etc. Many organizations are making local mental health resources like therapists, psychiatrists, suicide hotlines, or meditation and yoga classes, readily available for their employees in an anonymous manner.
While the awareness to help employees manage stress and anxiety is gradually growing across organizations, the stigma associated with discussing mental health still prevails. A recent McKinsey survey shows that only 30% of employees feel comfortable talking to their manager about their mental health!
HR should focus on ensuring that people processes support such a culture of openness, transparency and dialogue. For example, moving away from a traditional assessment-based performance management to a development focussed approach, where employee growth is kept at the centre. Frequent check-ins between people managers and employees – focussed on forging trust on a day-to-day basis is a powerful tool towards this end. HR should focus on empowering line managers to become change agents for this culture transition. Role-modelling "the ability to say, 'I'm feeling some anxiety right now, or other words that normalize talking about mental health" is one of the means to this end. People may feel less stressed when they would not have to keep their problems a secret.
There are motivation factors and there are hygiene factors. If employees aren’t able to bring food to the table, no amount of other interventions would help. But the hard reality is that you cannot manage to pay hefty bonuses and increments to your employees, when your business itself has taken a downturn. While most employees stress over the fear of a low raise or no raise, the ambiguity and lack of clear communication around the same seems to add to the worry much more than the result itself!
Creating avenues for cascading information from the leadership to the teams, ensuring transparency and communicating openly and honestly with your employees is essential.
Providing them clarity on the business progress to showcase the financial growth and support that the organization can provide, especially during uncertain times, is essential to ensure employee retention. Focussing on the larger rewards portfolio and identifying the relevant and emerging needs of your employees, will help towards creating a relevant employee value proposition. Increased health insurance coverage, work from home infrastructure reimbursements, empanelment of online medical consultation vendors, at home food and medicine delivery support, nutritionist assistance for employees recovering from COVID-19 are among the few ways that would help focus on the most pressing needs of employees.
For organizations where employees continue to work on-site, regular communication on safety precautions being undertaken is a must. Employers can provide immunity-boosting and healthy food options at the workplace and access to nutrition coaches as well. The focus should be on prevention and health maintenance.
The social component of the well-being strategy is probably the least spoken. With the pandemic limiting everyone's social interactions and mandatory social distancing rules, employees need an option to socialize safely and have healthy interactions with each other. Whether it is working remotely or from the office, employers can leverage collaborative tools to increase communication between employees and boost the workforce's morale. Innovative platforms for connecting different cohorts of employees with different levels of leadership, while encouraging frequent employee-manager connects and check-ins will help bring clarity in the work. It is always helpful to have frequent informal videos from senior leadership that are empathetic and talk personally about challenges that they understand people are going through. This could help lessen the power distance at workplace and eventually create an environment of trust and provide assurance to employees.
But more than increasing touchpoints with leadership, it is essential that employees on-boarded virtually, feel that they are a part of the work culture and system.
As the pandemic keeps taking a new turn with every passing month, as much as most of us wish to return to the way things were in the pre-pandemic era, nobody will, unless organizations and HR professionals work for it. On the positive side, HR should use this upcoming year as an opportunity to create healthy workplace practices that should have existed all along. New employee wellbeing strategies could eventually be used as an effective tool to allow businesses to rebuild, reinvent, and be resilient at the workplace!
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