As we consider the future of work in a post-Covid world, employee wellbeing needs to be at the top of the agenda and policies must be updated.
Employers in Ireland are now two weeks away from the planned date of office reopenings, although as I have mentioned before, opening the office on 20 September is not a requirement and employers should ensure they and their staff are ready before rushing back.
One of the most important considerations for this is around employee wellbeing. This has always been important for staff retention, engagement and productivity, but the last 18 months have compounded the need for managers to take care of their employees.
After all, working through a pandemic that required many of us to upend our lives and the way we work while simultaneously worrying about the health implications of the virus itself is bound to have long-lasting effects.
In fact, according to a CSO survey from earlier this year, almost 60pc of people said their mental health had suffered significantly during the pandemic
Along with the disruption to our daily lives caused by pandemic-related restrictions, there is the added feeling of isolation and being disjointed from our colleagues during our working day.
Add to this statistics around burnout and a struggle to switch off while working remotely, along with the stress that comes with working in an unsuitable home environment, and it’s no wonder employees’ mental health has been so badly affected.
It is often these final two points that are specifically connected to remote working that office fans might use as a reason to bring people back to offices.
‘Senior management showing empathy will build trust’
– CRAIG BULOW
However, before we assume that gathering a group of employees in a room will solve the workforce’s wellbeing problems, it’s important to really think about what they need and want and consider fixing this from the ground up in the form of updated workplace wellbeing policies.
Craig Bulow is the founder of Corporate Away Days, a corporate wellbeing events company based in the UK that also designs wellbeing policies for companies.
He said employee wellbeing needs to be at the top of the corporate agenda. “For staff to have a good work-life balance, organisations need to demonstrate an understanding of all the issues including feelings of isolation,” he said.
“Senior management showing empathy will build trust, enabling team members to raise issues if they are finding the balance hard to achieve. Empathy from leaders will also help build teams resilience, boost morale, inspire the workforce and get your people onside as we navigate this time of transition and for the future.”
While face-to-face interactions and opportunities to collaborate will be important in the new world of work, there is no denying that remote working in some form is here to stay, with many companies planning a remote-first future.
So, what do employers need to bear in mind to ensure their employees stay well at work?
“In specific terms, it is important for employers to implement and encourage cut-off times particularly when people are working from home,” said Bulow.
“As new ways of working are introduced, for example two or three days working from home, there will be an increased need to be connected with our teams. Demonstrating an understanding of what people are going through, with a purpose-filled wellbeing plan high on the list, one that promotes inspirational ideas, fun and engagement, will prove hugely beneficial to the health of the workforce and success of the company.”
In terms of reopening offices, it’s essential that companies think about employees who might be feeling apprehensive or anxious about returning to the office. This was a concern flagged by CIPD Ireland before the planned return to work was announced.
Bulow added that there will be other challenges when it comes to employee wellbeing and returning to the office.
“Depending on the type of business you are in, there may be fewer people and more staff rotation, which raises the question – are the right people going to be around to meet deadlines and make decisions? Staffing levels will need to be monitored carefully and some policies and procedures will need updating,” he said.
“Other questions to address will be how to support much needed spontaneity, innovation and creativity? And how can we foster the ability to bounce ideas off each other and share those ideas in the moment?”
Creating wellbeing-focused gatherings
Before office fans run away with the idea that a simple forced return to the office will bring back a world of brainstorming and so-called ‘water-cooler moments’, Bulow said the new world of hybrid working actually lends itself well to a different way to bring employees together.
If a company’s team is happy, willing and able to do the majority of their work remotely, then there are far more effective and engaging ways to bring them together, such as bringing them to a neutral environment.
“Being surrounded by nature has huge benefits towards our overall wellbeing, spending time with our colleagues in nature with a wellbeing-focused event or activity will work wonders for boosting morale and create the right environment to connect,” said Bulow.
“Being with our teams in a neutral relaxed and social atmosphere will naturally create conversation and build trust. When the atmosphere is relaxed, face-to-face communication will flow, helping to foster those lost relationships and rebuild connections with our colleagues.”
Additional policy plans
Outside of planned social events, employee wellbeing policies need to be updated to accommodate every type of worker.
This means regular check-ins for remote workers to avoid feelings of isolation, while those who have returned to the office need to be allowed time to adjust.
Remember, just because there’s a return to the office, it does not mean every in-office policy was fit for purpose before the pandemic.
Bulow added that when reviewing wellbeing policies, employers should bring in or strengthen healthy lifestyle initiatives across the business “by promoting sleep, diet and exercise with rewards and incentives for doing so”.