An illustration of a woman slumped at her work desk with a low battery symbol floating above her, symbolising burnout.
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How to support employee wellbeing in the digital workplace

22 May 2023

Nicole Alvino, co-founder and CEO of workplace communication platform Firstup, discusses the importance of prioritising employee wellbeing in the digital workplace.

Workplace stress, burnout and anxiety is on the rise, exacerbated by the pandemic. Almost half of workers surveyed in ADP’s annual People at Work study said that their work is suffering because of poor mental health. The reason is not a surprise. Many employees are working more as it’s harder to distinguish between work and home life. Emotional pressures are high with many employees juggling the needs of kids and family with work.

Delivering genuine mental health support requires more than superficial wellness programmes. With more and more companies operating with employees in a digital and dispersed environment, it’s important to actively revisit their employee wellness offerings and programs to provide meaningful support. This also requires a mindset change from the top down so that it can become part of the organisation’s evolved culture.

Offer employees more flexibility

Flexible work schedules enable employees to manage the challenges of raising children, balancing a two-income household, and coping with an ever-expanding workday. Moreover, they can effectively reduce the occurrence of chronic absenteeism. By accommodating global meetings in the early mornings and late evenings, flexible hours provide employees with the opportunity to maintain a genuine eight-hour workday. This is essential for preserving a healthy work-life balance and establishing a clear boundary between professional and personal life.

Provide real time off

Companies need to respect their employees’ personal and professional boundaries. Whether companies automate the personalisation of email communications to avoid non-working hours based on role and geography or designate specific mental health days, these measures need to be enforced in the spirit that they are created.

Companies can also shut down for varying lengths of time – from a day to an entire week – to allow employees to truly disconnect from emails and work. Similarly, some companies have started offering vacation bonuses when employees disconnect. A forced shutdown shows that managers value taking a break and employees are able to truly disconnect and come back recharged.

Enhance benefits

McKinsey’s report, “10 insights on the state of economic opportunity,” highlights the lack of affordable childcare as a major obstacle for working parents. However, in 2020, some companies recognised this issue and implemented child-care benefits, such as backup child care, stipends for college counseling services, and tutoring. Additionally, organisations that already provided childcare subsidies extended this benefit to include the option of hiring in-home nannies.

Traditionally, employee benefits packages have included parental leave and childcare provisions, but there has been a lack of formal policies to support employees caring for relatives and loved ones. Many employees find themselves responsible for the care of their elderly parents as well. Acknowledging the needs of employees and enhancing benefits packages can significantly alleviate the everyday stresses they face.

Help employees prioritise

Senior management needs to have an in-depth understanding of what their employees are doing each day and intervene if they are overwhelmed with tasks. Managers also need to consider the amount of work an employee can actually accomplish in a 40-hour work week and ensure they are realistic in the amount of work they are assigning.

To help with prioritisation, managers should meet with their employees regularly to discuss projects and prioritise them together. These conversations can be crucial because managers can better understand what their employees are working on and employees can seek clarification on tasks. Oftentimes, these conversations reveal tasks that employees assumed were essential, but managers consider ‘nice to haves’ and not business-critical.

Communications is key

Communication is foundational to employee wellness. A recent report from Microsoft showed that 68pc of their respondents felt they didn’t have enough uninterrupted time in the day to focus. Employees are bombarded every day with emails, Slack messages, Zoom calls and meetings. Managers can help put boundaries on communications with tools that can deliver more personalised communications and leverage AI to know the best time and channel to connect with employees.

Hawai’i Pacific Health addressed burnout in the healthcare industry by emphasizing wellness and effective communication. They prioritised listening, empathy, understanding, and taking action on employee needs. To improve communication, they established direct and transparent channels for leaders to engage with staff. They also made wellness resources more accessible to combat rising anxiety and burnout. Initiatives included mindfulness and meditation opportunities, as well as a wellbeing podcast featuring frontline workers’ stories and conversations.

Normalise conversations around mental health

Managers also need to open lines of communication that provide a safe place for employees to discuss their mental health and burnout concerns. Having candid conversations about mental health decreases the stigma and helps employees feel comfortable asking for help or time off.

Leading multinational retailer Tesco is committed to reducing the stigma attached to mental health. The company supports its colleagues through a range of tools, resources and learning both digitally and face-to-face. They also created a Wellbeing in Retail guide that offers advice and support to retail workers on the topic of looking after their own mental health, illustrating where extra help can be found.

Managers should ‘walk the talk’ and showcase it broadly through communication channels. Cultural change starts at the top and managers need to encourage employees to feel comfortable seeking help and balancing the demands of their personal and professional lives. When employees see their managers putting wellness first, they are more likely to do the same.

By Nicole Alvino

Nicole Alvino is the CEO and co-founder of Firstup, an intelligent communication platform for the workplace.

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