What Businesses Can Learn From COVID-19 As We Return to the Workplace

employee wellbeing covid19

As lockdown restrictions continue to lift and employees return to the workplace, it marks an opportunity for businesses to rethink the way they support and nurture their people. Employers able to embrace the ‘new normal’ have the chance to transform the way they work, for the better.

Kevin Thompson, Corporate Healthcare Director, Nuffield Health outlines how the ‘new normal’ means a different workplace eco-system, with employers facing challenges in maintaining a sense of purpose and direction among employees. And how businesses will need to adapt quickly to retain talent and avoid further financial losses.

The role of remote working

While many businesses have long been aware of the benefits of flexible working, for others, the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown caught them unprepared. Those who previously deferred from adopting modern working arrangements were suddenly forced to get on board, and it meant a drastic and stressful period of change.

The benefits of remote working are well documented, and these advantages are now being afforded to employees who’ve long gone without. This includes improved work-life balance, with employees able to spend more time exercising or with family, without their daily commute.

Plus, with the rise of remote working technology, communication has become more effective and efficient, too. The need for all employees to report to the office every day for face-to-face meetings is outdated.

Employee wellbeing

However, remote working must be managed properly, with enough time and resources invested by employers and senior staff to make it successful. For example, Nuffield Health research found spending over 2.5 days per week out of the office actually led to a deterioration in co-worker relationships and decrease in job satisfaction.

This is not to mention the impact imbalanced remote working can have on employees’ emotional wellbeing.

Those spending too much time away from the office often struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation and a decrease in emotional resilience. With employees unable to manage constant feelings of stress and struggling to separate work and home life the end result can be burnout for many individuals.

It’s not enough for employers to simply roll out remote working overnight. They must consider the risks to employees’ health and how they can mitigate these by achieving the right balance and providing relevant support. Employers have a responsibility to nurture their team’s physical and emotional wellbeing, just as they would in the office.

This may include providing the financial support to create ergonomic remote working environments, plus providing comprehensive emotional wellbeing support, including regular contact from managers and with co-workers, plus tailored emotional wellbeing interventions.

Employers able to roll out these provisions for remote working will not only reap the rewards in a stable post-COVID-19 era but also in improved employee job satisfaction and productivity.

How employers can prepare for the ‘new normal’

Whether they are working from home or navigating a new workplace design, employees face daily disruption. Employers must be able to help them achieve feelings of stability and belonging, even while not entering the office every day.

Technology has an important role to play in the future workplace. Hosting daily team video chats brings together those in the office and working remotely, maintaining social relationships by allowing employees to chat in real-time.

Where possible, consider hosting weekly, socially distanced, office floor huddles, too. With distancing measures ruling out traditional meetings and water-cooler moments, these huddles give employees a sense of collaboration and normality.

Employers also have a responsibility to help employees adapt to the disruption and guide them through the ‘new normal’. The uncertainty facing modern employees often leads to them asking themselves ‘what if?’. And when they’re unable to answer these questions, feelings of stress become exacerbated and can spiral out of control.

Communicating with staff

Regular communication is crucial in putting workers’ minds at ease. Employers should leave no stone unturned when it comes to explaining business and workplace changes and outlining new office hygiene measures.

Employees should know exactly what the ‘new normal’ will look like for them; how they’ll get around the office, the rules around remote working and the additional support they can access if have ongoing worries.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to guiding employees through workplace uncertainty. What may work for some employees, might not provide comfort for others.

Consider organising corporate wellbeing assessments, which gives employees access to specialists who can tailor suggestions and health advice to the individual. This guides them in making healthy lifestyle adjustments to minimise feelings of stress during uncertain times and to perhaps offset some of the unhealthy habits picked up while working remotely.

This should also include a physical workplace assessment by a physiotherapist. Individuals with physical health problems are three times more likely to struggle with a mental health problem, too. Making ergonomic workplace adjustments as part of your post-COVID-19 office redesign will play a significant role in helping employees manage their health.

Those who feel uncomfortable taking part in a face-to-face assessment while social distancing measures are in place should be supported with a personalised digital assessment.

For example; tools like Nuffield Health’s PATH platform use employees’ inputted data to suggest relevant interventions, helping them make simple lifestyle changes to improve their physical and mental health.

Additional emotional wellbeing support

Nuffield Health data suggests nearly 70 percent of employees have felt worried about the future during the current global pandemic. However, when it comes to emotional wellbeing, challenges won’t simply ease along with the lockdown restrictions.

The ‘mental health echo’ suggests employees’ ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in during uncertain times and it’s not until obvious stressors, like workplace disruptions, subside, that individuals realise how much they’ve been struggling emotionally and begin to seek help.

Now more than ever – as employees attempt to navigate the ‘new normal’ and adjust to life post-lockdown – it is vital employers highlight the emotional wellbeing support available.

Firstly, businesses have a duty to provide personal emotional wellbeing support to employees. This means staying in regular contact, making sure all staff is kept in the loop with all company updates, are made to feel involved in decisions and have the chance to voice their opinions.

Regular chats over email and instant messaging platforms are key but it can be difficult to spot when an individual is struggling using these alone. While face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, compensate with video chats. This helps employers and managers monitor features like tone of voice and appearance, which may signal an individual is feeling strained.

However, it’s important to note some employees will feel uncomfortable speaking with their manager or employee about their concerns and all employees should be pointed towards the emotional wellbeing support on offer.

This assistance should be tailored towards the modern workplace, which means providing support for those spending time away from the workplace, like access to online emotional wellbeing offerings, which allow employees to work through various modules at their own pace and learn techniques to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety.

Similarly, telephone CBT sessions give employees access to speak to a specialist about their worries. Not only does this help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness but they can also provide staff with coping mechanisms, like rational thinking patterns, which they can take with them as they re-enter the workplace.

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