Most of the world remains firmly in the grip of a third wave of COVID-19 with many countries experiencing higher case numbers than at the beginning of the crises. It is likely working from home will remain the norm for most employees until Q3 2021 at least.
For most people to have a sense of holistic wellbeing we must successfully look after our mental and physical health. They work in harmony to leave us with an overall sense of wellness.
Some of the ways we support our overall wellbeing is through:
Some of these elements are likely to be impacted by the need for social distancing and to stay at home. As an employer there are still ways to engage employees in these key areas which may feed into their overall sense of wellbeing.
Employee wellbeing initiatives in 2021 during this period of restriction could include:
Listen to employees: in tandem with the need for communication is the need to feel heard. Research prior to COVID-19 showed employees often cited ‘lack of communication’ as a catch all for other issues.
Before launching a significant and time-consuming communications plan consider asking a broad cohort of employees to anonymously provide specifics about what they feel is going wrong. In these socially distant times, it may be an inability to stay connected with colleagues, lack of clarity around workload or many other small day to day issues that over time have a negative impact.
Communication: make regular communication with employees part of your wellness initiative, even if there doesn’t appear to be much to say. Poor communication, particularly while people are working remotely, can lead to unnecessary fear and anxiety. Ensure all employees are aware of an employee assistance programme if you have one. If you have expat employees, many expat healthcare plans have similar expat assistance programmes for those working away from home. Emphasise the fact that any interaction is entirely confidential.
Coffee Roulette: if enthusiasm for group calls is waning, encourage colleagues to get to know other people within your business through coffee roulette. This is where participants are paired up at random to have an online coffee with someone else in the business. It is a great way for junior employees to meet senior employees and vice versa.
Encourage balance: it is very easy, as time working from home has continued, for work and home life to become blurred. Remind employees about the importance of differentiating between the two and taking breaks during the working day. Suggest ways employees can do this. Some easy ones include:
Physical Activity: did your business have lunchtime walks or yoga classes in the office? Encourage people to stay active during this period by running an online version with the yoga teacher everyone is familiar with. Organise a step challenge with your office. If you work in a larger organisation encourage teams to take part and have a small prize for the winners. There are many tracker apps that will enable colleagues to monitor each other's progress and routes, no matter where in the world they are located.
Flexible Working: where possible allow your employees to work flexibly during this time, and always, if it works successfully. This is useful for those with children who may be home from school and also means those who prefer to exercise during the day can do so. If flexibility allows your employees to work when they are at their most productive, everybody wins.
Update your employee benefits: did your business offer discounted gym membership? Or other benefits that helped employees remain physically healthy. Research ways they can be pivoted towards lockdown life. Can your business provide a voucher towards an online exercise class or online consultation with a nutritionist?
The primary difference between this global period of COVID-19 and the last is the presence of a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a vaccine. It is hoped the world will be in a better place by mid-2021 in relation to COVID-19 and the return-to-work process will begin. The return to work is likely to bring wellbeing challenges of its own.
Help your employees remain healthy during this period of change with:
Clear communication: we know it is not the first time this has been mentioned but people respond best to change if they have enough time to adapt. Keep employees informed at what point your management team may begin a return to the office. This will depend on your business location, industry and requirements.
Some businesses may need to get back to the office as soon as it is safe to do so, even while restrictions remain in place, others are happy to wait until a full vaccination programme has taken place and COVID-19 is fully under control in your particular location. Either way ensure your employees are clear on your intentions.
Maintain Flexibility: understand that your employees are likely to have developed new routines during the protracted period working from home. If this has not impacted on productivity and is serving their overall wellbeing, work with them to allow this to continue, if that means starting and finishing at different times or working from home a certain number of days.
Encourage healthy habits: encourage your employees to maintain their healthy habits whether that’s through a cycle to work scheme, providing healthy snacks and enabling them to take regular breaks. Consider formalising your wellbeing initiatives in an employee wellness program.
Employee Assistance Programs: multiple studies in the United States show that despite provision of employee assistance programs by most employers, uptake remains low at under 10% in many instances. This is despite research showing that stress levels amongst employees continue to increase and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate mental health issues. Now may be a good time to audit your EAP plan and establish whether the services offered meet the needs of your employees and encourage anyone requiring extra support to use it.