Our reflections on the workplace wellbeing landscape during 2020
As the end of 2020 hurtles towards us at great speed, we wanted to take some time to reflect on the year that has passed and explore how the landscape of workplace wellbeing has shifted.
Well, what an extraordinary year it has been! None of us could have predicted the types of challenges that would come our way in 2020 but it’s safe to say that humanity’s capacity for coping has been stretched beyond measure. Throughout this year, a spotlight has been shone on many of the political, social and economic challenges that our world currently faces. But in addition, a global pandemic tore through our lives, leaving much destruction in its wake.
What has this meant for our wellbeing? How have employers stepped up to support their people? What does the employee wellbeing landscape look like now, compared to this time last year? What do employers need to prioritise? We pondered some of these questions and have pulled out six themes that we’ve seen dominate in 2020.
1) Wellbeing as a strategic priority. If there is one thing Covid-19 has shown us, it is that wellbeing needs to be a strategic priority for every business. No longer can it be a tick-box exercise; no longer can it fall down the list of priorities. The organisations that put the wellbeing of their people first during lockdown and beyond are those who saw employees able to navigate the choppy waters whilst remaining committed, engaged, productive and connected. It has been heartening to see just how many employers stepped up to the mark and armed their people with the tools to cope during one of the most challenging periods of our generation. This is is about making a positive difference to people’s lives, simply because it is the right thing to do.
2) A focus on mental health is more important than ever before. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that the stark increase in mental ill health we’ve seen over the past eight months will become ‘the second global pandemic. People across the world are grappling with the numerous effects of coronavirus and, unsurprisingly, this is either triggering or deepening mental health challenges; loneliness, illness, financial pressure, furlough, redundancy, home-schooling, lack of time with friends and family – the list goes on. Whilst we may not be able to change the various uncertainties we face, we do have the power to change how we deal with them. And employers can help by organising mental health-focussed initiatives that support their people to create and maintain a toolkit for dealing with uncertainty, building resilience, strengthening inner resources, understanding the many different emotions they may be feeling, dialling down anxiety and so on.
3) First there was mental health, then there was financial wellbeing. At the start of 2020, we had no idea of the enormous financial pressure Covid-19 would place on our world. And perhaps we have yet to fully understand the long-term impact that the pandemic has had. Numerous sectors, from hospitality to retail, all but shut down as countries across the world went into lockdown. In the UK alone, 9.6 million people were furloughed. Financial wellbeing was already creeping up the list of priorities but it will now need to be placed front and centre of any wellbeing provision. From budgeting and saving, to debt management and redundancy - information is power, and offering support, education and guidance will become a crucial part in cushioning the financial blows that the pandemic is dealing.
4) Maintaining a culture of connection and engagement, virtually. A recurring theme we’ve seen since March is the struggle that organisations are facing around maintaining their culture and values when the majority of their workforce is based at home. There are numerous challenges around keeping employees feeling connected with each other and the business. Organisations are having to think of increasingly creative ways to engage employees and provide opportunities for their values to flourish in this new working environment. We may be living in a virtual world, but we are still human beings and we still need connection.
5) WFH…forever? Who’d have thoughts that we’d see this seismic shift towards home/remote working. Take, for example, Twitter, who early on in the pandemic announced that their people have the option to base themselves at home permanently. For many, this has been a welcome change that has improved their work/life balance, especially in the case of parents and carers, anyone who had a long and stressful commute or those who simply prefer their own space and a touch more solitude. For others, it now feels like they are sleeping at work and they long for the social interaction that the office offers; the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and personal life pose a challenge and switching off becomes increasingly hard. It’s incumbent upon employers to recognise the unique challenges that each of their employees might face and provide the support they need.
6) Communication is key. Now more than ever before, it’s imperative the employers create honest, compassionate and clear communication channels with their people - and these need to be two-way. This is about creating a safe space where employees feel both equipped and empowered to talk about how they are, what challenges they are facing, and what support they need. And, most importantly, these conversations need to be backed up with action. Now is the time to reaffirm that an organisation’s most valuable asset is its people; budgeting for their particular wellbeing needs is not a cost, it is an investment.