In the past, an employee wellbeing offering was widely regarded as a ‘nice to have’. It certainly wasn’t a top priority for senior management.
This sort of thinking has been called into question in recent years. Particularly as the financial cost of neglecting employee wellbeing has become glaringly apparent. Burnout alone is estimated to cost the global economy $323.4bn each year. Measures to support wellbeing are increasingly becoming a ‘must have’ for companies that want to hold on to their best people and attract new talent too.
But as we discovered in our 2020 Employee Expectations Report, this growing employee expectation is not being met in all workplaces. Employees worldwide are still asking their employers to do more to support their health and wellbeing. In an analysis of 14 million employee comments, we observed a 17% year-on-year rise in mentions of wellbeing in 2019. This demand was particularly acute in the finance sector, where there was a 51% spike in wellbeing comments.
Everything changed again at the start of 2020, however, when COVID-19 started to infect individuals and economies worldwide.
In just a handful of weeks, the pandemic has forced businesses to rip up the rule book and rapidly adjust to new ways of working – pushing many of them to the brink. It has made life incredibly difficult for employees too. Workers from all over the world are either facing job insecurity, or having to quickly adjust to the ‘new normal’, while also juggling new fears and concerns outside of work. Financial worries, self-isolation, childcare, a limited supply of food, illness, caring for those who are sick, to name but a few. The need for employers to do more to support their wellbeing – mental, physical and financial – is arguably greater now than ever.
Will COVID-19 be the catalyst that finally forces employee wellbeing to the top of the agenda?
Wellbeing comments are on the rise
As the COVID crisis intensified in March, more workers raised the issue of wellbeing with their employers through their staff surveys, according to an analysis of nearly two million employee comments. The proportion of global comments relating to wellbeing in March was 51% higher than it was in February.
This growth was driven largely by the UK, where the pandemic started to hit home around four weeks ago, and worsened dramatically in the latter half of March. The proportion of UK employee comments about wellbeing was 12% higher in March, compared with February. And when we compare the final week of March (22-28) with the first week of March, the proportion of comments relating to wellbeing jumped by 65%.
In that frightening, final week of the month, during which the country went into government enforced lockdown, 7.8% of all daily comments in the UK were on the topic of wellbeing. This is a clear sign of employees looking to their employers to take action.
Within the UK’s wellbeing comments, the most prevalent terms and keywords, in order of frequency, were: Mental health, life balance, job security, WFH (work from home), anxiety, family health and managing workload. This sheds light on what UK workers are understandably most worried about right now. It also highlights some of the key areas managers should address when it comes to supporting them.
Comments track the virus around the globe
We’ve seen a significant rise in wellbeing-related comments in other countries too, with uplifts appearing to correspond with a deepening of concern in each country.
In the US, the proportion of comments relating to wellbeing was nearly 70% higher in the final week of March than it was in the first week of the month. Nearly 5% of all employee comments were on the topic at the end of March.
In Spain, the proportion of comments around wellbeing at the end of March was nearly 150% higher than at the start of the month. This significant jump came as the number of COVID deaths in Spain overtook those in China.
Meanwhile in Italy, where the pandemic took hold earlier, the uptick came sooner. At the time of writing, many of its inhabitants had been in lockdown for nearly a month.
Alongside the rise in wellbeing comments, there’s also been a surge in employee comments that specifically mention the pandemic. As of mid-March, 1.5% of all employee comments globally mentioned the virus.
We expect this shift in employee focus and concern to track the crisis as it unfolds around the world, and for worries around wellbeing to remain prevalent until work patterns and family life return to normal. We also predict, however, that this pandemic will indelibly alter the world of work. Not only will it transform how many companies operate, and the so-called ‘workplace’. It will redefine the relationship between employer and employee, and the role each should play too.
What do the findings mean for employers?
How employers behave now, at this crucial juncture, could make-or-break the trust their employees have in them in the future. For a business, this can mean the difference between retaining your best people, and quickly bouncing back when it’s all over. Or your top talent seeking employment elsewhere.
Organisations’ actions now will also impact how consumers regard them in the future. As we’ve already seen in the past few weeks, companies are winding up on customers’ proverbial ‘nice’ and ‘naughty’ lists, depending on how they’ve treated their employees during the pandemic.
With more employees clearly turning to their employers for support, never has it been more important for leaders and managers to listen to the needs of their workers, and to make them feel heard by taking action.
This might simply mean ensuring your staff all have the technology and equipment they need to work safely and easily at home. Upgraded conferencing tools, or a suitable office chair? It might mean increased communications – checking in with your teams every day with group meetings and one-on-one calls.
But it may also involve going above and beyond. Offering bespoke support and reassurance to individuals who are struggling to carry on as usual. Managers will need to demonstrate agility here, finding a solution to each scenario on a case-by-case basis, while they too adjust to the new normal.
Find out more
For more information on how to support your workforce through this crisis, visit our Peakon Support Hub.
Here you’ll find our latest articles and webinars on how to manage the pandemic. You’ll also be able to sign up for free access to the Peakon platform and our new COVID-19 question set that will help you understand the impact the pandemic is having on their employees and their business, and allow you to take decisive and immediate action.