What does protecting employee wellbeing entail in the new world of work?

Matt Orozco
What does protecting employee wellbeing entail in the new world of work?

Since March, I’ve had two major panic attacks. I’m no stranger to them, and until this year was proud to have only experienced them a handful of times in my 35 years of life. But in the past few months, it seems there have been more problems than solutions. It’s surprising just how many times I’ve had to stop and remind myself to breathe.

But I’m not alone. According to jobs platform Monster, 69% of remote workers are currently experiencing burnout symptoms as the pandemic stretches on. For essential workers, the numbers are likely higher.

The truth is that wellbeing is an increasingly pertinent issue, which – as home and the workplace converge – must now become an organisation’s top priority. Whether employees are working remotely, in a shared environment, or a combination of the two, disregarding wellbeing will have negative implications on employee safety, productivity, and motivation.

 What can and should be done about it?

Minimise the psychological impact of social isolation with EAP

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the common emotional outcomes that have been observed as a result of the stay-at-home orders have included stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, frustration, and boredom. The variance in stay-at-home orders and conflicting messages from government and health officials also likely intensifies distress. Depending on where in the world you are located, the impact can vary wildly based on how your region is handling things.  Even for those of us who are okay in our solitude, social isolation has found to have negative impacts on physical as well as mental health.

Our solution: Add or raise awareness of your Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)

Employee Assistance Programs are a resource that seldom get the attention they deserve. This isn’t surprising considering that while 79% of companies have an EAP offering, less than 10% of employees use it

But as the New England Journal of Medicine states, for lots of folks the solution to combatting some of these issues is as simple as providing resources that explain how to identify issues, and subsequently how to respond to them.

So, if you provide people with resources on how to manage their wellbeing during this time, it can help to offset the impact. Aaron Blaxall, HR and POD Business Analyst at Radian, recently shared their company’s “Eight Dimensions of Wellness” which includes podcasts, videos, guides and more to support employee mental health, as well as how that has been critical to keeping employees engaged despite some of the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Alleviate financial concerns through more (paid) time away

As the news cycles across the globe continue to talk about the economic impact of the pandemic, concern around financial wellbeing and inequity has increased. A recent study on the psychological impact of the pandemic found that  social isolation and loneliness are strongly associated with anxiety and depression, and populations with worse health or social inequality are more vulnerable to the psychological distress of COVID-19.

Analysing employee comments left in Peakon, we have seen an increase in terms such as furlough, job security, and stress that underscore employee concerns around their professional and financial stability. Maslow would agree that the current economic and employment news is enough to cause concern, and it impacts some more than others.

Our Solution: Increase the amount of paid time off employees can take

When we think about the function that paid time off serves, sociologist Charles Horton Cooley said it best:

“To get away from one’s working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.”

It would be naive to assume that this was the only thing an organization would need to do to soothe financial concern, even more so to assume that it applies to every employee. The idea of offering people more time off may not put additional money in employees’ pockets, but it doesn’t take money away either. In fact, it encourages employees to take time off without having to fear they will lose any pay. Offering employees more paid time away gives them the incentive to prioritise their own wellbeing without concern for their financial standing. 

61% of employees in the US report to work while on vacation and despite productivity growth exploding, income growth has not done the same. So by offering employees more opportunities to take paid time off, and of course encouraging them to take it, organisations can help minimise financial concerns while promoting employee wellbeing.

Help those helping others by changing expectations

At time of writing, only two of the ten largest school districts in the US are planning on inviting students to return to physical classrooms this fall. For those who care for adults in their family, there is no safe alternative for care outside of the current living situation. For parents, The Pew Research Center found that “… about one-third of those with young children – may be experiencing higher levels of psychological distress.” 

For caregivers, it’s harder to quantify the impact, but the outcome is the same. Recent studies observing nurses who care for COVID-19 patients have found that caregiving during this time can trigger increased levels of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and other negative emotions. Even Peakon’s own data has shown increased occurrences of terms such as family, children, and work life in employee comments. The increased stress brought on by uncertainty, balancing care with work, and finding time away from both is something that will only continue to be an element impacting employee productivity and overall satisfaction.

Our solution: Reset work expectations 

Even pre-pandemic, Peakon’s data science team uncovered that employees were talking about flexible working 18% more than in previous years. Given the increased use of digital communication solutions across organisations, the ways in which work gets done have (mostly) changed for the better. Unless there is a specific need to collaborate with colleagues or clients during “normal” business hours, a lot of work can be accomplished within any given timeframe. So why not reset expectations on when and how work gets done?

If it is easier to get work done in the evening after the children have gone to bed, then consider letting employees create their own working hours to accommodate their situation. Setting these expectations together, and trusting employees, are critical to making this work. Enlisting support from colleagues who do not have children or someone to care for at home can also help with team coverage as to not add additional pressure to parents and caregivers who have to make quick changes in their day. It is essential that managers and leaders also model this behavior.  For those in positions that are based on shifts and/or cannot be done in the home, some ideas could be offering to subsidise childcare with a group of working parents, and creating an on-call system (like hospitals use) to assist employees who may need to leave suddenly. Incentivising this kind of support with time and a half pay (if the employee is in fact called in) could help to inspire volunteers.

As situations across the world continue to evolve, the most impactful way of knowing how to address specific and unique needs in your organisation will be through listening to employees. Peakon has recently launched a series of questions to help organisations assess the health and wellbeing of employees, and provide actionable insights to managers and leaders on how they can thoughtfully support employees so they can thrive in the new world of work. 

Like this content? Check out our other posts on employee wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic below:

Author - Matt Orozco