When news of the pandemic hit back in early January, I don’t think any of us could have predicted what would happen — or how we would feel as things progressed.
Like many people, I was initially most anxious about the immediate physical risks of the pandemic. I worried about where I could buy hand sanitiser as panic-buying hit its peak, and googled the symptoms of COVID-19 endlessly, ever watchful of my own health — and that of those around me.
By the time lockdown started, it was a strange moment of quiet relief amid weeks of anxiety. Being in quarantine meant that my husband would no longer have to commute three hours a day on London’s busiest underground line, inhaling air heavy with disease. It meant I’d no longer have to second-guess hugging a friend, or what was best for my own safety when it came to working from home.
That anxiety began to take a new form as weeks under lockdown became months, and the imminent risks of catching the disease on my daily commute were minimised.
At first, it was a case of FOMO — fear of missing out — that got me, except I was missing my colleagues, the reassuring noise of my office and the conversations over the coffee machine. But as time wore on — and after a number of jarringly out-of-sync and disconnected video calls — the reality of working from home began to set in, and I started to feel the full force of the pandemic on my mental wellbeing.
During this time, having the support of my colleagues and company was vital. Both provided reassurance in different ways that helped me feel more productive and motivated — and, crucially, that I wasn’t alone. Throughout it all I’ve felt supported to make this new context work for me — whether that’s been knowing that my company is looking after my wellbeing from afar, or feeling buoyed by the efforts of my teammate Patch, who keeps us laughing and our hearts light with weekly video quizzes.
But while COVID-19 may have brought employee wellbeing into sharper focus, it’s been a growing expectation for employees for some time. In our Employee Expectations 2020 report, we discovered that even before COVID-19 reshaped the way we work, employee expectations on wellbeing grew 17% globally in 2019.
Younger employees are most concerned about their wellbeing
Current research suggests that when it comes to their health, the younger generations place a higher value on this topic than their older peers.
While all generations experienced a year-on-year increase in comments on wellbeing-related topics, we found that this expectation grew the most among Gen Z employees, who saw a 28% rise in discussion on the topic. This growth is more than twice that of the Generation X cohort at 13%, and more than four times that of the Baby Boomer group, which saw an increase of 6%.
Meanwhile, the Millennial generation saw a 22% increase in wellbeing-related comments — and proving that wellbeing is not just a concern for the young, the Silent Generation saw a 19% increase in comments on this topic.
This generational data tells us that employees expect their company to care about their wellbeing on an individual level — and that what works for one cohort may alienate another.
Businesses that don’t respond to this expectation not only risk failing to attract a new generation of talent, but also losing their most experienced employees. Businesses must focus on providing a holistic approach to wellbeing that encompasses physical, emotional, mental, and financial health.
Concern for wellbeing has grown most among employees in the Finance sector
The majority of industries saw a year-on-year increase in employee discussion on wellbeing, but some were more vocal on this topic than others.
The Finance sector saw the biggest increase in comments relating to wellness and wellbeing, with a 51% year-on-year rise. The Government and Consumer sectors follow, with increases of 40% and 35%, respectively.
Industry analysis consistently places the Finance sector among the worst for employee stress and mental health support. With a work-life balance a continuing concern among this cohort alongside a turbulent economic and political climate and a multi-sector skills shortage, employees in this sector are making their voices heard and demanding more support.
How you can respond to employee expectations on wellbeing
At this time of heightened anxiety, it’s understandable that wellbeing will be the main concern for employees — both for themselves, and their loved ones. And as we start to transition back to our usual working context, employees first and foremost need to know that their organisation cares about protecting their safety.
In this interim period, regular communication and transparency will be critical to help your employees understand what you’re doing to keep them safe, and what your plan will be on an ongoing basis. Depending on your organisation, this might mean changing processes or your physical environment — but communicating these changes as they happen will be critical.
Maintaining two-way communication during this time will help you provide clarity to employees on an ongoing basis — as well as reiterate what you’re doing to keep them safe.
Organisations will need to ensure that they have considered how they can provide the full spectrum of employee wellbeing that can support all employees no matter where they work, including emotional and mental wellbeing. They will also need to be cognisant of any external factors that may impact employee wellbeing and contribute to stress during this period, such as their working environment or home life.
It’s important to remember that each employee will have individual needs — and while an organised video pub quiz or yoga session may work for some (like me), wellbeing is not a one-size-fits-all issue, and providing individualised support will be key.
Do you know what your employees expect as they return to work?
As our data shows, understanding your employees’ expectations will be critical in order to better support them as we transition back to work, and ensure that each employee can be successful in the future.
This post represents a small snapshot of the findings from our full Employee Expectation Trends 2020 analysis. However, our research revealed three other key employee expectations for this year — expectations that are well within your reach to meet.
To find out the key trends for 2020 and how you can meet them, click here to download the full report.