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11.4 million jobs were furloughed as of March 2021 and with announcements of pay freezes and rising redundancies, financial pressures and the prolonged effects of lockdown threaten to take a toll on employee wellbeing.

Home working is shaping ongoing employer responses to wellbeing. A prolonged hiatus from the office requires fresh thinking at each stage when managing remote workers. Fatigue with the pandemic and its long-term effects on society is setting in and employers are having to consistently adapt their wellbeing strategies.

Unprecedented pressure

The upheaval to employees’ lives over the past year has been phenomenal. Employee morale is starting to wane following the third lockdown. Fatigue, tiredness and boredom set in at a greater rate during the third lockdown, mid-winter when walks and the novelty of the ‘stay at home’ message was wearing thin. To underline the global risk of burn out, 70 per cent of Americans said that mixing work and other responsibilities at home was a source of stress and missed normal human interaction.

“Digital technology should not be a substitute for human connection.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

Home working and the stress caused by balancing childcare has put people under enormous pressure, placing an increased importance on mental wellbeing. Even employees who may not have faced furlough or redundancy may be under pressure because their partner has experienced this. According to research by Mind, 56 per cent of employers have said they would like to improve staff wellbeing, but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance. This has been exacerbated by remote working and the difficulty of ensuring employees feel they can have open conversations with their line managers around the stresses they face.

Deriving value from benefits

An increasing number of employers we speak to at our HR Groups are reviewing their benefits provisions. This may be driven by ensuring they are getting the best deals and securing efficiencies at a time when budgets have been constrained. In addition, employers may be taking the opportunity to ensure they select the right mixture of benefits that their employees will value.

Whilst our autumn 2020 Reward Management Survey captured the lowest levels of recruitment and retention difficulties since the 2008 recession, employers are still very aware of the fact that how they act now will have long-term implications. How they treat individuals will shape their employees’ perceptions of them which may impact their desire to stay when the labour market becomes more buoyant, in addition to shaping their employee value proposition.

In terms of what is best will vary organisation to organisation – active employee listening through qualitative feedback and pulse surveys can help to identify what is and is not working so periodic reviews should be built into this monitoring process. In, our Reward Management Survey, the top benefit that 76 per cent of employers reported from implementing mental health and wellbeing initiatives is being seen as a ‘caring employer’ – signaling their support to employees. This was followed by 66 per cent seeing improved employee engagement and 54 per cent saying that it contributed to preventing future health issues for staff.

A holistic approach

According to our Autumn 2020 UK Reward Management Survey, 90 per cent of respondent employers had policies and procedures in place to specifically support mental health and wellbeing. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Reward Management Survey has also called on employers to recognise their role in supporting employees’ financial wellbeing, saying that half of employers surveyed did not have a financial wellbeing policy in place.

The case for taking a holistic approach to wellbeing and including financial wellbeing is recognised by Aegon and the Centre for Economic and Business Research as they estimate the annual cost of absenteeism and presenteeism is £1.56 billion in their Financial Wellbeing in the Workplace report. Organisations are tailoring their financial wellbeing schemes to help staff weather the pandemic. For those operating pay freezes or managing constrained pay budgets, Total Reward Statements can help to reinforce the benefits provision, providing detail about the breadth of the rewards on offer that go beyond base pay.

Pro-active advice and help

There has never been a greater need for financial wellbeing than during the pandemic. Some employers are going beyond educational financial wellbeing and offering interventions such as workplace savings schemes. Some are operating hardship funds in recognition of the collective responsibility their organisation has to all of its workers in such challenging times. In addition to providing financial education hubs, Hays are trying to ‘think outside the box’ and understand the financial issues that affect society today.

“Financial worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and this can affect how we feel emotionally, our mental wellbeing, and our ability to concentrate and focus, both inside and outside work.”

Rosemary Lemon, Hays Group Head of Reward

They offer extensive retail discounts on everyday essentials and connect employees with a firm offering quality rental housing with a reputable landlord. They have also launched a cash savings plan with deductions made via payroll into a building society account.

Long-term mental health effects

35 per cent of respondents to our reward survey had a dedicated budget for mental health and wellbeing policies.

Residential care and healthcare employers in particular are concerned that the long-term effects on mental health will come out further down the line. Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have been concentrating on the task at hand. Only time will tell the long-term toll this will have, so the importance of having support available before, during and after the pandemic is crucial. The same can be said for furloughed workers. Whilst some may reintegrate seamlessly, others will be feeling anxious, disconnected and possibly resentful. Employers must address their concerns to manage the easing of lockdown restrictions successfully. FAQ sheets, open communication and providing opportunities to raise queries can help this process.

Physical health and sickness policies

In an age where presenteeism used to see many employees struggle into the office, controlling the spread of Covid-19 with its multiple symptoms has been a key priority for employers to protect the physical wellbeing of staff. 33 per cent of employers have reviewed sickness policies due to Covid-19, suggesting that two thirds are happy with existing arrangements.

However, many reported sickness levels have decreased as the threshold for a sick day seems to have also reduced. Employees have been able to work from the comfort of their own home; although, there is the argument that this could also be attributable to the fear of redundancies that might follow due to the negative impact on the economy over the year. With gyms closed, traditional gym memberships and providing free fruit in the office are undermined as a benefit and organisations have to be innovative. Some have created firm-wide Strava groups to encourage physical activity and drive team connections, whilst others have made use of more creative benefits for those grappling with lockdown lethargy in the form of dog therapists who can provide guest dogs with lockdown lethargy in the form of dog therapists who can provide guest dogs for video conferences.

Focus on communications

During our HR Groups, employers reported that at the outset of lockdown, communications crises strategies kicked in. Communications came from senior executive teams to make everyone feel connected to the business if they were working remotely or to encourage those working on the front line. However, over the course of three lockdowns, some have reported that these have become much less frequent than they were. Top-down communications from the CEO and senior team were sent out once or twice a week on average at the beginning of the first lockdown, which went right down to once a month by Autumn 2020, as many people have adjusted to a new way of working.

However, the role that communication plays in bolstering wellbeing, particularly when it comes to remote working, cannot be underestimated. This ensures that people not only know the level of support available to them, but feel connected to their employer’s wider vision. This can drive their own feeling of purpose in their work and the role they have to play.

Transparency has gone a long way to alleviate anxiety throughout the international workforce of Lastminute.com who used technology to facilitate open communication and maintain dialogue as the pandemic unfolded and beyond. This has enabled it to strengthen its sense of ‘inclusion and connection’ throughout the business in its efforts to protect wellbeing.

Get in touch

Employers are increasingly alert to the greater risk of burnout and stress faced by their employees as a result of the third lockdown. Wellbeing should be at the heart of the ‘new normal’ by taking into account how the individual defines their own values and priorities when it comes to their benefits and preferred ways of working. Call us today if we can help you to evaluate your approach to employee communications and how this can drive employee engagement.

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