In acknowledgement of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, we have also delved into greater analysis of this topic in light of initial trends emerging from the survey and from the HR forums that we have hosted over the last few weeks. Whilst this forms a key trend in itself, it is worth noting that each emerging trend can have a lasting impact on employee mental health and wellbeing.
1. Mental health at the fore of HR agendas
90 per cent of employers have policies and procedures in place to support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, but the remainder is either intending to introduce formal plans or still deciding what form this will take. Some employers have offered mental health training for all employees to cope with the pressures associated with working during a pandemic. Remote working is set to continue for the foreseeable future in line with government guidelines, with the majority of respondents so far predicting that the return to the office will not be until August 2021. Employers detail a range of measures they have taken to protect employees who are in the office, the most popular after hygiene considerations being a booking-in system to manage capacity.
The biggest challenge in implementing mental health and wellbeing strategies has been communication challenges, followed by workplace stigma around the topic. However, 74 per cent say that Covid-19 has had a ‘significantly positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on the support organisations offer employees, promoting a greater overall awareness and focus on the issue, particularly when it comes to managing remote working arrangements. We will delve into another common challenge for respondents in the final analysis of the report – how to measure the return on investment of these dedicated strategies. The top two benefits from championing mental health in the workplace include 60 per cent seeing improved employee engagement and 56 per cent reporting that it has improved work-life balance.
2. Return to the office set for 2021
To date, nearly one third of organisations reported having only 1-5% of staff back in the office and less than one in twenty organisations reported having 100% of employees back in the office. By the end of the year, nearly one in ten employers expect to have 100% of staff back in the office and by August 2021 more than 40% expect to have all staff back in the office.
There is also an important link between the mental health and wellbeing of employees and the way in which they experience their workplace environment. Even for those not on the front-line of tackling coronavirus as key workers, there are numerous mental health risks associated with self-isolation and remote working for those who have a strong connection with the office. In the HR forums that we have hosted for different sectors, some employers have reported filming videos to prepare their staff for the changes awaiting them at the office as organisations look to bring back more people. The psychological importance of this cannot be understated for some employees.
Strong organisation-wide communication is another key focus area for employers wishing to prioritise employee wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Whilst the focus in March was on adapting to lockdown and rolling out home-working, where strong communications were needed to manage the exceptional circumstances, the risk is that communications lessen in the absence of a crisis strategy as remote working becomes business as usual. Maintaining the momentum behind top-level communications to drive engagement is crucial now more than ever, as the ongoing nature of the pandemic creates greater risk over a longer timeline.
3. Businesses remain adaptable
We examine whether employers have experienced a marked increase/decrease in absences since the Covid-19 situation. Initially, between March and April, one fifth experienced an increase whilst nearly one third experienced a decrease. However since July, 45 per cent have experienced no change, with 37 per cent of organisations experiencing a decrease or significant decrease. This may be due to remote working not necessitating employees to take official sick days as they can still soldier on and work from the comfort of their home. Over half of organisations have not reviewed their absence policies as a result.
However, some businesses have exercised caution in relation to individual employees who might be spurred on to work through illness if they are concerned about their job security in this climate, ensuring they are reinforcing wellbeing initiatives. To accommodate those self-isolating, working from home has been a popular strategy. Nearly half of employers are saying that flexible working will be more readily available going forward as a direct result of Covid-19.
4. Employee turnover at lowest levels since 2008
Job losses and the furlough scheme are still operating widely, as initial results point to around one third of respondents anticipating decreased revenue and order book activity. 15 per cent are also not intending to carry out a pay review this year, an increase from 12 per cent in spring. Around one quarter of respondents so far have made redundancies, whilst many are still making use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. In our autumn 2019 survey, 55 per cent of respondents anticipated retention difficulties, which is down to 21 per cent amongst initial responders. Similarly, 60 per cent anticipated recruitment challenges in the next 12 months, whereas 22 per cent are expecting similar difficulties this year. One year ago, 62 per cent had also had to offer new recruits salaries that conflicted with those paid to existing employees, whereas the initial results reveal a marked drop to 35 per cent of employers using this as a recruitment tool, suggesting that it is increasingly an employer’s market.
5. Constrained pay practices continue
Only half of the respondents so far have gone ahead with their originally planned pay review, whilst 72 per cent of pay actions are being driven by external relativities due to the pandemic. Against the backdrop of constrained, if any, pay increases over 2020, employers are also examining how they operate bonuses in the next 12 months. Only 46 per cent anticipate that they will maintain the same numbers of employees receiving bonuses and 28 per cent hope to maintain the size of bonuses.
Similarly, many employers are reporting creative ways to drive employee engagement, particularly concerned about the effect restrictions will have on employee morale over the coming months. In addition to Employee Assistance Programmes and flexible working arrangements, thank you gifts to recognise hard work and improved communications to celebrate employee commitment beyond monetary value are popular ways to overcome pay constraints and their effect on morale. We will also continue to monitor the use of out of cycle pay awards that have recently served to bridge the gap between marginal increases in pay awards and economic pressures.
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