How will the future of work affect the wellbeing and engagement of employees?

  • Employers will need to ensure they are focusing on wellbeing and redefining the employee experience so that workers can thrive.
  • The pandemic has shown that working models can change overnight, making it essential that employers tailor their wellbeing initiatives to their employees’ evolving needs.
  • Organisation-wide corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives can offer an important outlet to engage employees by encouraging their direct participation.

The world of work has evolved rapidly over the past two years and this has seen more employees looking for greater autonomy and purpose. Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has invariably affected every aspect of the workplace and has encouraged many businesses to rethink how they will support wellbeing and engagement in the future.

Working patterns

The working world has seen huge changes in working patterns, including the introduction of remote and hybrid-working policies by many employers. But what started as a government measure has since evolved into the new normal.

Suzanne Marshall, clinical governance officer at GoodShape, is of the opinion that reliance on technology will grow, and all aspects of the working world will ultimately have to go virtual, including employee wellbeing and experience tools. “I think it’s fair to expect a lot more remote working in the future even once the pandemic is over, because it works really well for many people,” she says.

“For some though, working from home will impact mental health. Employers will need to ensure they are focusing on wellbeing and redefining the employee experience in a way that can ensure workers can thrive.”

Rising numbers of fully-remote workers could see an increase in employee turnover as geographic barriers are removed from many roles.

Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, believes that many employees are likely to seek to maintain remote or hybrid working, or even asking for options like four-day work weeks. “The emphasis will shift to motivating employees with arrangements that best suit them as well as rewarding them and recognising them as valued individuals,” he says.

Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, expects to see businesses starting to experiment with new organisational design structures in 2022. “We could start to see a shift away from the traditional nine to five working week,” he says. “With inflation rising and profit margins stretched, many businesses will compete on an hours versus wages basis, offering reduced working hours or increased pay in the war for talent. We will likely see organisations reducing working hours with the same compensation.”

Many employers will have to learn how to innovate in a hybrid world, with the employee experience likely to dominate the world of work.

Yves Duhaldeborde, senior director at Willis Towers Watson, thinks this will be a real challenge for employers who have to deliver benefit programmes that meet the individual needs of employees, while remaining fair to others. “For example, offering flexible work arrangements without putting those whose roles require significant office presence at a disadvantage, or offering childcare without penalising non-parents.”

Meanwhile, he expects efforts to enhance employee wellbeing and develop a sense of purpose among staff to continue, with programmes extending deeper into physical, financial, mental and emotional health.

Employee wellbeing changes

In order for employers to improve physical and mental health in the workplace, they may need to look at the usage of their health and wellbeing programmes.

Marshall explains that traditional practices such as employee surveys will still have a place, but are not always perfect. “Apps, platforms and systems need to be effective and efficient. By collecting and analysing health profiling data in a confidential but thorough way, leaders can be much more proactive in offering employees support,” she says. “Subsequently they can reduce the impact of absence. By taking a more holistic approach to wellbeing, leaders can create a healthier [organisation].”

Wellbeing solutions for future workplaces will need to offer a range of personalised holistic benefits to cover whatever needs arise. Mackenzie anticipates the future of wellbeing at work to be defined by two key themes: support and adaptability. “When employees are thoroughly supported, there is trust and openness, which may encourage them to get the support they need,” he says. “Employers should continue to strengthen the ties within their workforce by building a culture of connection through regular check-ins, for instance. Additionally, adaptability remains key. The pandemic has shown that working models can change overnight, making it essential that employers tailor their wellbeing initiatives to their employees’ evolving needs.”

The hybrid work era may see employee wellbeing become the newest metric that businesses use to measure success, according to Kropp. “In 2022, organisations will add new measures that access the mental, physical, and financial health of their employees, including collecting data directly from employees on what their needs are. New tools will include moving into new areas of support like offering marital and partner counselling services.”

Employee engagement in the future

Emerging generations of employees are placing greater significance on social responsibility and working for an organisation that aligns with their own value system.

Mackenzie comments that for employers looking to harness engagement, corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects will be a key way to tap into the motivations of employees. “[Organisation]-wide CSR initiatives can offer an important outlet to engage employees by encouraging their direct participation,” he says. “For instance, offering paid time to volunteer and work with the community can result in a more engaged and committed team, which translates to a far more productive workforce.”

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Kropp explains that while employees were expected to leave their personal perspectives at the door a decade ago, employees are now encouraged to voice their opinions in order to create a more inclusive and productive work environment. “The shifting nature of organisations, namely how they relate to employees and their communities, is creating the new major C-level role: the chief purpose officer,” he says. “The CPO will work across the organisation to determine the role of the company in society, how to navigate political and cultural debates, and how to engage different employees based on this.”

Employers who focus on engagement alone could risk missing signals that some employees are considering or actively looking for a job elsewhere. Duhaldeborde believes that wellbeing and engagement should be considered in tandem, as they are likely to become even more closely related than they have been in the past 10 years. “We’ve seen that engagement levels have remained high, while wellbeing has eroded significantly. I predict that employee engagement will continue to remain high in the UK this year and that wellbeing will further decline,” he says. “Employers are looking at pay, benefits and development opportunities as a response to the Great Resignation; however the majority have been slow to react, so the effect of these adjustments will only be felt next year and beyond.”