Dr Lynda Shaw: Employers need to prioritise employee health and wellbeing

We have been living in a heightened state of fear and stress due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. The best leaders at this time are not just visionaries, nor are they simply those who are able to make decisions quickly and adapt to changing circumstances. The best leaders in 2021, and going forwards, fully recognise their workforce is the organisation’s greatest asset and protecting their health and wellbeing is not only key to getting through the pandemic but also their moral duty. Having empathy for employees and customer concerns and limitations; prioritising honesty, transparency and integrity; and trying to reduce stress and support employees where possible, should be central to every business.

To support the long-term wellbeing of staff, firstly employers should remove uncertainty for their workforce where possible. People find uncertainty more stressful than known outcomes, whether good or bad, and anxiety is likely to lead to decreased productivity and low mood and a host of other problems. Even if there are hard decisions to be made ahead, communicate, communicate and communicate.

Secondly, they can be flexible with work locations and patterns: office staff have proven they can work well from home. If employers facilitate their staff’s desire for flexibility and understanding, they will breed loyalty and improve motivation. Find out what bespoke support staff need and provide it wherever possible.

Thirdly, continue to collaborate. Employers should break down barriers and reach out to employees and make them still feel part of a team. Being united makes us stronger. Scientists have found through brain imaging that when people experience social exclusion, some areas of the brain are activated as if they were experiencing physical pain.

Recognise that people react differently to significant change. Some may struggle with isolation, some may feel anger, anxiety, fear or sadness, while others may have felt more able to rise to the challenges or have easier circumstances. Identify who needs what support and allow time to acclimatise to change. Ask for feedback and be open to questions.

Lastly, employers can establish a mentoring atmosphere by encouraging colleagues to help nurture and inspire individual team members. Team spirit is a great asset and a powerful form of resilience.

Dr Lynda Shaw is a neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist