As the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic forces many to continue to work from home and others to accept furlough, a proactive, well-planned approach to employee wellbeing could make all the difference to employees’ happiness, motivation and productivity.
Whether this focus comes in the form of a dedicated employee wellbeing manager, or HR professionals and business leaders who have wellbeing firmly on their agenda, it should be core to HR strategy and at the heart of how an organisation operates.
But without face-to-face contact with staff, where do employers start?
If you haven’t already done so, review the organisation’s health and wellbeing framework, and make any necessary additions or adjustments. This should set out employees’ entitlements and organisational policy to time off sick and statutory sick pay (SSP). In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government has made some changes to SSP. Your organisation may also have made changes to its usual policy, so make sure these are set out clearly and communicated to employees. Also consider policies including reasonable adjustment policies for disabled staff to ensure they have all the appropriate support and equipment, flexible working policy and leave policies.
Signpost to services
Think about the sources of help the organisation can offer if employees are struggling with their mental health. Although in-person counselling is currently not an option, remind employees about any phone or online counselling service on offer (or that has been introduced). These may be included as part of workplace healthcare plans. Also ensure that line managers know how to support their teams, having sensitive conversations where necessary, and indicating where to go for further help. These could be internal support as well as external support such as Mind, Samaritans, Anxiety UK and the NHS.
Clearly and often, tell employees that their employer is there for them during these difficult times. If you have not done so already, circulate the organisation’s health and wellbeing framework, and speak to employees about what they need to be able to work comfortably from home. This could bevia email or phone calls, but an online survey may be more practical in a large organisation.
Keep in touch
Remember, however, that employees’ feelings and needs are likely to change over time, so be sure to check in regularly. Using tech tools to stay in touch is now critical. Try to find digital equivalents of watercooler chats, coffee catch-ups and company meetings, which are normally important ways of keeping an eye on staff wellbeing. Put time in the diary for optional video call catch-ups with colleagues, and consider a buddy scheme so that everyone has someone to talk to. Also think about other activities that may support engagement in teams, such as social activities and quizzes.
Keeping staff updated about the organisation and any changes to strategy is also important, especially during a time of great change and uncertainty. Taking time for regular whole-company video meetings and providing space for staff questions and answers with the leadership team can ease anxiety, and improve trust and employee wellbeing.
It is likely that the organisation will also need to offer some flexibility to employees, especially those who are suddenly trying to manage caring or homeschooling on top of their work. Whether the organisation can offer flexible hours, time off for some staff, or a redistribution of workload to ease the pressure, explore all the options and then make sure that staff know how to request this additional flexibility if they need to.
Processes are important, but employee wellbeing is also about communicating with workers in a caring, human way, and emphasising the fact that they are part of an organisation that prioritises their physical and mental health. The organisations which do this successfully stand a much better chance of keeping their workforce engaged and motivated during and after this difficult period.
Natasha Broomfield-Reid is a diversity, inclusion and wellbeing specialist at Mills and Reeve.