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6 Employee Wellbeing Areas to Focus on in 2021

December 9, 2020
Anushka Sharda

Approximately 30% of people working from home during this pandemic have worked more hours at home than they would in the office. As the days get shorter with the festive period around the corner, work will become busier and more hectic to meet end of year targets.

In addition to this the second lockdown in the UK has meant we’ve all had to readjust back to a life of limited contact. All of these factors added on top of our normal day to day lives will no doubt have a massive impact. And so, organisations must prioritize employee health and wellbeing to keep productivity and motivation levels high.

Research shows that there is a wealth of evidence suggesting the introduction of wellbeing initiatives can lead to better engagement, better morale, a healthier and more inclusive culture and a lower sickness absence. The effects of this support businesses to improve their key performance indicators as employees remain happy and motivated.

During this pandemic, employee wellbeing has become a big focus for many firms, however; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when designing a health and wellbeing strategy.

Below are 6 key focus areas firms can look to prioritise for increased employee wellbeing:

1. Employee Mental Wellbeing 🧠

Covid-19 has brought major challenges, both personally and professionally. Not only are we faced with the worries of becoming ill, but many employees feel demotivated and isolated working from home.

A study found that around 35% of employers fear their workers may be bored or demotivated due to continued time away from workplaces, and are concerned for their mental health. Others on the other hand, feel overwhelmed with having to juggle demanding workloads and personal responsibilities.

This is likely to have an impact on their mental health and stress levels. Studies show that 1 in 5 people felt they couldn’t tell their manager if they were overly stressed at work and less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had informed their manager.

Organisations need to ensure that they create an open and supportive culture for employees so they become more comfortable with talking about mental health over time. This will not only improve the health of their staff but help the business perform better due to increased focus and motivation of employees.

Listed below, are employee wellbeing tips on how organisations can look to better support the mental health of their workers:

  • Managers should be confident and approachable about mental health and should ask employees on a routine basis about how they’re feeling.
  • Managers should also take steps to normalize conversations about mental health so that it is treated in the same way as talking about physical health. This will encourage people to seek advice and support.
  • Additional training could be offered to managers on how to best support an employee with their mental health. e.g. When in a conversation about mental health, it is important to listen carefully, ask simple non-judgemental questions, not to make assumptions, act with empathy and ensure confidentiality.
  • It is vital that an organisation also has clear well published channels where employees can receive help. E.g. initiatives such as Employee Assistance programmes have proved to be very effective as they provide employees with the opportunity to receive confidential counselling with work related issues or advice on personal matters.

2. Employee Physical Wellbeing 🏃‍♂️

Whilst the majority of the population are working from home, the physical health of employees is just as important, especially for key workers and staff that are required to go into the workplace.

A study found that more than two-thirds (68%) of executives say that employees have become fearful about workplace safety. Safe working practices and equipment are key to ensuring employees feel as comfortable as possible when at work.

This will become even more important if firms look to re-open offices in the future.

  • Providing Occupational Health services are a great way to support employees as they focus specifically on mental and physical wellbeing of workers; they promote safe working practices and prevent work related illness.

It goes without saying that exercise benefits the body and physical functions, however it also has a big impact on our reasoning and executive function.

Many studies have found that it can lead to better mood and higher productivity at work even with a small amount of exercise during the day. Employees that neglect their physical health can cost their employers a lot more from presentee-ism (when employees come to work but don’t work at their best due to illness) and absenteeism (when employees miss work altogether because of sickness).

A survey found that increasing physical activity could add 5 days of productivity per employee each year. For employers this is a simple way to save them money and create better results for their business.

So how do we encourage a healthier lifestyle for our employees especially as many are now hesitant to step outside?

  • Set up team activities like a step challenge or weekly yoga classes over zoom, this will not only increase physical fitness but also strengthen co-worker relationships in a remote environment.
  • Encourage conversation on healthy eating and exercise – share healthy recipes, fitness programmes or videos
  • Educate employees about nutrition to help show them the importance of a balanced diet.
  • Provide discounts on activities that promote a healthy lifestyle, e.g. discounts on exercise equipment/clothing, gym and sports memberships.

3. Employee Financial Wellbeing 💸

Managing personal finances during the coronavirus outbreak has completely changed. Many have seen their savings diminish with 32% having less than 1 months savings from a survey of 10,000 UK employees.

People in the most financially precarious position have struggled to make ends meet despite the furlough scheme, credit card, loans, and overdraft payment holidays extension.

In a 2020 Workplace Wellbeing Study, it was found that 41% of UK workers surveyed are relying on at least one new loan, credit or overdraft facility but almost 60% of these people are doing so despite knowing they would struggle to make the repayments.

On the other hand, you also have people who have been largely untouched financially from the coronavirus pandemic and some have been 'accidentally saving' because they are unable to spend. Savings patterns have shifted from saving for a specific reason (e.g. for mortgage or holiday) to saving for a 'rainy day'. Now more than ever people need support and tools to become more financially resilient, however many don’t know where to start.

Around 80% of employers in a survey of 300 feel that people and businesses would gain from being more financially savvy but lacked the tools. They also acknowledged the negative impact this would have on their staff struggling with financial difficulties resulting in more stress, and thereby affecting the ability to do their work.

Financial stress can lead to more absenteeism and studies have shown that financially stressed employees lose 3 hours each week dealing with their money problems. The survey found that savings, debt management and retirement planning were the top three areas of advice employees would benefit from.

With this in mind, what can business do to support workers to help them become more financially resilient?

  • Establishing a financial wellbeing programme, this could include;
  • Learning material or an education portal to develop financial skills and good habits
  • Links to external advice from professionals for personal finance planning
  • Information around financial benefits offered by the company
  • Recommendations to good financial tools and apps for money management
  • Enabling and opening up a conversation about finances in a safe space. This can be uncomfortable for many but it’s a great first step to address any issues and improve financial habits in the long term.
  • Potentially, adopting new methods of pay for employees. For example; Earning on Demand, which many challenger banks are using, creates more autonomy for employees to govern their finances and is expected to see a huge uptake in 2021.

4. Good Communication & Being Heard 🗣👂

To gain a real advantage, employee wellbeing must be embedded in an organization's culture, leadership and people management. Managers arguably play the most significant role for company organised well-being efforts, while senior leaders allocate resources and set the tone for the initiatives, managers are responsible for allowing their direct reports to take part in these initiatives. Ensuring good communication with managers can help build trust, make employees feel heard and valued as well increase overall employee engagement.

As simple as it sounds, the art of actively listening can really help employers identify what the employees want from their workplace. It can help address problems before they get out of control, you can get to know your employees better, and then tailor any workplace wellbeing initiatives to make them more relevant, it also creates a collaborative working environment which can lead to more idea sharing.

As well as listening, being recognised is one of the most desired and easiest wellbeing initiatives to implement. Many employees have gone above and beyond during these difficult times. A recent report by Work human showed 49% of those surveyed did not even receive a ‘thank you’ from their manager giving them a feeling of being undervalued.

So, what can organisations do to improve their communication practices to make employees feel heard?

  • Ongoing 1 to 1 and monthly/quarterly performance review meetings with workers to hear first-hand about their experiences.
  • Staff surveys, these can be carried out anonymously through online tools and are a great way to measure the overall employee engagement and satisfaction
  • Feedback from staff, this helps to collate ideas and thoughts across any business areas and can help to make employees feel more empowered when they see their suggestions are taken forward and implemented.
  • Including staff in decision making to make them feel more involved and well informed, this increases their motivation and helps them to see how their role supports the organization's long term strategy.

5. Employee Career Wellbeing 💼

Nurturing internal talent is one of the best ways to retain valuable knowledge for a firm and gives a greater ROI from employees. However, workers with low career wellbeing are more likely to be dissatisfied and unproductive at work, and ultimately could lead to organisations losing talent.

Research has shown that nearly 60% of employees say they lack career development with their employer, which would be enough to make them start looking for roles elsewhere. In addition, only a small percentage of managers actually felt comfortable talking about salary, aspirations, and promotions with their team.

For firms looking to prioritize their career development opportunities for employees, here are some things to consider:

  • Career chat – Companies should encourage employees to set long-term and short-term goals for their career progression which are discussed and agreed with their line manager. This could involve identifying skills and experience to achieve those goals e.g. online training/workshops.
  • Offer training to line managers that don’t know how to approach conversations about career aspirations and other sensitive topics such as salary and promotions. This will allow for more open conversations going forward.
  • Mentoring – successful leaders have often quoted how valuable their mentors were in guiding them to progress their careers. Firms can set up mentoring opportunities internally to help their employees fulfil their career development plans. There are many advantages to mentoring, especially for career development. Employees are likely to become more self aware and confident, and as a result, organisations will benefit from greater employee engagement and retention. Learn more about setting up a mentoring programme here.

6. Other Employee Wellbeing Initiatives 💡

Some more ideas can be found below:

  • Unlimited Maternity/Paternity leave for new parents
  • Flexible working hours for improved work/life balance
  • Set up volunteer programs and volunteering days to bring your teams together
  • Introduce and encourage  wellness practices like meditation to reduce stress
  • Grant sabbaticals to reduce burnout and celebrate individuality

Whether it’s finances, career, being heard or mental and physical wellness, it's clear that organisations must take greater steps towards employee wellbeing.

By fostering a culture that places importance on all aspects of employee wellbeing, firms will not only enhance their reputation as an employer but are also likely to benefit from long term financial success!

Hopefully this guide provides you some insight into why employee wellbeing is so important for your business, and the steps you can take to implement positive changes for your employees.

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