The Worried and the Well: How to Boost Your Employees’ Wellness in a Time of Crisis
Employee wellness is a vital, yet sometimes overlooked, aspect of a company. It can be especially difficult to promote in a time of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where teams are working remotely, external stressors are high, and the future is uncertain. Fortunately, there are ways to help your employees feel reassured and empowered in these trying times.
A Happy, Healthy Organisation Starts with Happy, Healthy Employees
Research into workplace wellness has existed for centuries, but it was only from the 1970s that wellness truly entered the spotlight with the formation of the worksite health promotion movement. However, these early movements primarily focused on physical health, and we are only now seeing mental health support being implemented in workplaces across the globe.
“The world of work has evolved past just looking after the ‘traditional’ health and safety of employees to one where total well-being is fundamental.”
Why is employee wellness so important? The research is unanimous: employee wellness leads to decreased stress, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, and improved work morale. It also has indirect benefits for organisational productivity and performance. Research by Gallup found that employees with high levels of well-being were 27% more likely to be rated as doing “excellent” work, 45% more likely to report high adaptability to change, and a full 59% less likely to leave their current job for a new organisation in the next 12 months.
Employees with high well-being are engaged, motivated and flexible; key attributes for an effective and high-performing workforce.
Employee Wellness in Extraordinary Times
The current COVID-19 pandemic provides very real challenges for employee wellness across the globe. These threats to job security, lifestyle changes, and increased levels of general stress all have effects on employees’ wellness in and out of the workplace. In a panel survey of American workers, the percentage of people experiencing disruption from COVID-19 rose from 58% to 81% in just two weeks – a reflection of the turbulent and ever-changing environment.
The Wellbeing Lab found that over 9 in 10 Australians feel anxiety about the economy, and 76% are uncertain about what actions to take. Mental health is currently one of the top concerns for Australian workers, second only to financial health.
So, who at work do employees turn to in times like these? Unsurprisingly, friends and peers provide the most support. What is worrying, however, is that only 4.1% of employees would ask for help from their HR team; 4% from their employee assistance programme; and a staggering 15.2% would speak to no one at all when struggling. When over 94% of survey respondents are working from home, this isolation from traditional work routines can be especially detrimental to employee wellbeing.
Looking after your team, especially in times of crisis, is crucial for any organisation. Thankfully, in today’s connected world, caring for and empowering your employees can be made simpler.
The Responsibilities of HR
The number one stress point for HR teams around Australia right now is the wellbeing of their workforce. If your organisation isn’t measuring employee wellness, now is a great time to start. Understanding wellness in your workplace is the first step to improving it. Surveys are a quick and easy way to gather data and identify potential issues.
HR also has a role to play in motivating and reassuring their employees, and they need to be more agile than ever in these rapidly changing times. Make your HR team more visible and promote any wellness-related resources and services you provide, rather than assuming your employees will come to you. Be clear about how you can help, and try to make processes simple.
By doing so, you’ll be giving employees psychological safety, ensuring they are aware that help is there when they need it. In addition, employees will know they won’t have to look far to equip themselves with helpful and engaging wellness resources.
“Workers who felt they could ask for help when struggling fared better than those who felt they could never tell anyone.”
Finally, be sure to update any existing policies about employee support or work-from-home practices. Employees might face some anxiety around remote working, so ensure that there are clear expectations for employees, and that they can remain focused and in the know.
Find out more about how HR can help promote wellness:
The Responsibilities of Leaders
The role of a leader becomes more important than ever during a crisis, and maintaining regular contact with your teams is the foundation of wellness.
Leaders need to help team members navigate through uncertain circumstances through giving trust, compassion, stability and hope. Getting into the habit of frequently checking in with team members can help to maintain trust within teams, as well as provide some much-needed routine and stability. Leaders should practice empathy and listen as much as they talk, being sure to ask even seemingly trivial questions such as “how are you going” or “would you like a hand” – these basic questions are crucial for keeping employees engaged and making them feel cared for.
Especially when employees are working remotely, it may be hard to maintain motivation and hope within teams. So, don’t let goal-setting fall by the wayside – in fact, it can help improve employee wellness. Leaders should help their teams set fair, but desirably difficult expectations, and celebrate small wins as they are achieved. Having a steady stream of achievements can help build employee engagement and preserve motivation to work.
Some helpful guidelines for setting effective goals:
- Set goals collaboratively to increase employees’ engagement with those goals and acceptance of them
- Help people understand how they fit within the bigger picture of the company and how they contribute
- Use team goals where appropriate to encourage engagement and collaboration between team members
Leaders can also harness the power of technology to maintain open channels of communication, even remotely. Using tools such as Teams or Skype will help to ensure that no employee is left behind, and teams remain motivated to achieve their goals.