9 Sep 2021

How will you manage your strategy towards health and wellbeing in a post-Covid world?

Post-pandemic, the majority of us have a much higher awareness of our own, and others’, mental health. Consequently – and because the lines between home and work have become ever more blurred – employee expectations of an employer’s role in wellbeing have changed.

Communication regarding mental health has improved. The stigma surrounding the discussion of mental ill-health has diminished, and organisations have generally been good at signposting their employees towards helpful resources.

However, there are potential health concerns waiting in the wings. Employees who have returned to workplaces where they must interact with the public can feel at greater risk now that restrictions around face coverings and social distancing have been removed.

Plus, though employers can and should support employees with their mental health and wellbeing, they must balance this with promoting independence and self-sufficiency. Studies show that agency is incredibly important, particularly when it comes to preventing and recovering from burnout.

What new considerations are there for employers in the world of hybrid working?
While organisations will have processes in place to ensure homeworking environments are safe, ultimately they cannot control this. This means that there is a larger reliance on individuals to continually check-in and look after themselves.

It also becomes harder to have those informal checks and balances which managers and colleagues can usually rely on to determine how someone is doing. This just isn’t as easily done over Teams (other solutions are available) as it is in person. At the same time, if employers are relying upon technology, they should make use of available tools on the market to help monitor and manage wellbeing.

Then there’s the impact on culture to consider. How can we balance closeness and connectivity without regular physical proximity? Those organisations using a hybrid model should use time spent in the office wisely to help keep the culture that bonds employees.

However, the feel of the office may well be different, particularly when people are keeping different days. This is a challenge all organisations will need to overcome.

Would it be better to ask all employees to return to the office full time?
It is tempting to assume that we can go back to ‘normal’ now that restrictions have eased, and in some ways it might be easier for employers if this were the case. However, this is unlikely to be the reality. Employees need a compelling reason to return to the office, particularly while other organisations are happy to offer hybrid or fully remote working.

Most employees feel they’ve proved that hybrid working is just as – if not more – effective as having a physical presence in the office, with many saying the flexibility is good for their mental health. So, how can employers justify a return to full time office work while still promoting health and wellbeing? The two don’t gel.

Organisations also need to consider that many employees will have taken on additional responsibilities throughout the pandemic, working longer hours from home as they make the most of time gained back from the commute. If employees are asked to return to the office, this may cause their working day to shrink, causing stress and anxiety either by forcing employees to work longer hours, or to fit more work into less time.

Of course, there are those who prefer working in the office full time. These individuals too will need special consideration in order to stay feeling motivated and engaged, particularly on days where the office is less full.

Is it really an employer’s responsibility to take care of their organisation’s collective mental health?
Yes. In the normal flow of work, employers have a duty of care for their staff and will actively keep them from physical harm by performing risk assessments, for example. The same logic needs to be applied to mental health; employers must understand what causes stress and anxiety within their teams and limit these triggers.

We have found that people are struggling, but not necessarily with work. While we do have greater freedom now, some have lost loved ones, have been or continue to be separated from family and are still coping with uncertainty. Many of the stress-relieving activities we used to take for granted – trips to the theatre, visiting friends, holidays – are still difficult, leaving employees without a coping mechanism.

Organisations can’t fix these things for their employees, but they can help to support them manage their stress and anxiety. Burnt out and disengaged employees are no good for anyone, so it’s in an employer’s best interests to support health and wellbeing post-Covid.

Sophie Austin