At the beginning of the pandemic managers would often find themselves telling employees to do what they could in these strange and uncertain times. As the weeks and months went by suddenly this became our new everyday life, and we are now in the post-pandemic world asking ourselves what is this ‘new normal’?
Inside the ‘new normal’ we are seeing more emphasis being placed on employee wellbeing and mental health. Managers have worked hard to support and retain employees through the pandemic and crisis. Now it seems the past two years have caught up with people and mental health and wellbeing issues have become nearly daily concerns. We are seeing high levels of mental health issues across the country and employees in turmoil for a variety of different reasons. They may have lost loved ones during the pandemic and never got to say goodbye, financial difficulties, or depression, as just a few examples. We are facing a mental health crisis and the old approach to wellbeing of one size fits all just does not seem enough anymore.
Why do we need to focus on wellbeing?
Research shows absence from work due to mental health accounted for 19% of all lost working time in the UK last year – ahead of Covid-19 absences. Therefore, focusing on employee wellbeing is critical as it really can make a difference to your businesses output and productivity.
Wellbeing support in the past has emphasised a one size fits all approach, mainly through a Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which an employee was pointed to if/when any issues came to light. It is now becoming clear that if we try to engage with employees early and with an individual approach to wellbeing then managers are more successful at mitigating the long term absences and supporting employees to be in work. Focusing on employee wellbeing early can ensure organisations retain employees and support them to stay at work. Managers are in the best place to support employees and notice if there are any new issues which could be addressed.
What support can be offered?
Supporting the wellbeing of employees is becoming the new normal for businesses and managers. There are a variety of options open to employers to offer more tailored wellbeing support to employees.
- Having a Mental Health First Aider– organisations embraced the need to have a first aider to support with physical health and are now open to having a separate first aider to support with wellbeing and mental health. Supporting employees in the organisation to go through mental health first aider training can improve workplace productivity and wellbeing as staff have someone they can talk to about their mental health and wellbeing. It is about being an advocate and not becoming an expert. Having a dedicated person who can notice signs of stress and offer solutions before they come an issue seems the logical next step. Some organisations find that training line managers to this standard is a great way of preventing issues before they can become serious.
- Wellbeing employee survey – having a survey to check in on employee’s wellbeing has become a great tool to get a sense of what is happening within your teams and any concerns they may have, in a non-invasive way. This knowledge can help you to develop mental health and wellbeing support strategies for your employees to meet their specific needs. Managers are in a strong place to understand what issues are facing employees and with this evidence to hand can try to engage with teams and find solutions to concerns or employees before they become problems.
- Encouragement to disconnect – As homeworking is becoming part of the new normal the divide between worktime and home time is becoming blurred. If managers can encourage employees to disconnect and to have screen free time, then this can support employee’s overall wellbeing. Managers leading by example and switching off at lunchtime to go for a walk or take time away from the screen can help to show employees that it can be done, and it is recognised you need to take this time away to be more productive later. Also, recognising employees can become fearful that they will miss work or run out of time to complete tasks if they are not visible during breaks – managers supporting employees with workloads and encouraging disconnecting from work during breaks will highlight the value which you have in them as individuals and the need to take time for themselves.
- Leaders becoming more empathic. Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and share another’s feelings and this skill has become extremely important in leaders over the past few years. Organisations have recognised the value in having happy employees as this translates to productive employees and success . If employees feel their leaders are invested in them and their wellbeing they are more likely to engage in the organisation and to want to stay with them long-term.
Above are some of the ideas which can be used to offer your employees more support for overall wellbeing. Although this list is not exhaustive it does give an indication of the different ways which you can support employees in a very proactive way. As we transition through this new normal, wellbeing needs to adapt and move from being reactive to proactive while supporting the individual.
 GoodShape’sUK PLC 2021 Workforce Health Report,