Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Aftermath of COVID-19  0

Managing the Tide of “The Great Resignation”

Now that we are getting back to work, many are feeling exhausted, stressed, confused, and overwhelmed. Are you feeling that too? It’s normal if people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing are frayed in the present times. However, with offices resuming, what happens to wellbeing initiatives? Does it remain a priority for organizations or is it pushed aside? And with ‘return to normal’ being a lengthy process, how will businesses continue to manage uncertain and changing work dynamics and continue to focus on workplace wellbeing? This article examines this issue in detail. 

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on business over the last year. Organizations in all industries have had to adapt and evolve in the face of the crisis while working against a backdrop of major economic uncertainty. Coupled with unpredictable working conditions across the global workforce, employee burnout is on the rise, leading to increasing resignations. The US has seen as many as 11.5 million workers resigning from their jobs between April to June 2021.

As we look toward a period of recovery and regrowth, we should celebrate positive actions that employers have managed to take over the last year. Many businesses have seen the benefits of enabling remote working for the long term and bringing traditional in-period services online.

While it’s been a gruelling year for all organizations, “Workplace Wellbeing” is one of the most important areas where the pandemic has fuelled progress. Work occupies a crucial part in people’s lives, and not just in providing a source of income, it can give us a sense of purpose and achievement and boost our self-esteem, as well as provide an opportunity to socialize and build friendships.

Focus on wellbeing allows businesses and their people to thrive. While progressive organizations have long recognized that wellbeing is important, the pandemic pushed it to the top of leadership agendas. As the global health emergency became clear last year, most organizations acted quickly to help protect their workforce from the spread of COVID-19. They implemented all the appropriate health, hygiene, and distancing measures to keep people safe and well. There were various other support programmes that were launched specifically to protect the physical, mental wellbeing, and livelihood of employees.

Organizations have made extensive use of health technologies, informatics, and analytics. Workplace wellbeing has become a business priority. There is increased awareness of its linkage to business performance, operational resilience, and sustainability. The World Economic Forum is launching a new cross-industry community of Chief Health/Medical Officers. The amount of attention garnered by workplace wellbeing is noticeable.

Now that employees transition from being fully remote to a post-pandemic future that includes the return to the office, research findings claim that employees are asking for workplaces that address mental, social, and physical wellbeing. With long-lasting work from home taking a heavy social and mental toll, relaxation spaces, healthy food services, and outdoor spaces top the list in terms of what employees want (JLL Report, 2021). Another report (Forbes, 2021)  has indicated that employees want to see the wellbeing gains they have enjoyed taken forward for the long term – believing that they should become a part of the wellbeing package and indeed normal working life.

The question for employers is what do they do next?  How do they take the wellbeing gains that have been won during the pandemic and address issues and challenges employees have faced in the long term? How do they fulfil their duty of care to staff, while simultaneously reaping the benefits of better productivity which comes alongside better wellbeing?

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For many businesses, there is not just an opportunity for recovery but renewal. Experts believe that workplace wellbeing can and should be the central tenet of any organization’s covid recovery plan, and its culture too. Success in a post-pandemic working world lies with the businesses who take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change their progress now and reap rewards in the future.

For many businesses, there is not just an opportunity for recovery but renewal. Experts believe that workplace wellbeing can and should be the central tenet of any organization’s covid recovery plan, and its culture too. Success in a post-pandemic working world lies with the businesses who take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change their progress now and reap rewards in the future.

The good news is that most organizations have recognized these challenges. Going ahead, employers intend to continue to address burnout and destigmatize mental health support, which includes a commitment from leadership and training and support for managers as well. Some of the forward-looking organisations are seizing the wellbeing opportunity provided by the pandemic & trying to gain from it.  Employers are making efforts to build a happier and mentally resilient workforce. With happier people comes better performance, better staff attraction and retention, fewer sick days, and a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Let’s examine, how organizations can use the learnings of the past 18 months and plan their Workplace Wellbeing Strategy?

Wellbeing Learning for Businesses 

Resource Accessibility

There has been a marked increase in the health and wellbeing services offered by businesses over the last year. Employees are generally pleased to be offered with them, even if they haven’t had to use it yet. Most say that the employer has introduced some form of initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and many hope that these changes will become permanent. Taking this health-first approach to people management forward and ensuring employees have access to help for both mental and physical concerns, will result in employers enjoying greater productivity, reduced turnover, reduced absences, which all make for a successful business environment.

Focus on Mental Health

Research in the area of wellbeing has indicated that giving people more control over their work-life and providing them social support fosters higher levels of physical and mental health. A culture of social support also reinforces to employees that they are valued, and thus helps in a company’s efforts to attract and retain people. Job control, meanwhile, has a positive impact on individual performance and is one of the most important predictors of job satisfaction and work motivation, frequently ranking as more important even than pay.

Management practices that strengthen job control and social support are often overlooked but relatively straightforward and they provide a payoff to employees and employers alike. As we transition into the pre-pandemic ways of working, we need to keep the mental health of people a top priority. While initiatives such as line manager sensitization, teaching resilience were making a significant impact on managing mental health in the physical workplace, organizations need to rethink the way they can manage mental health to accommodate the new ways of working brought about by the pandemic.

“While initiatives such as line manager sensitization, teaching resilience were making a significant impact on managing mental health in the physical workplace, organizations need to rethink the way they can manage mental health to accommodate the new ways of working brought about by the pandemic.”

Make Flexibility Your Superpower

Some of the changes brought about by the pandemic are perceived as positive: availability of remote working, no commute, flexible working options are all wellbeing gains that were earlier considered incentives offered to employees. But there is still work to be done. For organizations planning their route out of the pandemic, they need to make sure the wellbeing gains brought about by Covid-19 remain a part of their reality. This will make the employees feel empowered and comfortable to put as much into their work as possible. Workplace norms have fundamentally shifted over the last year. Today, we find ourselves in a limited period. We now have the chance to remake our models of work before things go back to the way they were – and that’s an opportunity the leaders must now not squander.

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Way Forward

Looking after employee wellbeing is a long-term strategy, so it’s better to start with small changes and build them over time. Small steps are all it takes for an idea to take hold and gain momentum. Few things that can help can be listed below:

  • Get it on the agenda – Business leaders must make sure health and wellbeing is a top priority for the business. That means getting backing from the senior management and establishing a road map of success.
  • Embrace the culture – The company culture must encourage employees to take positive steps to look after their health – policies and procedures alone aren’t enough, they must be supported by a positive culture and real opportunities for staff to participate.
  • Train the right people – Consider who is going to oversee the wellbeing strategy & give them tools to make it work.
  • Focus on the body and the mind – Remember wellbeing isn’t just physical. Business leaders need to focus on improving employees’ both physical and psychological health.
  • Think proactive, not reactive – Wellbeing is not just reacting to ill-health. Encouraging healthier lifestyle choices is a proactive approach. The workplace wellbeing revolution is already happening, is your business ready?

While organizations and leaders do not have the answers to the uncertainty of the future ways of working, in order to maintain initial levels of positivity from employees, employers must continue to engage and communicate with empathy. Leadership Development models must focus on care, human connection, and resilience.

Otherwise, the fallout of a stressed workforce, working under uncertain conditions with no end in sight, means burnout could become another epidemic of sorts, affecting both employers and society. Companies should be praised for their successful and rapid transition into the crisis mode which has provided vital reassurance to the workforce. However, businesses now need to look ahead. While providing long-term clarity is a tall order, mitigating the risks and benefitting from opportunities should be the focus for now.

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Manavi Pathak is the head of Talent and Leadership Development at Trent Limited. She comes with over 15 years of wide experience in HR Consulting and Academics. Prior to this, she has worked with some big names in the industry like TATA Motors, Cipla, KPMG, etc. 

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