Employee wellbeing is no longer a nice-to-have in the post-pandemic workplace. This article covers the challenges of the post-pandemic employee world; strategies HR leaders can use in improving employee wellbeing and its benefits.
It is a safe assertion to make that the workplace will never be the same again. In the last couple of years, the global pandemic has catalysed enormous changes in the way people work and look at the workplace. It also brought a whole new set of apprehensions regarding mental, physical, and professional wellness.
Gone are the days when employers used to cover only health insurance as part of employee wellbeing programs. Today, employee well-being entails more than just enrolling in insurance policies and giving sufficient time offs.
It covers the holistic physical, mental, and emotional health of employees apart from fostering a good, non-toxic work environment and work culture.
The HR department, through its practitioners and leaders, has become a vital instrument in managing and improving employee wellbeing. Let us examine some of the key challenges that HR leaders must address in this context and how technology can be of immense assistance.
Challenges in the post-pandemic employee world
As the global economy aims to hobble back on its feet, the after-effects of the pandemic are still all too visible. While the challenges posed were immense, the resilient human spirit and the innovativeness of the industry were able to convert a lot of these challenges into opportunities.
Here are some of the most prominent challenges observed in the post-pandemic workplace:
Remote working and other hybrid models
Most HR leaders would concur that remote working has been the leading challenge they have been dealing with. What started as an enforced necessity has now become the mode of choice. A FlexJobs survey shows that 58% of the respondents desired to work remotely full time, while another 39% preferred a hybrid work routine.
Probably the most telling aspect of this survey was that 24% of respondents rated the work-from-home model so high in their preference that they are willing to take a 10-20% pay cut to work remotely, while 58% of them showed an inclination toward looking for a new job if the remote working option is not provided.
Rapid adoption of automation technologies
Possibly as a subset of remote working or a general response to the massive economic disruption brought on by the pandemic, digitisation in communication and collaboration has accelerated significantly.
McKinsey surveyed 800 senior executives from global industry giants in which two-thirds said: “they were stepping up investment in automation and AI either somewhat or significantly.”
With a hybrid working model here to stay, companies will need to look at providing all the technical resources to their geographically disparate teams without the loss of productivity.
Role of Employer as a welfare manager
While morally, socially, and ethically conscious organisations have always held ‘employee welfare’ high on their company’s culture and ethos, their present role has become far more significant in this regard. This expanded role includes innovative benefits and other emotional and mental wellness activities as well.
Top organisations have been acting as a safe haven in terms of going well beyond their call and facilitating vaccination drives, imparting medical and financial literacy, and providing other forms of relief and convenience to employees and their families.
Shift in focus from efficiency to resilience
In the pre-pandemic era, organisational restructuring and redesigning were primarily centred around the areas of improvement or for gaining efficiencies in roles, productivity, and reduction of waste.
However, the current era has started laying additional emphasis on overall resilience of the business and flexibility in responding to catastrophic situations.
This also includes multi-skilling or cross-skilling of employees with sufficient training and knowledge to take on multiple roles, if the situation does require them to do so.
Role of HR leaders in improving employee wellbeing
HR leaders have found themselves in an unprecedented situation. While, traditionally, employees have always looked up to their HR team for workplace-related support and guidance, today, the HR leaders are looked upon as being the facilitators and implementers of policies and programs to improve employee wellbeing.
These initiatives are no longer limited to areas of job roles and working conditions but have transcended to psychological health, emotional stability, and flexibility in working models.
Work-life balance, a popular trend over the last decade or so, has also seen a paradigm shift towards quality of work-life. The pandemic was responsible for a high level of dejection in the minds of the workforce.
Reward Gateway UK conducted a study that showed a 48% reduction in productivity and a 40% reduction in quality of work in the early parts of the global health crisis. Being cognisant of this and other influencing factors, organisations with high EQ quickly mobilised their HR function to engage employees and raise their motivation levels.
Strategies to improve employee wellbeing at the workplace
While each organisation has its own unique culture and the needs of the employees may vary depending on the nature of their role, in general, some of the successful strategies adopted to improve employee wellbeing include:
Open and transparent communication
Frustration at the workplace is better vented out than allowed to simmer. Encouraging a ‘speak up’ culture has many benefits, including being able to assess the pulse of the employee’s frame of mind.
Regular employee surveys and other participative communication programs allow employees to share their anxieties and suggestions for improvement openly and candidly.
Flexibility and adaptability in work modes
We are happy to report that the theory of X management, unfortunately still quite prevalent today, that advocated micro-management of employees is well on its way out of the window.
The last two years have shown that organisations that operate and even thrive with flexible working models allow more freedom and autonomy to their employees. Whether it be an entire work from home model or any of its hybrid variants, organisations can ensure a motivated workforce while saving big in infrastructure-related costs.
Manage employee workloads to reasonable levels
Long work hours or high-pressure work environments for a sustained period of time can take its toll on employee health and well-being. Hence, it is essential to keep departments and roles adequately staffed to manage the demand.
While it may seem expensive to hire more employees, it definitely avoids the long-term damage of burned out or ill employees taking up critical and strategic activities.
Recognise employees for their effort and achievements
Employee recognitions go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and keeping them motivated at work. A survey indicates that recognition makes 71% of the employees feel connected and emotionally invested to their peers and jobs.
As more and more millennial employees, who are accustomed to receiving praise from a very young age, are entering the workforce, it is essential to have a formal recognition program in place. Recognitions can be as simple as a hand-written thank you note or as creative as experiential rewards or surprise time offs.
Technology as an influencer
Technology in the workplace is not a new concept. However, technology as an influencer for improving employee wellbeing has really caught on now. Big Data, AI, and ML are heavily at play in the modern workplace.
Not only do they allow a holistic approach to employee management, but they are also providing organisations with the ability to make data-driven decisions that are vital to their organic and strategic growth. Let us delve into it a little more.
Embracing technology to manage employee wellbeing
Health benefits and incentives
Medical and financial literacy is one area where the role of technology is easy to see. Several companies turned towards mental and physical health wellness providers to acquire subscriptions for their employees.
These include free online doctor consultations, apps offering calming self-help, yoga and meditation techniques, discounted medicines, et al.
Offering paid time off to employees to take care of themselves
Time off is not just about taking a few days off work and going on a vacation. It’s about holistic wellness and taking the time to recharge.
Paid time off policies gives employees a safety net to prioritise themselves without being penalised. You can give employees the freedom to plan their time off by ensuring complete transparency using a time off management software.
Promote a flexible work culture using technology
Employees are the heartbeat of every organisation. HR leaders need to make sure that they have all the right tools, technology, flexibility, and work culture to be at their productive best. You can use technology to support the emerging working models such as flexible working hours, remote work, work from anywhere, etc.
Benefits of improving employee wellbeing in the workplace
One of the major reasons why HR leaders and employers should focus on employee wellbeing is simply because it is the right thing to do. Almost one-third of our lives is spent at work; hence employee well-being becomes a crucial part of any business. After all, employees are the heartbeat of any organisation.
Here are some tangible benefits of improving employee wellbeing at the workplace:
Increased employee productivity and engagement
Employees who take care of their well-being tend to be less stressed and are not prone to burnouts. This automatically leads to an increase in productivity as they are more focused on their work.
Such employees also tend to be more collaborative, participative, and engaged in whatever they do, thereby increasing the energy and morale of the team.
It is a given that, employees who are burned out or stressed take more sick leaves. As an effect, the other employees take on more workload than they can manage. According to a recent survey, as many as 77% of employees said they experienced burnout at work.
Such employees are 63% more likely to take leaves. Improving employee well-being at work through various wellness programs reduces absenteeism to a large extent.
Better reputation and Employer Brand
Perhaps the most intangible and long-term benefit of implementing employee wellness programs and promoting a good work culture is improving the company’s reputation and employer brand.
People eventually want to work for companies that have a good reputation. They will, in turn, recommend the workplace to their friends and peers which leads to lower recruitment costs.
It is both ironic and alarming that a term coined at the end of the cold war in the late 80s is apt to describe the world forty years on. VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, is apparent in the workplace, personal life, and the global economy on the whole.
Improving employee well-being can no longer be compartmentalised between work and life as separate boxes. The two have intertwined like never before and all signs show that this will be the new norm.
In such an environment, the role of the HR leaders is critical for managing employee wellness across areas of mental, physical, emotional, financial, and social challenges.
In fact, it is in the best interest of the organisation as well, to have a motivated and productive workforce to help them rise back on their feet and maintain a sustained path towards future growth and progress.
About the Author
Kirthan Ramesh is a Content Marketing Specialist at Freshteam, the smart HR software for growing businesses. Using Freshteam, you can attract, hire and onboard new hires, offboard exiting employees, maintain employee information, and manage time off – all in one place.