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How organisations can support employees’ wellbeing

9th Sep 2021
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It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns have had a negative impact on people’s mental health. In a recent Qualtrics study of 2,000 employees across seven countries, including the UK, 41.6% of respondents said that their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic. Moreover, the study found a link between remote work and poor mental health – with 44.4% of those working from home saying their mental health has declined. As we are now, once again, transitioning into a period of uncertainty – while some return to the office and others do not, giving rise to a new hybrid work model – it is more important than ever that employees feel fully supported.

Fortunately, there are several ways organisations can help support their employees’ mental health in these challenging times.

Understand employees’ needs

First and foremost, leaders need to understand that their employees are all unique individuals, and that their mental health can likewise fluctuate depending on several different factors. In the UK, certain groups’ mental health has particularly suffered as a result of the pandemic. Research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that young people (aged 18-24), single parents, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions reported higher levels of loneliness, and the UK government’s regularly updated COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report shows that young adults aged 18-34 and women have been more likely to report fluctuating mental health and wellbeing. People leaders should therefore pay special attention to employees who fall into these groups.

Employers need to be aware of and accommodate for their employees’ different mental health needs. For example, whilst it may be beneficial for younger employees’ mental health to return to the office, older employees may prefer to continue working from home.

One way to gain a better understanding of employees’ needs is by providing frequent pulse surveys to gather this information, and then provide tailored solutions. An online pulse survey platform, based on data science, is not only convenient (especially for remote employees) but will also provide more accurate and useful data – meaning leaders gain both insight into individual employees’ needs and an overview of trends, including mental health, across the whole organisation. This can then inform evidence-based decisions that will improve overall employee wellbeing.

Lastly, in order to bridge the gap between remote and in-office employees and bring a dispersed workforce together, organisations should encourage video calls alongside in-person meetings. Indeed, a study analysing the link between social interaction and depressive symptoms during COVID-19 found that more frequent face-to-face, phone or video contact were associated with lower depressive symptoms.  

Communicate clearly and frequently

In such a time of uncertainty, it is even more important that leaders communicate with their employees frequently and with clear expectations. Frequent communication ensures that employees continue to feel engaged and valued, even if they are physically far from their colleagues. Workhuman research shows that frequent check-ins with a line-manager directly correlates with higher employee engagement. Frequent check-ins also promote a sense of trust and transparency, and employees that trust their organisations report experiencing 74% less stress and 40% lower rates of burnout.

Clearly defining expectations with managers ensures employees know exactly what is expected of them, and so mitigates any anxiety they may be feeling about their goals. Indeed, those who have a clear understanding of what is expected of them when working from home are 30% more likely to have been more productive since the switch to remote work, and 47% more likely to not be worried about losing their job.

Create a positive culture

In a hybrid or remote working environment, it is even more important to promote a positive company culture – one in which employees both support each other and feel supported by their organisation as a whole. Creating a workplace based on mutual respect and recognition, in which employees are encouraged to talk with, thank, and celebrate each other often, is one way to promote a more positive culture. Research shows that organisations that employ social recognition: increase employee engagement; reduce employee turnover; and boost employee happiness.

Leaders can further improve the efficacy of all these approaches by leading by example. For instance, they can model self-care by talking about their own mental health experiences, thereby removing the stigma that can still sometimes surround this topic. This honesty and authenticity will moreover foster a greater sense of trust between employees and their organisation.

Ultimately, mental health is not something that only affects certain people – in fact, recent research suggests that mental health suffering has been about the same at all levels of organisations. Therefore, a company-wide approach is best suited to ensuring that everyone’s mental health is supported.

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