As people adjust to life amid lockdowns, remote working, and other social restrictions, larger focus is being placed on maintaining emotional, mental, and physical health. The pandemic has taken over every aspect of daily life in such a short amount of time, and many have been thrown into a—situation where they have had to adapt using what has been termed as ‘surge capacity’—a collection of mental and physical adaptive systems that humans draw on to survive in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. The rub is that disasters occur over a short period of time, whereas the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be felt long after the outbreak.
In a work setting, one of the biggest challenges that employers are facing is in understanding how their workers are being stretched thin by the disruption happening in their lives, and how to react when limits are reached. The employee experience of today is moving into uncharted territory—a place where the lines between professional and personal life, and the strains that come with each, are compounded.
In order to make informed decisions on how to improve the welfare of workers and meet their evolving needs, companies need to have a deep appreciation of just what it is that employees are going through on a day to day basis.
Here are some areas that businesses should consider, to help navigate the swathe of changes.
In a recent study conducted across Asia Pacific, it was found that 38 percent of employers are planning to enhance mental health services and stress management offerings. In Singapore, for instance, more companies are adopting an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as part of their employee benefits. EAPs generally include access to individual counseling sessions with trained professionals that employees can claim for, and other services such as mental health workshops.
While outpatient benefits, hospitalization coverage, or regular health check-ups will continue to remain the bedrock of medical benefits plans, companies will also have to start factoring empathy and understanding into their decision-making processes, to improve the general well-being of their employees.
Additionally, mentorship can play a role in helping employees cope with the transition. In such unprecedented times, there is much learning and understanding to be had from both an executive and an associate perspective. By cultivating a robust mentorship program, the management can learn a lot about how the daily pulse of an organization has been affected by the virus, and what areas need to be worked on in order to improve the employee experience. Inversely, employees can have greater understanding, from a management perspective, on why certain initiatives have been set in place, and what to expect in the coming months.
Evolving work culture
HR departments are starting to realize that the criteria that potential candidates have for job selection will become vastly different. A healthy work culture is often at the top of a potential hire’s list of priorities, but the definition for it will change. Nice office spaces, lunch perks, or ping pong tables in the break room will become less important. Instead, as companies move workforces out of the office and enable them to work from home, job seekers will look out for employers that understand how to maintain their welfare in a remote setting.
Flexible working arrangements will come to be a key differentiator for job seekers—more employers are offering flexible work hours that allow their workers to care for children, parents, or other dependents Similarly, 79 percent of employers in APAC are increasing access to, and cadence of, virtual meetings, to help workers remain connected even as they are physically apart. As working from home becomes the new normal, employees will want to be part of teams that trust them to get their jobs done, even with the decreased visibility that it affords.
By placing more thought in planning out well-being initiatives, HR leaders will not only improve the lives of their employees, but instill a greater sense of responsibility and loyalty to the organization This can lead to substantial benefits for the company—studies have shown that for every $1 invested in workplace adjustments centered on well-being, a company is able to generate an average of $5.60 in returns as workers become more productive, or make fewer medical claims, for example.
As COVID-19 continues to push personal health and well-being to the top of peoples’ collective priorities, and as work and home situations continue to face disruption on an unprecedented scale, organizations must be prepared for the constant challenge of adapting to changing employee needs, and learn to introduce compassion in their approach.
Everyone is going through the same challenging transitions in their lives, and looking for support wherever they can get it, be it from family, friends, or the office. The companies that realize this, and actively work to address new employee concerns and needs will be the ones to inspire mutual trust and loyalty in their workers. To thrive in the new normal, business leaders must learn to convert employee benefits, into organizational benefits.