For members of HR departments and People teams around the world, the last year has been a test unlike any we could have imagined. It’s as if each employee’s social, emotional, and professional lives were put in a blender, and only the herculean efforts of united organizations—inside and outside HR—allowed us to start putting the pieces back together. There are, of course, many businesses big and small that were not able to withstand such widespread disruption, and many more that continue to struggle on both an organizational and individual level. We now live in a world where work and personal life have become synonymous. More than ever, HR and people leaders have a responsibility to help employees strike a balance between the two.
Using the following five elements as a guide, we can promote the overall wellbeing of our employees by connecting them to the resources they need to support themselves, and bring their most complete selves to work.
Without a roadmap, it’s difficult to make it to your destination. Ownership and intention are foundational to employee wellbeing, and effective support will be rooted in their personal needs and desires. Encourage employees to set thoughtful, realistic goals for their own wellness, and collaborate to make them a reality over time. You can get them started by recommending specific areas of focus, and asking questions that allow them to get on the right track. Also, remember that we are living in a world that doesn’t always allow for linear progression; make sure to put employee wellness goals and expectations in this real-life context at the outset.
With our livelihoods, our health, and the health of our loved ones in constant jeopardy, mental health is a concern for organizations and employees alike. No single policy for outreach or support will provide universal accommodation for employees, so it’s important to put the power in the hands of individuals, and make sure they know how to use it. Whether it’s a company EAP or insurance plan, an external health resource, counseling services, or a time-off program, be explicitly clear with your people about how to access these benefits and make the most of them when it counts. Although we’ve all gotten a little more used to the pandemic with time, there are parts of it that will never feel completely normal. Make sure employees feel validated in whichever state of mind they find themselves in, and do your best to empower them with meaningful support before they ask for it.
Well before COVID-19 upended our work and life schedules, it was difficult to stick to a new initiative for the long haul. Giving employees an additional financial incentive is a great way to offset some of the new obstacles they face in making progress on wellness goals. Many companies offer a wellness-based financial incentive, either as a premium discount, dedicated wellness program, or funding for a reimbursement account. In addition to reinforcing wellness as a business objective, these types of formal, financial incentives will provide a window into employee progress, which enables valuable insight and adjustments along the way. Rewarding wellness sends a clear message to employees and will help them sustain healthy habits.
Speaking of helpful programs, now is an ideal time to take another look at your company’s overall offerings. Do employees have resources that enhance their new work-life integration? What about perks? Things like an allowance for office supplies, a company-sponsored meditation or exercise course, or simply an increase in funding of employee financial programs can go a long way in helping remote employees engage with work and find balance. In addition, keep an eye out for benefits that have been rendered inaccessible by the pandemic, such as parking or transit perks, gym memberships, or in-office equipment, which can be replaced. Suiting people programs to our rapidly-changing times will help employees prioritize their wellbeing.
With most companies still operating remotely, forging the connections with employees that make for a united effort toward better wellbeing can be difficult. A consistent, personalized communication plan is a great way to cut through the noise and keep these themes top-of-mind. Taking wellness communication to the company level also shows individuals that their struggles with balance are shared by those around them. In the absence of in-person interaction, this is an effective way to make company culture more inclusive of wellness, and create conversations among employees about their experiences and solutions to the problems we all face every day. Starting that larger conversation around employee wellbeing is one of our key functions as people leaders in this time.
It’s hard to imagine a year with more change and turmoil than 2020, but with so many aspects of life still up in the air, it serves to focus on the present and prepare for more surprises in 2021. As people leaders, we are in a unique position to help employees bridge their personal and professional lives, to positively improve their wellbeing. For all the problems we’ve faced this year, creative HR professionals have managed to come away with a few tried-and-true solutions; some of which are included here. Amid all the setbacks, we will continue to find ways to meet our employees where they are, so they can continue to power organizations through any challenge that might lie ahead.