Ismail Mykay Kamara of Welbot tackles the challenges for organisations surrounding workplace wellbeing in 2021, giving us his top 7 challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought rapid change to millions of workers across every industry all over the planet, ushering in a new wave of workplace challenges. Perhaps overlooked is the fact that, in certain sectors, people continued to work, even amid an extraordinary and hurried shift towards distributed workforces.
Equipped with the insights and experience gained from this arduous year, employers should be in a position to address workplace wellbeing in a more nuanced and compassionate manner than could have been imagined just twelve months ago. The first step: identify and understand the challenges your organisation and its workforce face. The next step: design, implement and maintain effective solutions. With that in mind, we have picked out seven key challenges that organisations will face in the year, and likely years, ahead.
1. Mental health: The single biggest concern
The explosion of remote working initiated by the COVID pandemic has had significant effects on mental health — and these effects will impact every challenge on this list. The erosion of separation between work and home life, increased strain on family relationships, childcare responsibilities, health anxiety and financial worries have taken their toll. We aren’t out of the woods yet, and these mental health challenges won’t just disappear. Last year, mental health conditions accounted for 51% all working days lost due to ill health and this number is rising. The pandemic has led to an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, bereavement, fear and isolation. In turn, there has been a surge in suicides around the world and a growing rate of divorce and relationship break-down.
Employers must respond to this issue and implement effective tools to support the mental health of their staff amid new challenging circumstances.
Analysing our platform data, we saw an increase in negative mood reported by over 27% across all our registered users as the early signs of COVID-19 began to take hold. With the breaking news of a vaccine in late November 2020, we saw an overall positive mood reported by 90% of all users. Data and behavioural insights will remain critical to understanding how your workforce is feeling on a day to day basis and help inform your wellbeing initiatives and employee support strategies going forward.
2. Remote working
For many organisations, the notion that all staff will be in the office every work day is no longer the case. The demand for innovative, elastic and safe working conditions that allow colleagues to stay connected is high. What is possible, prudent and desirable for your staff will depend on factors such as the industry, location and size of your organisation. A remote workforce can provide broad rewards for employees including increased flexibility, reduced commute time, expense and stress, while increasing productivity and time for family, friends and hobbies. For organisations, remote working can open the door to diverse talent, communities, connections and ideas while reducing carbon emissions. Realising these benefits, however, relies on enacting policies and practices that foster communication, engagement and productivity while safeguarding mental health.
3. Work-life demarcation
A separate, though related, issue to remote work is that of work-life balance. This has been an increasingly pressing challenge over the past few years (truly ballooning in the wake of the smartphone revolution and round-the-clock access to work emails, chats, tasks and calendars) and has only grown over the past year. With so many of us working where we live, it is understandable that the lines between work hours and home hours have blurred: our family watch tv in our workspace and the laundry machine beeps during our lunch hour. Furthermore, the transition from home to work in the morning and back again in the evening that once required bus, car, cycle or train can now be completed with the simple action of opening a laptop. Research shows that many people are working longer hours than usual and taking fewer breaks than they should. The health consequences of continuing these trends are serious and should motivate employers to deliver considered and evidence-based interventions.
With more and more distributed workforces, an increase in the use of tech at work is inevitable. This increase, however, can be a burden for workers. Keep in mind the effect new workplace technologies have on employee wellbeing. Some workers are more averse to change than others, some are more tech-savvy than others, and some will be wary of the purpose for which the technology is being used. Generally speaking, employees are not eager to add more technologies to their already crammed toolbelt. Aim to maintain a streamlined suite and be mindful of your team’s wellbeing. With more and more distributed workforces, an increase in the use of tech at work is inevitable. Attentiveness is needed to successfully mitigate that possibility.
5. Data privacy
With an increased reliance on digital tools, individual workers’ digital footprints grow. An Accenture survey found that more than 90% of employees are willing to let their employers collect and use data on them and their work, but only if they benefit in some way. The technology you use should support employee engagement, performance and wellbeing, and the benefit an organisation derives from technology should not come at the expense of its employees. Be clear with your employees about what data is being used, how it is being used, for what purpose and make sure there is a direct benefit to them. Employees are increasingly wary of being monitored by management. Reassure your colleagues that their data is not being used for spying purposes and make it clear that you are committed to protecting their privacy.
6. Rethinking office-based benefits
With a withdrawal from the office comes a need to reconsider employee benefits. On-site benefits such as fitness classes, health assessments, staff chefs, travel cards and team lunches will likely diminish in importance. Employers have to be creative in finding the next logical iteration of office benefits to reward and incentivise employees. Recognition of hard work and achievement is incredibly important and is increasingly desired among younger employees. With a generation of talent set to enter the workforce in a landscape of distributed working, employers should be motivated to provide innovative and effective benefits suitable for the new work environment.
7. Employers’ evolving responsibilities and obligations
Employers continue to have significant responsibilities with regard to looking after the health and safety of their employees. What these responsibilities entail has already changed over the past year and will continue to do so in the immediate future and beyond. Employers should do what they can to anticipate evolving demands and requirements rather than reacting once disaster has struck. Getting ahead of the curve is in the interest of the business and the employee, minimising disruption and reinforcing trust and stability. Continually and rapidly developing workplace environments along with an expanding conception of workplace health and wellbeing combine to make this a challenge rich in opportunity.
To a large degree, employee engagement and wellbeing in 2021 lies in uncharted waters. Attitudes towards remote work have shifted, technologies have emerged and the overall landscape of working life has been massively disrupted by a global pandemic. Any efforts to improve working life should accommodate the facts that colleagues may not be working in the same office — if there is an office — and good employee wellbeing is a prerequisite for good working relationships. A successful workplace wellbeing program will understand the interwoven nature of these challenges and respond in a suitably considered, thoughtful and practical manner.
Now that you’re here, why not check out our latest course, Personal Wellbeing? It gives employees the tools to lead healthier, happier lives, covering stress management, mindfulness, movement, and more. For a demo of the course, use the link below. Click New user? Register. Then create a user ID and add your email address.