Corporate Wellbeing in the COVID-19 era

Meaningful actions towards corporate wellbeing

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Some may consider corporate wellbeing as a “new age” concept, but actually, it has been there for decades in varying forms (health & safety, financial literacy, etc.). But as our workplaces develop and our work changes, the concept of corporate wellbeing shapeshifts and adapts to our needs. In the last few decades, there has been an increased focus and rise on the wellbeing of employees through various initiatives and activities as part of an HR strategy. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic came about, corporate wellbeing is now taking a more urgent and central stance in organizations and governmental strategies.

The blurring of lines between the professional and personal lives

There has been a tremendous amount of cover on our new ways of working. Although we had the same internet connectivity and software, we were not urged to change our ways. The pandemic catalysed the process of digitalisation and the move towards a new reality and forced us to truly take advantage of the technology that we use on a daily basis. And as human beings are social animals, we have a strong capacity to adapt to survive beyond our imagination.

As companies employ people through the gig economy and organizations are becoming almost virtual due to the pandemic. This brings to question the nature and definition of workplace safety as people work from their homes as the company no longer owns the workplace or the boundaries of the workplace are hard to define. Now, workplace safety is now being turned toward a broader notion of employee wellbeing and wellness. We are moving away from a disconnected relationship with employees to looking at their wellbeing in a holistic manner.

A study by Professor Peter Fleming in his book ‘Mythology of Work’, found that “1 in 3 British workers check their emails before 6:30 am, while 80% of British employers consider it acceptable to phone employees out of hours.” This study was conducted in 2017 before any pandemic hits. Now, with working from home and the lack of commute or change in environment, the lines between the professional and personal lives are getting blurred.

So, with the lingering uncertainty, unstable economy, the loss of loved ones, the stress of distance learning, etc., this has doubled the stress on the workforces. This is why it’s critical as organisations to create the right culture of health that embraces psychological safety and prioritizes employee’s mental health – virtually.

Corporate wellbeing changing and it has a place in the corporate strategy

A company is a living organism with its own sense of direction. But that direction is dictated by its leaders and the culture it embodies. And with the rising statistics of work-related stress, the change in culture needs to come from the leadership. And that requires not a one-time event, but rather a sustained effort of changing the actions, systems, and the alignment of an organization to meet the needs of its new environment. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recent statistics (2018/19) stated that 602,000 workers across Great Britain have suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in the last year, and were the cause of 54% of all working days lost to ill health (12.8 million days).

And with the rising statistics of work-related stress, the change in culture needs to come from the leadership. And that requires not a one-time event, but rather a sustained effort of changing the actions, systems, and the alignment of an organization to meet the needs of its new environment.

In the midst of the pandemic and increase in such saddening statistics, it’s essential for companies to ask themselves: What are our values? How do we care for employees? and who we are as we stand in the face of the pandemic’s uncertainty?

Thus, the leadership needs to revisit their values and make sure they’re aligned with the new corporate culture that’s currently being built by the remote staff. Because it’s certain that if “we go back”, companies would need to accommodate the demand to continue working from home and improve the boundaries between work and non-work time. Because at the end of the day, if an employee is aligned with the culture, their enthusiasm may grow online as it were offline.

Different forms of corporate wellbeing

Having sessions of yoga and meditation are all great but there are so many other ways for companies to showcase virtual wellbeing through the day to day work and interactions. This could be applied both online and when in offices.

Checking in – connecting more to know more than just updates

Businesses need to open their doors and windows to have an honest conversation and listen to people. This could be done in several ways.

  • It’s important to check in on employees to get some sense of their wellbeing. If a company has a wellbeing profile of overall departments or even employees, it would then be easy to identify the areas where wellbeing may be weak
    • Ensuring that diversity and inclusion are addressed virtually and no one is left to the side
    • Ensuring that there isn’t an excess of communications through internal or external meetings, and being direct with all the communications to avoid “communications fatigue”
    • Get more creative and intentional about staying socially connected with each other, especially when everyone is working remotely.

Reacting to mistakes – knowing how to react when employees make mistakes and removing the fear of failure

Businesses need to create the right environment for employees to know that mistakes are bound to happen and that everyone would solve it as a team.

  • Situational humility and curiosity together create the psychological safety that is vital for teaming
    • Emphasize collective, structural solutions rather than putting the burden on individuals
    • Being human: managers should actively listen, understand, and collaborate with employees when they make mistakes, rather than cause fear and anxiety. Smart managers will use coaching skills to encourage employees to self-organise without micromanaging.
    • Understanding the root causes and approaching a fear-ridden company culture with a systems approach. There needs to be a deep understanding of what creates a culture of fear in your organisation

The flexibility of work – COVID-19 proved that we can get our work done from anywhere

In a recent study by YouGov targeting UK office workers, if, given the choice, only 7% of respondents would opt to return to the office full time. In 2019, Microsoft Japan closed its offices every Friday and saw an estimated 39% increase in YoY sales per employee.

  • At this time, if companies are rushing back to “normal”, there will need to be a factual understanding from companies to understand what parts of the normal are the employees keen on
    • In addition, there needs to be a clear understanding of “online culture”. The continuous need to be present online and active is increasing the impact on mental health. The clarity of the culture of what needs to be done is crucial to avoid such pressure
    • Although it’s important for leadership and C-suite level to lead the new hybrid working culture. It’s crucial to ensure employees also have the ownership to set the norms of the new working culture  

Corporate wellbeing is no longer a one-time initiative or a “week of wellness”. It’s here to stay as one of the pillars that retain current employees, and attract potential top talent. People and statistics have witnessed first-hand the impact of excessive stress and anxiety and it’s time to work together as a society to make structural changes. COVID-19 has proven that workforces are agile and resilient. But also, it proved that taking a break is as important as being productive.

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