Balancing business recovery and employee wellbeing

Hive 360

Businesses battling survival are now facing the prospect that COVID-19 lockdown measures could be reintroduced. Doubtless, the isolation from enforced remote working in the last lockdown had a negative effect on the mental health of the region’s workforce. So, at this difficult time, just how can employers balance the essential focus on staff wellbeing with business recovery? David McCormack, CEO of Hive360, considers the options.

According to the latest Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index (released 7 October 2020), more than three quarters of business leaders (78%) experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. A survey of around 1,000 firms released last month (September 2020) by the Institute of Directors (IoD), showed that three-quarters of businesses plan to keep current working from home policies beyond the pandemic.

Experts are warning that more, possibly tighter COVID restrictions could trigger a new wave of mental health issues, exacerbated by pressures on business, the economy and reduced personal freedoms.

Last Saturday (10 October 2020) was World Mental Health Day 2020; a chance to pause and reflect on the importance of looking after the critical work:life balance.

Workers’ mental and emotional wellbeing is a tough and real challenge in these unprecedented times, with everyone concerned about financial and job security, and for business owners, whether the business will survive. According to the findings of one study* of 1,500 professionals (76% currently remote working), 75% said they had experienced burnout – specifically, 40% of whom during the height of the pandemic and lockdown period.

Current figures estimate that mental health affects around one in four people, or 15% of the UK’s workforce. Whilst mental health isn’t quite the taboo subject it once was, the majority of people still feel unable to discuss their own mental health worries and issues with anyone least of all someone at work.

In the same study*, only 21% of people said they feel able to have open, productive conversations with their managers or colleagues about solutions for mental health problems or burnout. Our own ‘People at the Heart’ research – conducted just before the pandemic, so the figures are likely to have increased – found the same situation for the workers we spoke to:

  • 18% of female workers and 17% of male workers are uncomfortable about talking with their employer / boss about their mental health
  • 15% of workers feel ‘very uncomfortable’ talking about their mental health at work
  • 49% of UK workers say poor workplace tech has a negative effect on their mental wellbeing
  • A quarter of workers nationwide don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health with their boss
  • 59% of senior decision-makers say technology has an adverse effect on their mental health
  • 13% of people wouldn’t want to discuss their personal finances at work.

It’s easy to see the pandemic and remote working has had a huge effect on workers’ mental wellbeing, and it’s important that business owners and managers address this in preparation for the next phase of lockdown. The building blocks of the support for workers needs to:

Be compassionate about mental health

43% of employees* say the best way to support them is to encourage time off and offer mental health days. The thought of a second lockdown and remote working may be stressful and spike anxiety levels for some, so it’s important to be empathetic to everyone’s personal circumstances.

With resources tight for many businesses, it may be difficult to offer additional paid time off, but by creating an open and compassionate dialogue in the workplace surrounding mental health, employees may feel more comfortable with sharing how they feel, particularly if they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This will allow appropriate steps to address and support an employee’s specific needs. 

Offer comprehensive support

Increasing employee support via personalised benefits such as 24/7 access to a GP and mental health support lines, gives them time back that they may have previously had to take off for doctors’ appointments.

Adding value to an employee’s pay packet can also help, so consider offering access to money saving discounts on everyday spending as well as competitive discounts for various insurance policies including health. This could help enable a better work:life balance and quality of life experience, plus ease financial stress. Ultimately, it’s about boosting employee wellbeing, lowering the risk of mental health issues, such as burnout, alongside boosting employee engagement through increased support and understanding.

Offer flexible working

56% of respondents said flexibility in their workday would better support them. Instead of implementing company-wide rules and regulations for new remote working policies, be mindful to consider personal challenges such as for carers and parents who may need a flexible schedule to care for loved ones. 

For those who are struggling to cope, it will help to lower the chances of stress and burnout. It also gives employees the freedom to choose a shift pattern that suits them without having to take unpaid leave, and in turn, compromising their financial wellbeing.  

Hive360  provides expert, compliant and reliable PAYE payroll support and comprehensive employment administration that reduces overheads and improves operational efficiencies for businesses and their workforce.  As part of the solution, Hive360 supports its clients in kickstarting their employee engagement strategies and activities, by empowering them to deliver essential communication, wellbeing support and lifestyle benefits to their people. 

*Source: FlexJobs Mental Health in the Workplace Survey