Managing employee wellbeing and resilience during and after the coronavirus pandemic is vital to business sustainability
The capacity of individuals to recover and resume normalcy is considered to be psychological resilience in positive psychology. Adapting to changes caused by stressful events such as the coronavirus pandemic in a flexible way and recovering from negative emotional experiences shows psychological resilience and strengthens the mental and physical wellbeing of the individual.
As the Covid 19 pandemic continues to rage on, its impact on work and society has brought us to the reality of a new normal. Employees are facing the serious challenge of working from home while managing responsibilities of children learning remotely or taking care of other family members who may need care. According to labour market think tank Eurofound, European countries report high levels of people working from home with The Republic of Ireland showing one of the highest rates during the Covid-19 crisis, other countries with high rates of WFH include Belgium, Italy, Spain, and France.
This stressful period is stretching the wellbeing of workers and to help them maintain their wellbeing and bounce back, employee resilience must be addressed and supported by organisations. Consideration must be given to the impact of not only the challenges that employees face on the work front but also with families. How they cope at home, the challenges of home-schooling children while trying to work and meet set targets, the impacts of isolation on the wellbeing of employees who may be living alone, and how employers can support and build their capacity to cope are questions that organisations must address.
Resilience can help employees get through and overcome the challenges that we face due to the pandemic. But resilience is not something inherent in people, it is built over time as experiences shape one’s unique, individual emotional and physical actions and reactions. This is why people respond to stress and adversity like that from the current public health pandemic differently.
Managing employees working remotely, one of the challenges for organisations has been keeping employees engaged and supporting them in performing their roles. Motivation has been one of the focuses of line managers and HR as employees working in isolation have lost the social interaction with colleagues and are in some cases experiencing a sense of loss. Before the pandemic, the average worker spent more time at work than on any other daily activity, this connection to and support from colleagues, and leaders was a key factor in employee wellbeing.
Employer support is vital now and for the future of the workplace:
Employers need to put new structures in place to support employees working remotely now and in the future, as the post-Covid-19 workplace is likely to be a hybrid involving onsite, home, and remote working. Leadership on employees’ wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic is significant, especially related to:
Resilience and employees’ life satisfaction, creativity, job performance and commitment, and helping and safeguarding behaviour.
Leadership in the perspectives for developing organisational resilience cannot be overemphasised. This ensures business continuity and career sustainability within the current and anticipated business context. It also provides the opportunity for learning and adapting strategy which will in some cases lead to business and or process transformation.
Employers must protect the psychological safety of their workers to ensure continuity and productivity. They do have a legal duty of care for all workers, including those working remotely or from home. It is important to support employees who are now home-schooling their children and encourage them to practice self-care. Ensure that they are aware of and take advantage of employee benefits such as employee assistance programs, mental health counselling, and paid time off.
To support and build resilience, the following must be reinforced for all employees:
Positive Emotions: Overall, positive emotions enhance employees’ ability to thrive. It is important to support employees by reducing sources of stress so that negative emotions are reduced. Activities and programs can be developed to enhance employee engagement and interactions even while working from home or remotely. Communication is key to helping workers remain connected to colleagues and the organisation. As it is impossible to replicate the physical office environment, employers must promote accessibility for employees to connect with colleagues and allow time for virtual interaction and encourage responsive relationships.
Engagement: Employee engagement practices must be at the core of HR activities at this time. One of the negative impacts of the pandemic on employees is the isolation and loss of connection and socialisation. Organisations must ensure that employees do not feel dissociated from their teams. Employers must keep workers informed of current situations, line managers must touch base with their teams and ensure that no one feels like they are uninformed about activities and their opinions are not considered in decisions taken.
Relationships: encourage employees to keep in touch and connect. Employers must consider actions that encourage employees’ collaboration on projects more effectively by providing and creating access to activities that promote meaningful conversations and foster authentic connections.
Meaning: what are the things that matter most to people? For some, it is family, work-life balance, security, or a sense of achievement. Whatever constitutes meaning to employees, it is important to elevate this and use it as a springboard for purposeful actions and behavioural changes. Through communication – questionnaires, and surveys, employers can ascertain what motivates employees and provide support for them as required. As we continue to live with the coronavirus, employers need to support workers to find or maintain and draw from what matters most to them to keep going. This will of course involve implementing wellbeing activities; sending employee’s health education and wellbeing emails to preventative services in the virtual workplace, encourage creativity with virtual collaboration spaces, and creating a virtual safe and confidential space for employees to discuss challenges and seek advice/support.
Accomplishment: Now more than ever, it is important to recognise small wins, appreciating that extra mile walked, getting kids to complete homework and helping them improve their use of technology for their online school work, connecting with prospective clients, completing a project despite the current challenges, and identifying a new skill. Employers must give feedback and acknowledge the accomplishments of employees. The pandemic has been mentally and emotionally tasking for a lot of workers and it is all the more important for employers to acknowledge and reward accomplishments.
The way employers respond and treat their employees during this period will be remembered as consequential in the long term. These times provide opportunities for organisations to show commitment to employee personal and professional development. This will not only ensure employee engagement and loyalty; it will also improve the company brand reputation and may prove beneficial from talent acquisition and retention perspective for years to come.
Written by Clementina Mustapha, InterSearch Ireland