Now is the time to prioritise employee and personal wellbeing

Blog posts

21 May 2020

James Rind

James Rind, Workplace Wellbeing Expert

During the Covid-19 crisis, we will be opening up our blogs to guest contributors. These blogs are intended to broaden the debate and discussion on how public policy, employers and civil society can respond.  Needless to say, the views will be those of the authors themselves rather than of IES.  If you’d like to contribute a blog, then please email IES Senior Communications Officer: Steve O'Rourke

About the author 
James Rind brings over 20 years of clinical experience as a musculoskeletal and occupational health physiotherapist, to the world of wellbeing. He has a Masters in Workplace Health and Wellbeing (University of Nottingham) and a Diploma in Wellbeing and Stress Management (CPCAB). Through working within a wide range of public and private sector companies, James has developed practical behavioural insights that translate into highly effective consultancy for organisations seeking to improve the wellbeing of their employees.

Until a few weeks ago I would have been spending my time speaking to companies and individuals about what wellbeing means to them, what it looks like currently and what they would like it to look like in the future. With the results of these conversations I developed wellbeing strategies to take them on a journey that would see a better workplace culture and improved personal wellbeing.

Any optimisation in wellbeing would have been placed against a backdrop of accepted norms. A balance between home and work would have been present, kids went to school, commutes to work took place, holidays were planned and working patterns were similar to the previous week. Normality, familiarity and learnt behaviours were the things to change and challenge in order to enhance the levels of wellbeing experienced.

Today our work and home lives have been disrupted. Things are no longer familiar, normal and our work and home life has been squashed together. For those who are working from home the workplace has changed significantly. Surrounded by unfamiliar ‘colleagues’ (partner, children), undertaking altered roles, experiencing high job demands whilst feeling less in control of the tasks that need to be completed. The pressure to maintain service, be productive and keep our organisations functioning in such unprecedented times is palpable.

How do those carefully crafted wellbeing strategies that we worked on stack up now against a distributed workforce, delivering work from their homes, devoid of their normal social interactions and routines? You might be thinking of the wellbeing of your teams but is this consistent throughout your organisation? How is the organisational strategy for workplace wellbeing translating to these new working arrangements?

Let’s draw the focus in a little and consider your own individual wellbeing. We are in new territory as we have become confined to work and live from our homes. Without leaving home for work we will have seen a real reduction in the variation of life, a variation which dilutes the difference between our home and work lives. The different personas we offer to home and work are being pushed up against each other, without any preparation or planning.

Our personal wellbeing routines and coping mechanisms have all been equally disrupted, this is a hard time and we are going to ‘just keeping going’. There is a risk however that such overcommitment and the head to the grindstone attitude will result in stored vulnerability and ultimately higher rates of burnout. Our home relationships and our relationship with our home are being pressured in ways not normally experienced, as a company you can’t just expect your employees to be functioning as they would do in their pre-lockdown lifestyles.

So here we are eight weeks or so into UK lockdown, it is going to continue for a few more weeks at least. A seismic societal shift is being absorbed and our key reference points for normality have been challenged. Now is the time that companies and organisations should be reviewing and adapting their employee wellbeing strategies, enhancing them and making them fit for the current working landscape.

It is time now to assess the situation, put simply: can you answer these types of questions?

· How are your employees coping?

· Where are they working from home (sofa, kitchen table, home office)?

· Do they have clear demarcation between home and work?

· Do they feel supported by the organisation and can they ask for help?

· What would they need to make them feel more comfortable in their work?

· Do they understand the role that they have?

· Are they able to cope with the demands of their role in their new working environments?

· Do they feel in control of their work demands?

Now is the time for organisations to make sure that they are speaking to their employees to understand how they are getting on. Simple questionnaires considering aspects of home working such as ergonomics, wellbeing, new coping strategies, workplace stress and perceived requirements for support should be dispatched. This will offer an assessment of the risks, providing a risk profile from which actions can be taken including adaptation of the current wellbeing strategy.

Organisations right now need to be considering how their teams are working and coping now to avoid problems being stored for the future. If employees are neglecting their own wellbeing due to over committing to their roles, it is likely that we will see an increase in health-related problems and absence when the pandemic passes, action now will reduce this costly outcome.

Organisations should be encouraging communication and discussion between managers and teams about wellbeing. Line managers should be enabled to develop good wellbeing practices for employees through sharing and monitoring good habits. Seek to strengthen the opportunity for social inclusion and interaction between home working employees, understanding how and where they are working and encouraging regular breaks and activity.

Positive influence needs to be offered to employees so that they have the permission to take care and responsibility for their own wellbeing, adjusting their self-care strategies around the new norms of life.

More than ever we need a work: life balance. Proactively prioritising ‘Time For Me’ to rest and recover, to maintain productivity, care and kindness in all that we do. Like any busy period, there is only a certain amount of time that all the plates can be kept spinning. Employees need to know that their wellbeing is an active thing that needs to be feed and supported on a daily basis.

Right now, is the time to review, adjust and enact your employee wellbeing strategies.

Right now, is the time for your employees to review, adjust and enact their personal wellbeing strategies

Right now, is the time to act to nurture personal and corporate wellbeing, to thrive in the face of the adversity that we face.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.