Having now endured more than three months of lockdown measures, and with the pandemic’s most critical phase now seemingly behind us in many territories, one thing is abundantly clear: a global health crisis of such proportions will never fail to permeate every aspect of our lives.
On a personal level, particularly sensitive areas include physical health, financial health and a dwindling sense of purpose and direction. Similarly, the world of business has experienced a general downturn in revenue, productivity, talent retention and employee satisfaction, to name just a few.
Though a carefully devised strategy is always going to be the best course of action in navigating through such a devastating crisis, one area that could prove particularly crucial is health, wellbeing and care.
Quite simply, leaders could expect to see numerous benefits as a result of placing greater emphasis on employee wellbeing during a period of severe uncertainty. And what’s more, the literature reflects this clearly.
Firstly, encouraging employees to remain vigilant when it comes to health and fitness (and perhaps offering them new avenues in which to do so) can only produce a positive effect in terms of productivity, and ultimately, revenue. For instance, a 2017 report states that sick staff could cost British firms up to £77 billion annually in lost productivity.
Another reported that in the US, the cost of insomnia is estimated to be over $100bn, taking into account reduced productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism.
These figures are self-explanatory, and clearly demonstrate the importance of focusing efforts on improved employee wellbeing.
To gain some further perspective on the matter, HRD Connect spoke with Ally Nathaniel, best-selling author and founder, AN Consulting, who first outlined her take on the importance of employee wellbeing and caring, compassionate leadership during a crisis.
“It is no longer a matter of whether we should, but rather a matter of what to do and how we do it,” she said. “Failing to pay attention to your employees’ emotional wellbeing will hurt their productivity and therefore the bottom line of your organization.”
Going on to elaborate on how mental health in particular is a risk factor for organizations at present, she said: “Although some people adjust well to new circumstances, for most people change is difficult, not to mention the stress caused by isolation, homeschooling, and working from home.
“Poor mental health can be manifested in more sick days, lack of productivity, and even anxiety and depression.”
For instance, a survey of 2000 people conducted by SurveyMonkey found that 27% of participants reported occasional interference with their ability to be productive as a result of anxiety or depression, and 12% mentioned that this happens often.
“As a leader, remember that humans have feelings, and those feelings are triggered by stress,” said Nathaniel. “Teaching your team how to manage their emotions and build emotional resilience is more important than ever, and will serve your company in the short and long run.”
The talent space, and talent retention in particular, is another area that has been sharply affected by COVID-19, and equally, is one that can be remedied through care and a particular focus on employee wellbeing.
Once again this echoes in numerous case studies. Deloitte’s 2020 report, Surveying the Talent Paradox from the Employee Perspective, showed that of more than 500 respondents, 25% stated they would remain with their employer as a result of support from their supervisors or managers.
Similarly, a 2018 study conducted by the Reward and Employee Benefits Association found that of more than 1,600 respondents, 100% stated that health improvements are important for productivity in their organisation.
Echoing this, Nathaniel said: “The purpose of taking care of your employees’ mental well-being is to sustain human talent. To create an environment where talent thrives, and creativity and performance are at their peak.
“Lack of paying attention to employees’ mental health might result in high employee turnover and higher rates of sick days. Lack of attention to the wellbeing of employees puts a strain on the relationship between employees, their leaders, and their co-workers.”
As is so often the case when such challenges arise, many leaders will now be questioning how to action them. It’s clear that increased vigilance and attention to deal is needed when it comes to offering care and ensuring wellbeing during crisis; but how?
Nathaniel offered some final thoughts on this, supposing that most importantly, leaders must listen, and make time for their workforces.
“As a leader, you should ask yourself: ‘what do the employees in my organization feel? What are they dealing with that causes stress? And how can I make it easier for them so they can perform their best?’
“Create opportunities where you can listen to your employees. This is about listening for the purpose of listening, and not about solving problems. By creating that space you demonstrate that you care, and allow employees to vent.
“Finally, sustaining relationships and feeling connected to others has a big role in mental health and overall wellbeing. For instance, allow 15 minutes at the beginning of the day for your team to connect on a ‘non-professional’ level. It will set the tone for the day and will promote employees’ mental well-being. Actions such as these can go a surprisingly long way.”
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