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Why health and wellbeing matters in 2021

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Annabel Jones, UK HR Director of ADP, and Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK and Ireland, discuss the challenges and outcomes around health and wellbeing

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In this new series created in collaboration with ADP, alongside our February event ‘The Organisational Culture Agenda For 2021’, we examine key strategic work priorities in the time to come, including ways of working, health and wellbeing and employee engagement. Contributing to each article are Annabel Jones, UK HR Director of ADP, and Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK and Ireland.

In this edition, we focus on health and wellbeing today. Health: it’s a core pillar of our existence. Much like relationships and finances, it’s something we serve and monitor daily without even necessarily thinking about it, but business doesn’t apply the same ethos. In fact, many have even argued that is the employee’s own responsibility.

However, times have changed. The health crisis has further accelerated the focus on wellness. It’s catalysed an evolution in the health and wellbeing space, extending to mental and physical health holistically. Health and wellbeing look set to remain a constant in business strategy.

What’s changed in the health and wellbeing space?

With health and wellbeing emerging as one of the key HR trends, alongside ways of working and employee engagement, it’s hard to refute that the pandemic has shifted how health and wellbeing is viewed in a business context; and rightly so. It has already been remarked that the fallout from COVID-19 could spark a “tsunami” of mental health problems among the population, and projections by the UK Centre for Mental Health show that almost 1/5 of the population will need psychological support as a direct impact of the pandemic.

As all things do, this dialogue quickly trickled down into the world of business, with employers beginning to place greater emphasis on the matter. Gartner offered some commentary on this towards the end of last year, stating in an article that mental health support is a trend “that will shape HR in 2021”.

It said: “Because of the pandemic, employers have realised the criticality of mental health. Employers will work to de-stigmatise mental health by expanding benefits and supporting initiatives.”

The leading payroll services firm ADP offered some similar sentiments during an interview with HRD Connect. The company’s UK HR director, Annabel Jones, said: “In 2020 we had to respond very quickly, and I think we will learn a lot from the experience.

“I think people have been a lot more open about sharing around health and wellbeing. I don’t think that’s a change, I think that’s an evolution.”

Jeff Phipps, the company’s managing director for UK and Ireland also gave his take, outlining what he believes are the three key trends when it comes to workplace strategy at present: physical space; flexibility; and how we manage in a flexible environment.

“There are lots of areas that could pose challenges, but if we don’t take the opportunity now to really deal with these things, we’d be missing a massive opportunity,” he said.

What health and wellbeing issues need to be addressed in 2021?

Phipps went on to expand on his three points, stressing not just the importance of each, but also how they will combine to form a more effective, equitable workplace for all.

As regards ‘physical space’, Phipps described this as “looking at the full entirety of where people work”. He noted that any space must be safe and conducive with good health, and it must allow the employee to work productively, adding that “collaboration spaces” of some kind may be more effective post-pandemic.

On “flexibility”, Phipps challenges the notion of companies brashly declaring permanent remote working, pointing out that this simply won’t work for some people. “That might be great if you’ve got your own gym and swimming pool, but perhaps not so good if you’re living in an apartment with three kids,” he said. “We’ve got to be really careful that we’re not setting a strategy based on what we know one person’s situation is like.”

Ultimately, he added, it’s about tailoring and facilitating based on each individual.

Finally, Phipps elaborates on what he claims to be the most important of the three: how you manage in a flexible environment. “I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to really kill off the whole concept of time versus contribution when it comes to working,” he said. “We really need to use this situation as the stimulus to say ‘I want to judge you by your contribution and not how many minutes you’re sitting in front of the screen.’”

Overall, Phipps argues that by addressing these three points, employers will be able to better cater for the varying needs of their workforces, and thus reduce stress levels. And he’s not alone. Even before the pandemic, a study from the Institute of Leadership and Management suggested that more than 85 percent of managers feel that allowing staff to work flexibly enhances wellbeing and reduces stress.

In another, the London School of Business and Finance found that nearly 40 percent of respondents agreed that flexibility perks such as early finishes on certain days would actively help to reduce stress levels.

To round off, Jones weighed in with some final thoughts, positing that wellbeing-based intervention will become more of an urgent matter for organisations in 2021. In doing so, she cited ‘primary interventions’, arguing that this would represent a more proactive (and ultimately, effective) way of tackling employee wellbeing.

She said: “This is going to be a big change this year. Rather than waiting until somebody’s got a problem and then stepping in, how can we be more preventative and support people early on in the process?”

Click here to access HRD Connect and ADP’s on-demand session.

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