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Redefining a post-pandemic world

Part four of four in a four-part series

Challenges in today’s employee wellbeing and how to alleviate them 

The International Labour Organisations states that employee wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, from the physical environment to how employees feel about their work, and the climate at work. Moreover, PwC’s Be Well, Work Well identifies six dimensions of well-being which are proven drivers of performance, fulfilment and engagement - the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial and social.

With the rise in remote and hybrid work arrangements, wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important topic for organisations. The pandemic catapulted teams’ progress  in terms of digital communication.  This inevitably led to an ‘always on’ culture, sometimes at the unintentional  detriment of employee wellbeing. 

Digital communication

Moreover, with employees being away from the office, it is now more difficult for leaders to identify early signs that an employee is struggling and are not able to act in time to safeguard their wellbeing.

The stressors brought about by the pandemic have turned a simple question, such as ‘How are you feeling?’, into an emotional minefield but also into a more genuine question about how an individual is coping. Management’s practice of checking-up on employees in an office environment also slowly morphed into a requirement for management checking-in on how employees are doing, whilst they are working remotely. 

The pandemic also posed a mental health challenge for individuals due to a number of factors, including increased isolation and fear. In fact, PwC’s COVID-19 Remote Working Experiment Report identified that locally, feeling lonely was amongst the top challenges experienced in this new way of working. Apart from this, the pandemic brought about anxiety and uncertainty because of possible income loss, insecurity, and possible impact to one’s health.

Organisations need to consider their employee experience no matter where an employee is working from. The Health at a Glance Europe 2020 report, notes evidence linking the pandemic and its economic ramifications to higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression. 

Whilst organisations may undertake employee wellbeing initiatives for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do, research shows that employee wellbeing levels are strongly linked with higher organisational success. This is underscored by the International Labour Organisation’s research which states that “well-being is a key factor in determining an organisation's long-term effectiveness”.

Given the importance of employee wellbeing, organisations ought to devise a comprehensive Wellbeing Strategy:

1. Gauging employee’s level of wellbeing

Building an Employee Wellbeing Strategy begins with firstly understanding where the organisation’s wellbeing practices stand today and thereby determining the gaps that may exist. Organisations must review all and any existing practices and ongoing activities. This can include incorporating employee wellbeing questions within an Employee Engagement Survey or by conducting a specialised Wellbeing Assessment. This should avoid attempting to capture all areas of wellbeing into one bucket, and rather assess the different dimensions of wellbeing such as one’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial and social needs. 

Wellbeing and mental health

2. Focus on Culture 

Wellbeing programmes can sometimes contain a muddle of initiatives which are very loosely linked to each other or to what employees truly need. The most successful wellbeing programmes focus on fostering organisational culture and values. This approach supports the creation of  a customised programme which will become ingrained in the organisation, thus increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the programmes.

Wellbeing and Culture

3. Understand the pivotal role leadership plays in the success of a Wellbeing Strategy 

Mental Health Europe noted that an employee’s immediate manager’s attitude is the single most important factor that has a large impact on an employee's mental health. Organisation should look out for, and flag an absence of:

  • A fair and trusting leader who can help employees to handle work-related stress and support them in the occurrence of mental health problems.
  • A leader who actively discusses the importance of mental health. This makes employees more comfortable to seek support, if needed.  
  • Strong alliances and working relations across the organisation that practice empathy and act as a support system to each other. 

To increase accountability, organisations may designate the responsibility for implementing the organisation’s mental health policy to line managers.

Wellbeing and Culture

4. Dismiss an ‘always on’ culture and promote a healthier work practices 

As a result of the pandemic and the subsequent adoption of remote working, many employees are experiencing an ‘always on’ culture. Over the past 18 months most organisations invested in platforms that facilitate instant communication amongst employees. Whilst such tools provide a plethora of benefits, they also contribute to a culture in which employees struggle to disconnect from work and if left unchecked, can have negative effects on their wellbeing and stress levels. Organisations should make it clear that it is okay for employees to switch off and enable ‘protected time off’ to avoid blurred boundaries that could intensify an ‘always on’ culture. Incorporating healthy habits during working hours such as stepping away for fresh air, checking in with a colleague or friend and reducing meeting times can all help shifting to healthier work practices. 

Wellbeing and Culture

5. Improve access to mental health resources

Organisations may improve access to mental health resources by partnering up with subject matter expert third parties. This involves collaborating with external stakeholders who specialise in providing organisations and their employees with any required mental health support. Two key examples which should be adopted by any organisation includes firstly providing mental health training internally so as to improve internal self-awareness on topics such as anxiety, depression and stress. Secondly, organisations should consider setting up a system in which employees may anonymously and confidentially participate in company funded counselling and therapy when they require professional support. These would help ensure that organisations have in place the capabilities to identify when they or those around them may benefit from additional support.

Wellbeing and Culture

6. Create a workplace where employees feel safe to speak about their wellbeing

The previously mentioned points should support an environment in which employees feel they can discuss their wellbeing at the workplace or with their manager. This may take significant time to come to fruition and requires full commitment by the organisational leaders, who must act as role models and continuously demonstrate understanding and empathy towards the employees’ personal needs. This can be further gauged through the tools mentioned in the initial step, so as to understand perceptions on available support, and if one’s colleagues and superiors help create a healthy working environment.  

Wellbeing and Culture

Contact us

Claudine Attard

Claudine Attard

Director, Advisory, PwC Malta

Tel: +356 2564 7026

Mark Grech

Mark Grech

Advisory, PwC Malta

Tel: +356 2564 4510

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