We have already witnessed the changes the pandemic has brought: from the increased focus on mental health, all the way to the shift towards flexible working and maintaining a better, more balanced work-life schedule. But with workplaces reopening and employers debating what the balance should be between working from home or returning to the workplace, businesses need to navigate the challenges of a more dispersed workforce.
Reflecting on the changes that occurred in 2021, Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, speaks about the trends we expect to see in the wellbeing space in 2022 and how this will impact HR teams across businesses.
The discussion around mental health
Speaking about mental health in the workplace has evolved following the pandemic. Our research has found that one of the top three things employees are looking for in their jobs is better wellbeing support (35%).
Businesses can put in simple measures to help, from encouraging regular breaks and walks, to reinforcing the importance of time off to help tackle burnout. Conducting progressive and helpful performance reviews will help inspire, aid check-ins with employees and work towards retaining them.
Other measures include buddy systems and offering mental health first aid courses to give employees someone to turn to, as well as reducing stigma around stress and mental health. By making wellbeing part of line managers’ responsibilities, developing issues can be identified early when interventions are most effective.
Engaging with employees is more important than ever to find out where they need the most support.
Rise of hybrid working
The pandemic has highlighted the values of working remotely, with many people realising this as an option important for them and their wellbeing. Flexible working is now the top benefit employees (43%) are looking for.
Reacting to the increase in demand for wellbeing support and to the influx of hybrid working, one thing we are expecting to see more of in the coming year is workplace programmes that focus on wellbeing in a hybrid setting.
More businesses are offering hybrid working moving forward which includes a mix of some days in the office and at home. However for businesses this presents a few challenges.
Success in hybrid working has been linked directly to sound corporate wellbeing strategy, with 43% of HR managers with one in place saying employee productivity was very good compared to just 18% in organisations that hadn’t invested in wellbeing.
More than half (58%) of HR managers also said that boosting employee morale was a motivation for creating a wellbeing programme with 39% using a wellbeing programme to improve employee retention.
Something we will likely see more of is wellbeing strategies, which enable businesses to engage with employees and support them wherever they are based. These strategies ensure that all employees have equal access to wellbeing programmes and allow businesses to target their support based on employees’ specific needs.
Brimming on the edge of burnout
‘Burnout’ is a word we are hearing a lot recently. While the pandemic brought in some positive changes to our ways of working, unfortunately, it also resulted in many people working long hours, which has led to mental exhaustion.
In fact, an extra 8.7 billion hours were worked throughout the pandemic, leaving almost half (46%) of workers close to burnout. The research we conducted also found that one in 10 were just one day away from burnout, highlighting the impact the pandemic has had on workers across the UK.
With it being more difficult to look after employees working remotely, employers now need to consider how they are going to approach worker’s burnout, especially if hybrid working is a permanent option.
Coming into the new year, businesses need to familiarise themselves with what their employees are looking for to help with the stress of burnout. Research has shown that the top three things employees are looking for are: flexible working or remote working options (43%), a pay rise (40%), and more wellbeing support (35%).
Being responsive to employee needs is certainly a trend we will be expecting to see in the new year; gone are the days where employers put their business strategy at the forefront of all decisions. The people strategy is becoming just as, if not more, important.
The rise of health leadership training
Influenced by the first two points, we are expecting to see a change in how wellbeing is addressed in the workplace.
This extends further than offering more options for employees and tailoring a stronger people strategy; it includes better training throughout the business, including senior leaders, about wellbeing and the signs and responses for individual mental health.
Health leadership training will allow line managers to better manage their teams from a health perspective, aiding those who are looking for better wellbeing support from their workplace. More importantly, by engaging leaders in health and wellbeing training and activity, they will be able to influence company culture by leading from the top down.
This is reflected in Westfield Health’s recent research, where out of the 52% of workers looking to move jobs, over a third (34%) are doing so to protect and prioritise their mental or physical health. The vast majority of employees, however, are open to staying with the right levels of flexibility and support.
By understanding what flexibility and wellbeing support employees want through line manager catch-ups and conversations, businesses will not only be able to retain existing talent but attract new talent to help drive recovery after a tough year.
The role personal values play
We have seen priorities change as we all made our way through a global pandemic. Some came to the realisation that they want to change careers, some sought a job that allowed them to better balance their personal life, and some were driven to assess whether their career matches their individual values.
Our research reflects this. Many people have stated that job security (53%), better pay (53%), and wellbeing support (47%) are now more important to them than they were pre-pandemic.
Meeting these needs is important for personal wellbeing. We all have our own values and goals and if our workplace does not help us meet them, it negatively impacts our happiness, sense of achievement and mental health, all of which can lead to employees leaving or feeling burnt out.
This year, businesses have learnt that the line between our work and personal life is a lot more skewed. The role of values, whether personal or professional, will be impacting the decisions employees will make. This is important for companies to be aware of as it will influence employee retention.