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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about plenty of discussion about “the new normal” and what this may mean for businesses and their employees.

As HR managers and business owners begin strategizing for the future, it’s imperative that wellbeing is at the top of this agenda.

There are four key pillars of wellbeing: mental, physical, social and financial. Let’s start by stating the obvious: the lockdown period caused as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on all four pillars. Those isolating may be suffering from mental health problems such as increased stress, anxiety or depression. Of course, social interactions have depleted and the way we connect with one another has been dependent on technology. Those furloughed or made redundant will be experiencing financial hardship, while the way we budget and our value of money has changed. After all, when’s the last time you went out for a pint or blew your budget on a new wardrobe? Finally, we must all consider the deep impact lockdown has had on our physical health. Working from home has brought about a myriad of physical complications, from musculoskeletal pain through to eye strain and increased headaches.

These factors will be long-lasting. It will take far longer to undo the impact of the coronavirus pandemic than it did to adapt to life in lockdown. Employers must be mindful of this and support employees as the country gradually begins to reboot its economy.

Wellbeing should no longer be considered a ‘nice to have’ addition to workplace culture. It’s paramount that HR managers incorporate wellbeing services into return to work planning.

The four pillars of wellbeing must be considered in order to make a real difference to your employee’s lives. Free fruit is a great starting point, but why not take it one step further and introduce nutritional seminars so employees have the tools they need to ensure they eat well both at work and outside of it? Many offices offer fitness classes such as yoga or Pilates and, whilst these are highly effective, there is a way to incorporate physical health with social activity. Lunchtime walks, fitness challenges and charity races are all great ways to bring your team together and encouraging them to socialise as well as maintain good levels of physical health.

Empowerment is key. Give your employees the tools they need to manage their own wellbeing, and they will be happier and healthier in the long run. Organise expert seminars or workshops to educate your team on important wellbeing topics (such as how to improve sleeping routines or reducing sugar intake).

Surely employees will feel grateful to be returning to work, not anxious about the future? This isn’t quite true. Whilst some members of staff will be raring to get back to normal lives, others will need more support to feel secure in a new routine. Be flexible with your team and listen to their concerns. Normalise difficult conversations about anxiety and mental health so your team are confident discussing any issues with you. Now is the time to cultivate a positive environment, where you truly listen to your team and use their suggestions to better your workplace.

This open, welcoming environment applies to remote workers too. Workplaces are set to become more fluid and flexible – HR managers must put plans in place to support remote workers too. Colleagues must feel connected and invested in the business even if their working day is less structures. Businesses can provide support by integrating wellbeing into day-top-day life, even when experts or employees aren’t onsite. Use technology such as Slack to ensure all colleagues are informed of business updates, wellbeing activities and social events. No-one should feel isolated because they aren’t in a physical building.

Business owners and HR managers may feel nervous splashing out on a range of wellbeing services for its people. However, corporate wellbeing programmes do provide great return on investment. Employees are likely to be more engaged and productive if they feel supported at work – great news for businesses and its customers. Invest in your people now, when it matters more than ever.

It’s time now for businesses to put their people first. Be assured you’ll be rewarded in the long term.

Reward & remuneration – Achieve Great ROI.

Surface-level perks rarely scratch the surface. But why? Surely beer fridges, free fruit and ping-pong tables are all an employee could hope for?

That’s not quite correct. Though these “fun” benefits like plush offices with designer break-out areas undoubtedly look fantastic when trying to recruit new employees – it may not help your business in the long term.

Genuine investment in staff wellbeing will make the real difference.

Whilst water coolers and free reusable bottles will help employees to stay hydrated through the day, it’s far more important to share knowledge and insight into the importance of nutrition and hydration. Start off by organising seminars or encourage knowledge-sharing within your team. Practical help to improve both physical and mental health is paramount.

Of course, it may appear easier to support an employee’s physical health than to support mental health. Mental health is such a personal subject and we’re all probably guilty of shying away from discussing it at times. But encouraging a welcoming, honest atmosphere will normalise discussions around mental health and anxieties – meaning your employees will feel more empowered to share their issues with you. Any management team will know that it’s far easier to solve a problem once you know what the problem is. Anonymous feedback surveys are a great way to gather insight into your team’s worries or concerns. The key here is to make sure your employees are listened to properly. Don’t ask for your team’s opinion unless you’re prepared to make changes within your business to respond to them.

This brings me on to the subject of strong leadership. Surely a good manager isn’t a workplace perk? Perhaps so, but it’s certainly one of the most important factors in employee retention and loyalty. An employee must feel supported while at work. Employees with clear goals will feel more motivated and encouraged to do their best. Ensure employees have personal development plans in place, with regular feedback sessions and one-to-one meetings with their immediate line manager. Those who can visualise their own career progression and know the steps they must take to get there, are more likely to deliver strong results.

In terms of social wellbeing, encouraging bonds within a team goes beyond after work drinks. Encourage staff to take part in new opportunities and activities such as fitness challenges or fundraisers. This will bring your team together whilst focussing everyone on a positive task. This doesn’t mean social events aren’t important, too. Put a bit of budget aside to support regular social events. Encouraging teams within different departments to socialise is a great way to develop an overall sense of belonging within your business.

Finally we come to financial wellbeing. You may already pay your employees a fair wage, with additional perks such as bonuses, pensions or life assurance. But have you considered offering an Employee Assistance Programme? This helps employees pay for health treatments such as dental or optical care. While these aren’t huge annual expenses, it certainly does help to soften the financial impact of healthcare. Employees are therefore more likely to seek treatment early, rather than letting a health problem fester and potentially get worse (ultimately leading to time off work).

Employees who feel supported at work are more likely to be engaged, productive and motivated. They’ll spend less time off work and stay loyal to your business, thus reducing the costs of absenteeism and recruitment.

It’s certainly possible to lure people to apply for a role because they’re impressed by a long list of surface-level perks. But how long will they stay within your business if their overall wellbeing is not being looked after? Put your best efforts into helping your team be the best version of themselves. If you empower your people to thrive, they will perform at their best while working for you.

Andy Romero-BirkbeckFounder & Director – We are Wellbeing Ltd

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