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The current health crisis has shone a spotlight on wellbeing from both an individual and company perspective. Fledgling corporate wellbeing initiatives have been accelerated to meet unprecedented and unplanned for changes in employees’ working lives. The connection between employee wellbeing and the health of the business has been thrown into sharp focus and wellbeing has shot to the top of many HR and corporate agendas.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and virtual collaboration. Employees had to get used to working from home almost overnight. Many have been juggling family and educational responsibilities as they got used to a new way of working. Some of their colleagues have had to continue to work on the front line or the shop or factory floor, potentially creating a “them and us” situation. Some people who previously spent a large part of their waking hours at work have found themselves locked down in isolation. For many this sudden change, with no certain date of when it will end has left many people feeling destabilised psychologically, by the massive changes in their lives over which they continue to have little control.

The global health crisis has affected how people view the world and driven many to really focus on what is meaningful and important in their lives. Individuals are learning fast about their resilience and ability to deal with change. Others are facing physical or financial challenges. It is all well and good to send people home to look after their health, but companies’ wellbeing response does not end there – it begins there.

Communication is key
Strong leadership is key. But a different style of leadership may be needed to support wellbeing in a crisis. Communication from the top needs to be regular, open and supportive. It should reinforce the company’s values and emphasise the role that managers and leaders need to take in connecting with team members to drive virtual collaboration, boost morale and reduce isolation.

Communication needs to be two-way. Listening to colleagues and seeing how the business can adjust to help support them is vital. When home becomes the workplace, the spotlight is thrown on work-life balance. Wellbeing considerations go beyond the individual and extend to their family circumstances. Employees may be home schooling young children and work and home life has become difficult to separate. They may need to vary their working hours, so they are available for work for half a day and then work again later. Managers need to really think about how they can support their employees in many different circumstances to manage that work-life balance. They need to take the lead in fostering a culture of increasing openness about how everyone is managing working from home and being supportive around the fact that people may occasionally have to get off a call to support a distressed child or, do something for a family member. Bizarrely it seems that in many ways, by working remotely we have learned more about our employees than ever before.

Financial wellbeing is as important as physical and mental health. Responsible businesses should be aware that employees may fear losing their jobs in a global recession. Wellbeing is very much about protecting people’s livelihoods as well as protecting people’s lives. At the same time, the health of the organisation is key to the wellbeing of employees. It is important to communicate clear expectations that the business still has to deliver results: “We are in this together, we support you. But also, we still need you to focus on delivering”.  If you can align these things in a transparent and open way, it works for all parties.

Building resilience
Wellbeing encompasses health in its broadest sense, including mental health. Organisations with a global workforce will be keenly aware that, in some cultures, discussing mental health can almost be a taboo. Many companies have turned to a global EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) to provide confidential counselling, support tools and resources for employees and managers covering stress or wellbeing issues that can affect them in their daily life. As we transition through the health crisis, we want to build a community of resilient individuals who will be able to support themselves more effectively.

Wellbeing is about people’s health, but it is also about the work environment, individuals’ personal growth and their community. Personal growth comes through learning and our goal is to create a community of lifelong learners. The importance of community has become more prominent during the health crisis and it has become increasingly clear that being involved in their community helps people’s individual wellbeing. Social connections, both within work and within communities will drive business success as well. Company sponsored charitable programmes help engage employees in supporting the communities in which they live and work.

A sustainable future
Wellbeing usually sits within most companies’ wider CSR remit, alongside diversity and inclusion and the sustainability agenda. Broadly, wellbeing needs to be about sustainable change for everyone. While employers can provide tools to support wellbeing, employees need to use them to effect permanent change and resilience.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, incorporate wellbeing for employees and support the sustainability of communities and the world. A sustainable future is one where the health, personal growth and wellbeing of every employee is supported and nourished. A connected workforce with a culture of openness, fairness and belonging across the organisation and their communities can, collectively, drive success, and hopefully that is something many of us have learned to appreciate more and more in recent months.  It is incumbent on all of us to have learned from this, and take it forward into what it means for our families, our employees and our companies as we move to the new normal.

Mark Cooper, Chief Human Resources Officer – AVEVA Group plc

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