Fostering a Healthier Workforce
We are now moving into the next phase of the crisis and businesses are starting to think about what the future might hold. However, they are finding that the world has significantly changed, and even once the pandemic passes, it is clear that we will be looking at new ways of working globally.
There is a strong provocation to reinvent our businesses and the way in which they operate. Some staff will be keen to return to work, particularly those who have suffered from isolation and loneliness through the periods of lockdown. Others have gladly embraced home working and will be keen for their employers to put new flexible long-term work policies in place.
Simultaneously, environmental concerns may lead to fewer business meetings, less travel and more people wanting to live outside of crowded cities. This will have a knock-on effect on what is considered reasonable in terms of business traveling and in-person meetings. Even those workers whose jobs do not allow for home working, such as builders, hospital staff and supermarket employees, may be looking for added flexibility, perhaps not in terms of where they work, but how and when.
The Challenges Ahead
While these trends could spell better work/life balance for employees, they are likely to create more complications for HR teams. There will be logistical challenges to overcome and businesses will be keen to boost productivity and keep staff engaged. Health and wellbeing has taken center stage for many companies as businesses are finally starting to acknowledge the critical role that mental wellbeing plays for their workers, but this can be harder to manage when people are at home working. Significantly, more people are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, and lots are running into financial difficulties.
Physical health may pose problems too, as employees continue to be at risk of catching the COVID-19 virus, with some even suffering from Long-COVID where they show symptoms for several months after testing positive. At the same time, the pandemic has caused a spike in domestic abuse cases and companies will need to find ways to do all they can to support their staff. Some employees may be facing acute trauma as a result of the crisis, particularly those who work in emergency services. Over time, this could develop into Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Get the Basics Right
With significant health challenges ahead for organizations, HR directors must put plans in place to protect their staff. These programs should be designed to support the physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing of workers.
The cornerstone of any employee-sponsored healthcare initiative should be an Employee Assistance Program. An EAP will give your staff a confidential avenue to discuss any concerns or issues they many have around their health. It is also a good avenue to point staff in the direction of further resources, whether that’s medical benefits your company offers or external services such as the mental health charities and self-help groups that have proved particularly helpful to Long-COVID sufferers.
Know the Warning Signs
No two people are the same, so the signs that someone is struggling are likely to vary from person to person. However, there are typical warning signs to look out for, particularly when it comes to stress, anxiety or depression. Usually these are characterized by behavioral, emotional, psychological or physical changes.
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
- Changes in performance
- Absences from work
- Memory lapses or vagueness
- Becoming easily distracted
- Emotional signs such as tearfulness or irritableness
- Relationship problems
- Hypersensitivity to criticism
- Defensiveness or anger
- Aches, pains that are not easily explained
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Lack of energy
- Problems with sleep
- Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine and recreational or illegal drugs
The good news is that businesses that get this right will have happy, healthy, engaged staff — which in turn boosts productivity. The crisis has shown how integral staff wellbeing is to the survival and success of a business, now leaders and HR departments must learn those lessons and make changes to better promote health in the future.