Wellbeing – and the importance of mental, and physical, health – is still high on the agenda for many organisations.
The dial, however, has shifted since the start of the pandemic. Initially, the worst levels of wellbeing were seen at the very top, with Director level employees trying to navigate extremely challenging times. Now, however, things have shifted, with the pressure being passed down to those below leadership level through to middle management – particularly as this group endeavours to manage their day job and, in some cases, a new strategic direction. On top of this, the issues around finding and keeping hold of talent has meant that, in some organisations, employees at every level are feeling the impact.
Even with wellbeing being the watchword of the pandemic, and with organisations putting a renewed effort into supporting their employees, the build-up of fatigue that’s occurred over the last two years is impacting on wellbeing-specific questions in the Best Companies survey. Questions such as “I love working for this organisation” and “I’d leave tomorrow if I had another job” are directly impacted by how an employee feels about their wellbeing.
So, what should organisations do to support their employees after such a period of change and disruption? And what happens when the level of support needs to go from short or mid-term intervention to long-term strategy?
“One of our core values is stronger together”
For Lawrence Cramer, People and Culture Director at Inspired Villages Group, looking after wellbeing is a constant, and central, part of the organisation’s culture – for both employees and the residents in its retirement villages.
“One of our core values is ‘Stronger Together’. And the definition of that, for us, is to take time out to have a cup of tea and to sit down with a colleague, or resident, and just chat about life,” he explained.
Now at over 700 cups and counting, the initiative is part of a wellbeing programme that includes a ‘hub’ offering access to information on physical, mental, social, financial, and nutritional health. The organisation also has experts visit to talk about positivity, mindset, burnout and how to change habits.
The organisation is constantly listening to feedback, too, with an employee survey suggesting that colleagues were feeling the fatigue of constant online meetings leading to their abolishment at certain times of the day in favour of people doing a non-work activity to re-charge.
“At Inspired Villages, we’re about leading with purpose, living by our values, being focussed on wellbeing and managing fatigue. It’s all part of our DNA and strategy to create a working environment where people can really live and work well,” Cramer added.
“We have to watch and take notice of the ways people are feeling”
Embedding wellbeing in the very core of its organisation is the same at law firm, Clarion. This explained Joint Managing Partner, Roger Hutton, means doing things differently to other law firms by introducing a level of autonomy that allows employees to have control over their time.
“A law firm typically is an organisation which maximises the number of hours worked and productivity levels and analyses who's done what,” he explained.
“But actually, Clarion doesn't operate in that way. The truth is we try and invest time in our employees, to encourage them to spend time with their clients, spend time with each other, and we also want them to invest time in culture."
“We give a lot of autonomy so people can express themselves and work in ways that they want to work. Despite being lawyers, we're far from a rules-based organisation, which makes us different. We’re a law firm that says, ‘we trust you to do it your way’. Of course, we want to succeed, and we need results, but this helps our employees get the best results in a way that works for them, and that's essentially the culture of the organisation.”
Hutton acknowledges, of course, that even with Clarion’s refreshing take on its employees’ work/life balance, that tiredness, stress, and fatigue will inevitably affect people in different ways, not least when challenging times cause change and upheaval. This, he says, is where an authentic wellbeing programme can bolster engagement and ensure people feel supported.
“As leaders we have to watch and take notice of the ways people are feeling. And that’s the point of managing wellbeing – you can’t eradicate those feelings – but you can give them the space and time to access a wellbeing team, or programme, to help them understand and cope with them.”
“The emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout”
For Yemi Olagbaiye, Client Portfolio Director at technology solutions provider, Softwire, a commitment to wellbeing has been in place since before the pandemic, thanks to the firm’s employee-centric approach.
“One of the initiatives we have is morale days,” he explained. "This is a concept where, on top of an employee’s standard holiday allowance, everyone is given three and a half days ‘morale holiday’. This is used for company-organised events paid for out of a dedicated ‘morale budget’ and is designed to help create an environment of social connectedness.”
This connectedness, Olagbaiye believes, is one of the most important elements of looking after wellbeing, as it helps to tackle loneliness, something he says is a huge part of keeping people feeling well and supported.
“When we talk about managing fatigue, we focus on it being about exhaustion. But I think there’s another part of it that also is about loneliness. And when I say loneliness, I don't mean because of social isolation or exclusion, but the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout,” he said.
“I think it’s great to have programmes on how to reduce stress and practice mindfulness. However, I think when you think about the link between workplace burnout and fatigue and loneliness, there's a strong argument to suggest that focussing on how to create deep, meaningful connections in the workplace will allow people to feel respected, valued, and secure. I think that’s another useful way of tackling the topic.”
“This isn’t going away”
Grant Santos, CEO of education training firm, The Educ8 Group, said organisations must learn to embrace wellbeing as part of a long-term approach, with the need to look after and support people’s health imperative long after the worst of the pandemic.
For his firm, this means making some of the interventions introduced during the last two years permanent initiatives.
“We came up with an idea called ‘Rejuvin8’ to give staff half an hour each day to support their mental health in a way that works for them,” he explained.
“We piloted it in October 2020, and we’ve been rolling it out ever since. The feedback has been fantastic, with over 90% of staff really enjoying it and saying it’s helping their wellbeing and mental health.”
Another initiative introduced during the early stages of the pandemic, which saw employees receive a £150 allowance to buy equipment or furnishings to make working from home more comfortable, has also been made permanent, meaning all new starters also benefit from the payment. This, says Santos, means people can create the environment they want when embracing the hybrid working policy the Group has in place.
However, despite all the ways in which organisations have supported their staff so far – Santos says that this is a journey, and that new ways of looking after wellbeing must now be high on the agenda in all businesses and sectors.
“So many organisations have got great ways of doing things to help support their employees,” he added. “But the challenge for us all now is how to keep doing that, to keep coming up with new initiatives, because this isn’t going away.”