Mark Fosh, Divisional Director at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing looks at the key risk areas that business leaders should be aware of as they look ahead to supporting employee wellbeing for the future of their businesses.
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work and this has not only introduced new risks for employers across the full spectrum of wellbeing, but it has also exacerbated pre-existing ones.
We have identified four key risk areas that business leaders should be aware of.
- Financial pressures
With the government’s Furlough scheme coming to an end in September, businesses will be under increasing financial pressure. Research from charity Mental Health UK[i] found that 78% of SME business owners are worried about cash flow.
Another survey from PayDashboard[ii] of over 10,000 UK employees showed that since the pandemic, one in five view their finances as an area of challenge, and a further 16% have been suffering from poor wellbeing due to financial worries.
Financial concerns amongst employees can increase anxiety, decrease productivity levels and lead to them taking more time off work due to stress.
- Uncertainty, anxiety, and stress
The pandemic has heightened stress and anxiety. The NHS and Centre for Mental Health[iii] have highlighted that 10 million people in England will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic over the next three to five years.
An increase in people suffering from mental health problems may lead to a rise in absences and lower levels of engagement, therefore it is critical that businesses take action to support their employees to minimise the impact on mental health.
- Social isolation and loneliness
A study by the Royal Society for Public Health[iv] this year, found nearly two thirds (59%) of those working from home said they felt more isolated from their colleagues, and that women are more likely to feel isolated as compared with men (58% vs 29%).
Last year, the Mental Health Foundation[v] surveyed UK adults nine months into COVID-19 restrictions and found one in four (24%) adults said they had had feelings of loneliness in the previous two weeks.
Isolation and loneliness have increased the risk for employees previously suffering from mental health issues, as well as those who have not previously experienced any mental health problems. For business leaders, creating an inclusive culture for wellbeing that considers employees as individuals is vital.
- Maintaining physical health
The impact of working from home also resulted in increased musculoskeletal problems due to a lack of adequate home office equipment and space. The Royal Society for Public Health Study found that nearly half (48%) of people who work from a sofa or bedroom said they had developed musculoskeletal problems.
There is also growing evidence that employees have put off seeking help for non-COVID related illnesses during the lockdown periods. For employers, this backlog of potential physical health problems is likely to become an increasingly significant wellbeing risk area.
How can businesses support their employees?
The pandemic has impacted the wellbeing of employees and widened the socio-economic differences within different employee groups. Organisations will have to adapt their wellbeing strategies and consider new ways to support their employees. Below are key actions for employers to consider:
- Ensure managers are trained effectively to spot the signs an employee may be struggling and are able to signpost support that is available in the organisation.
- Be mindful of the reduced interaction with your teams and ensure there are regular check-ins (virtually or in person) with them to understand how they are coping.
- Lead by example – if leaders can discuss their own mental and physical health issues, employees will feel more comfortable talking about theirs.
- Review or develop a wellbeing strategy which aligns to the overall business strategy and encourages a positive culture for wellbeing where employees feel comfortable to be open about any mental health concerns they may have.
- Consider including financial education in your wellbeing strategy to help enable employees to take control of their finances. This could include money management guidance, pensions workshops, information about salary sacrifice schemes, employee discount schemes, loans and saving schemes.
- If employees are continuing to work from home, ensure they can do this safely and healthily. Consider offering remote physical assessments to support employees with their physical health.
- Review your current benefit and wellbeing offering to ensure they cover the new risks (including isolation, finances, anxiety, and physical health) and are appropriate for the new ways of working.
- Be more proactive rather than reactive. A proactive approach to employee health may include giving employees and managers access to mental and physical health education or training, as well as access to treatment and therapy. Encouraging employees to seek interventions early before they become bigger problems, can also reduce the impact on businesses.
There’s a lot to consider, plan and implement, which is why many SMEs work with a benefits consultant to get the expert insights and advice they need. An established adviser uses their expertise, relationships and buying power to bring about the right solution for your workforce at a competitive cost which will help maximise the effectiveness of your benefit spend.