There is no doubt that the last year has been challenging for businesses and employees alike. Feelings of anxiety, stress, isolation, uncertainty and disconnection are often quoted among those used to describe the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
With the government’s “roadmap” promising a way out of lockdown, many businesses are asking – how resilient are our employees? That’s because resilience – the ability of staff to deal with challenges and bounce back – is key. It is these skills which enable them to cope, to survive, thrive and remain agile to change and stay positive and well.
What is more, it is this resilience which will play a central part in the success of businesses moving forwards. So, what steps can employers take to support resilience, now and after lockdown?
Focus on health and wellbeing
Every employer has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including their mental and physical health and wellbeing. Here, there are a few things to consider.
From our own experience, we’ve seen that taking a proactive approach to introducing health and wellbeing initiatives for staff helps increase productivity and quality of work, while also minimising employee concerns.
This can be simple – letting staff know about the benefits of exercise and good nutrition as a way to help improve mental wellbeing, for instance. It could go further – setting up physical challenges such as daily step or weekly mileage targets.
Whatever you do, the key is to involve staff in the process - ask them for ideas and suggestions on what might benefit them. You can then either implement their ideas or base a wider strategy around them. This can be done internally, or by seeking support from your healthcare provider or by partnering with a third-party expert.
Communication is key
Regardless of the path you choose, staying in touch is vital. In fact, with many employees working remotely, regular contact and communication has never been more important.
Many are missing face to face interaction. Virtual meetings and catch ups can help with this, but managers should also be checking in with teams and individuals on a regular basis, ideally picking up the phone or initiating a video call to make sure staff really are okay.
Communication should work both ways, and letting staff know that they can contact and talk to their manager whenever they need to, can provide reassurance. Alternatively, informal colleague groups or buddy systems can help to boost resilience and provide a more social outlet.
Keeping in touch with those employees not currently in the business, for example those on furlough or maternity leave should also be remembered. This contact does not have to be in work context, but is important to let them know the business is thinking of them.
Flexible working post lockdown
Although it’s going to be a while before most employees are able to return to their ‘normal’ physical workplace, employers should have a plan for what post lockdown working will look like.
This will involve speaking to staff about return to work dates, hours and days to be worked, along with the health and safety precautions to be taken. These will need to be balanced against business needs.
Over the last year, many employers have been more willing to allow flexible working hours and home working. Employees who have taken these initiatives up may feel that they have successfully proven that they can do so productively and that this flexibility should continue.
If that is the case, employers should formalise arrangements, which will involve a review and update to existing employment contracts. All flexible working requests should be considered on a case by case basis, and consistency in dealing with each request is key.
The opportunity to allow and accommodate flexible working post lockdown is a way of helping employers to not only retain staff – who may have otherwise left – but can also be used as a carrot to attract new talent to the business. Managed appropriately, the resilience learnt in lockdown can be a long lasting business asset.
Mike Patterson is Head of Employment at Berwins