The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our world. It is a time when apart from our physical health our mental and emotional wellbeing needs to be strongest, but is under tremendous stress, affecting not only our personal but also professional lives.
Thus, for organizations, employee wellbeing becomes salient, more than ever in these difficult times.
Companies should take care of the wellbeing of their employees, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it will keep them more engaged and productive. In his article, Reimagining the work environment through the post-COVID lens, Philippe Huinck, CEO Corporate Services, APAC, highlights employee wellbeing as an important focus area for organisations in the post-COVID world. At Sodexo, it concerns us doubly, as it touches not only our own employees, but also impacts the wellbeing of our clients’ employees, whom we serve.
Wellbeing starts with caring
The first step towards Employee Wellbeing is to show your employees that you care about them – their physical, mental and emotional health. In the middle of a global pandemic, it starts with physical safety. It is our top priority to ensure the safety of our employees and of our consumers as they return to work.
Sodexo recently sponsored a study on ‘Worklife after Lockdown’ through the agency, Harris Interactive. It involved online interviews with 4824 employees across eight countries in June 2020. The samples were based on the following criteria – sex, age, professional category and region. The survey revealed that 88% of employees are eager to know from their employers about the measures taken to ensure their safety and 87% on the hygiene and cleanliness of the workplace.
We are doing this through Rise with Sodexo, our systematic approach to ensure that the return to work of our client’s employees is as safe and smooth as possible. This includes health screening, temperature checking, contactless services, and safe distancing measures in our sites.
Physically distanced but socially close
Having said that, physical distancing does not and should not mean social distancing. We are social animals after all and social contact with others is also very important to ensure emotional wellbeing.
Few months into the lockdown and working from home alone, I appreciate many of the advantages of remote working, but I also realize that exclusively remote working doesn’t work for me, and suspect it is the same for many others. I miss meeting my colleagues face-to-face, talking over a coffee and bumping into someone I had pending to talk to and solving an issue here and there.
The main benefits of work from home, as pointed out by our survey respondents, are in the time saved, avoidance of public transport and increased flexibility. The main drawback, they felt is the lack of social interaction. One out of three of those surveyed, quoted difficulty in working collaboratively, feeling of loneliness and lower connection to the company.
Going back to more ‘normal’ life (mentioned by 53% of respondents) and seeing/working with their colleagues (45%) is what made/will make home workers more happy. In the future, I think, there may be a hybrid model in which we will work from home quite often, but also go to the office regularly to meet colleagues and work on tasks requiring creativity and close collaboration. Among those who prefer working from home, 65% said that they would prefer to go to work 2-3 days a week. This flexibility and its positive impact on work-life balance will enhance our wellbeing.
However, with the hybrid model we’ll also have our employees split between office and home/co-working space. This poses a new challenge for employee engagement as they are no longer under one roof. And this is where we’ll need to get creative.
Connection and communication is key to engagement. This helps reduce the stress of home isolation as well build collaborative spirit between team members. The survey revealed that 65% of our respondents appreciate their organisation’s communication about the pandemic.
Hence, virtual coffees sessions, exercise sessions, dress-up Fridays, birthday celebrations, wellness challenges, etc. will help us connect with our colleagues beyond work requirements and keep those social bonds strong. Providing healthy food options, access to online fitness classes, hobby classes are some of the other ways to ensure engagement. The fun initiatives apart, when it comes to work, regular feedback and 1-1 meetings with team members, helps strengthening the connection between the employees, managers and the organization. During this time it also behooves that manager’s focus on inclusivity. They have to ensure that every voice is heard and everyone is comfortable in sharing their thoughts in whichever format that may be.
“We are basically our minds”
The third important part of Employee Wellbeing is mental wellbeing. We are basically our minds, so if we don’t take care of our mental health it will be impossible to have any sort of wellbeing. A taboo subject for a long time, it is now changing. I recently wrote about this in detail.
Starting at the workplace itself, we need to take out the stigma from mental health and have people openly talk about it and create the right environment through empathy and sensitivity. For example, during this pandemic there are many who are struggling to manage household chores, care giving activities along with work commitments. In our survey, 15% of respondents rate their current mental wellbeing as lower than normal, mainly because of the uncertainty of the future, and the anxiety about the pandemic and their health. As leaders and organisations we need show patience as employees try and find their balance and support them to build their personal resilience. Our words need to be followed by action. Hence, having the right policies, programs, leaders and support in place is essential to help people find their own path towards their mental wellbeing.
At Sodexo, we have an Employee Assistance Program that includes counselling services, virtual yoga, exercise sessions and e-learning courses for all our APAC managers to talk about mental health with their team members. We have launched APAC Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub for our employees with plenty of tools and resources to look after their own mental health and that of their teams. Simultaneously, we are developing wellbeing related services for our clients as well.
Re-thinking employee experience
In HR fora and debates, employee experience has taken a prominent place in the last few years. When we successfully engage our employees and focus on their wellbeing, we create the right experience for them.
The experiences may have changed from the pre-COVID days, but it only means that we have to change with the times and tweak our methods. In addition to the points mentioned earlier in the article, along with the right tools and technology to execute them and platforms that improve work efficiencies, there is a lot we can do. In the whitepaper Responding to a quantum shift at work, the Sodexo corp-up Wx looks at the entire user/employee journey, from working from home to working at the office, to propose a new holistic approach to employee experience, based on data-based decisions and workplace design and strategy. I think this is the way forward.
As Churchill famously said when he was working to form the United Nations after World War II, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. We are living, or suffering, the crisis of our lifetimes, but this could be also the opportunity for the Great Reset, and to realize a better world is possible and that we can build it.