The last 20 months forced workers to adapt to a relatively unknown way of working. This created a situation where they struggled with a lack of human contact and ‘office buzz’; as a result, many became burnt out.
Many businesses took steps to address this issue at the time. However, as businesses move to hybrid working it is incredibly important that these initiatives are not forgotten. As some people dial in from home to meetings they could start to feel even more cut off. This makes it imperative that businesses renew their commitment to employee wellness.
Employees need to be given the confidence and opportunity to speak out about the challenges they are facing, and environments should be created for employees, whether in the office or remotely, to feel supported. Finally, everyone should have access to the professional help they need, no matter where they are based.
Breaking the stigma
As anyone who has been through a mental health problem can tell you, the hardest step is reaching out for help. This became even harder when people felt like they were cut off from their friends and colleagues during lockdowns. It was also the first time many people experienced these problems for themselves. People who previously enjoyed meeting friends for drinks or travelling suddenly had no outlet. All of this combined to create an incredibly difficult environment.
To combat this, businesses should break the stigma around speaking out. This falls to business leaders being open about their problems, empowering more staff to contribute. For example, we ran a campaign called #AndItsOk which encouraged people to talk about problems they faced during the pandemic, and show them that they weren’t alone. Similarly, some businesses provided training for employees that helped them understand the impacts and signs of mental health, and how they can support those who are struggling. As the portrayal of mental health changed during the pandemic it became easier for people to respond to it just as they would if someone had a physical ailment. This can be seen by recent research, which found that eight out of 10 employers reported an increase in staff disclosing mental health issues.
While this initial work during the pandemic was vital in supporting employees and changing the narrative, it is now crucial that businesses do not throw away the gains they made. There is a risk that with some people back in offices it will be all too easy for remote workers to start to feel left out as office events begin to happen again. To prevent this 83% of HR leaders believe that appointing a head of employee experience will help firms be successful in creating a strong employee experience.
As well as professional support, business initiatives around enabling co-workers to support their colleagues have been hugely important. Through the provision of workshops, support groups and dedicated discussion times, companies created environments where employees could engage with others.
Now, balancing the needs of a hybrid workforce could lead to remote employees feeling as if their voice is not being heard. Combatting this will require a greater integration of technology into the working day. For example, ensuring meeting rooms are set up to support in-person and video dial-in can help make people feel included. Likewise, continuing to organise virtual coffees or meet ups can help foster relationships. Similarly, organising more formal workshops and support groups will not only help employees feel connected to the business, but also provide an environment for managers to learn more about their teams and what they need.
Mental health isn’t one size fits all
Before the pandemic, mental health, while being recognised by health professionals as a rising problem, was still not on the radar for many politicians or businesses. The pandemic forced it to the front of people’s minds, causing more action to be taken from firms and governments, such as the European Framework for Action on Mental Health. However, it is important to remember mental health treatment is not a one size fits all approach. Initiatives need to be constantly evaluated and improved over time.
A good place to start is providing access to support in the workplace. For example, at Freshworks we have been offering therapy and other services since 2017. However, businesses need to keep looking for new initiatives to help support employees’ mental health, such as offering staff duvet days, so workers can properly relax and switch off.
Businesses the world over have made progress towards creating a better employee experience during the pandemic. As companies establish form hybrid working policies, it is vital that the lessons learned during the pandemic are applied. By putting employee wellness at the centre of their offerings, it is possible for firms to lay the foundations for a productive and happy workforce.
Suman Gopalan, pictured below, is chief human resources officer at Freshworks