In 2021, more than ever, it became imperative for organisations to focus on their employee wellbeing.
In 2021, more than ever, it became imperative for organisations to focus on their employee wellbeing. The year saw initial lockdowns, things opening up and a sense of normality for some, whilst for others a hesitation to return to pre-COVID ways of working. The hope is that things will continue to improve as we move into 2022. However, it’s clear that the last 18 months will have a significant impact on what work looks like moving forward.
So what does this mean for the mindset, performance and wellbeing of our employees? What do employers need to do to keep the welfare of their people front of mind? And how do employees move on from the challenging times we are hopefully leaving behind us?
1. Maintaining connection in a hybrid world will be key for employee wellbeing
If your organisation has embraced a hybrid way of working with some people regularly in the office while others work from home, finding ways to ensure your remote workers maintain their sense of connection with the business is critical. Where online meetings and social events were the norm at the peak of the pandemic, the temptation now is for everything to be ‘face to face if possible’ as we seek to fill the gap that these online interactions left. Taking steps to ensure that individuals feel part of the wider company and not isolated is crucial to the wellbeing of all employees.
In addition, those who are regularly in the office may benefit from proximity bias - with those working remotely at risk of being left out of the loop in terms of important updates, meetings, job opportunities, and promotions. As such, organisations should take steps to ensure this bias is acknowledged and addressed.
As hybrid working is likely to become the norm for many of us in 2022, organisations should understand that individuals may be at risk of feeling isolated or impacted by proximity bias. Having conversations with these individuals and those involved in their careers, will help to ensure they can thrive under the benefits of remote working, and organisations can maintain their culture and connection across all employees.
2. Mental health support will become an expected part of employee wellbeing
According to a recent CIPD survey, nearly 80% of organisations have experienced some stress-related absences in their employees over the past 12 months. The expectation is that this will continue to be a challenge in 2022, with the associated mental health challenges being a key area for organisations to focus on.
There are two areas that organisations can engage with when looking to support their employees' mental health. Firstly, consider providing external mental health support through health insurance or dedicated providers that offer therapy and counselling services. If this is not possible, providing employees with clear information around how to get support through the NHS (e.g. via their GP or the NHS IAPT service) is critical. The second area is through training a number of employees across the organisation to recognise and support mental health challenges. This can help to flag when individuals may be struggling and support them to get the help they need.
Ultimately though, organisations should be reflecting on how sustainable the current ways of working are within their organisation. Yes, providing additional mental health support is crucial, however significant culture change to remove some of the factors that are causing such levels of stress is the only way to improve employee wellbeing long term.
3. Now is the time to embrace psychological safety
It may seem counterintuitive, but the pandemic may actually have increased the feeling of psychological safety within the workplace. The shared experience of feeling particularly unsafe from a physical perspective led to many people opening up about these fears and sharing their struggles. Insights into individuals’ home lives and a general breakdown of ‘the norm’ has allowed people to be more open and able to share more intimate thoughts and feelings with their colleagues.
Psychological safety means that individuals feel they can take risks at work without feeling insecure or embarrassed and it has been shown to be crucial in allowing teams and individuals to perform at their best (you can read more about the research in this study from Google). It, therefore, makes sense for organisations to cultivate a more open environment that may have emerged thanks to the shared experiences over the past 18 months.
Of course in some settings, physical health risks, uncertainty around job security and what the future may hold has reduced the amount of psychological safety in the environment. If employees seem less open to challenging, sharing ideas, failing fast, or being honest, then it may be worth measuring psychological safety and making it an explicit target.
Key ways to improve psychological safety include asking for feedback, being open about failure, and ensuring everyone has a voice. We will be delving deeper into each of these and sharing more ways to improve psychological safety across your workplace throughout 2022.
In conclusion, 2021 was a year of uncertainty, change, and a move to ‘the new normal’. With 2022 looking like it will continue in a similar (but hopefully more stable) way, it’s important that organisations focus on getting hybrid working models right, prioritising mental health, and fostering psychological safety. These elements can help ensure you maintain the wellbeing and performance of your employees in a way that is impactful and sustainable.
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