As our working world and employees have adapted, it’s time that wellbeing strategies adapt too. We need to build back to better support employees as we look to a more positive future.
Employee wellbeing budgets
A recent news story in HR Magazine revealed that up to 75% of businesses will slash wellbeing programmes after pandemic – a sobering thought for anyone responsible for health and wellbeing programs in the workplace.
But, the source of the statistic – Gartner’s Support Wellbeing in 2021 and Beyond survey – spins the news slightly differently. It states that, although only one-quarter of organisations plan to maintain their wellbeing strategy introduced during the pandemic, “HR leaders should consider sustaining programmes beyond the pandemic due to the financial difficulties and lingering stress that will persist even after the outbreak subsides.”
Mental health emergency
There is plenty of evidence to support its concerns about ongoing employee health and wellbeing. Mental health charity Mind has warned that the pandemic will ‘leave a deep and lasting scar on the mental health of millions in this country’.
It’s easy to see why it’s issued this warning. Depression, loneliness and anxiety around issues such as health, household income and job security have affected many people during the pandemic. Grief is also common, with feelings intensified where families were unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
These mental health issues won’t switch off when someone gets the vaccine or can get back to the office. And even a phased return to normality is likely to trigger feelings of anxiety as people struggle with commuting, socialising and having to re-integrate and rebalance their lives once again.
Pandemic health experience
Similar issues have surfaced in previous health emergencies. The Royal College of GPs pointed to an increase in stress symptoms and adjustment disorders following previous pandemics. It’s preparing its members for a huge surge in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of COVID-19.
Higher suicide rates are common in health emergencies too, with Hong Kong reporting a 30% increase in suicide deaths among people aged over 65 during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Supporting employee health and wellbeing
With so much uncertainty, employees need the ongoing support provided by HR heroes and the organisational wellbeing strategies introduced during the pandemic. Still, they will also value the reassurance that their employer is continuing to support their wellbeing. Whipping away health and wellbeing programs in the workplace at a point when so many are experiencing a mental health crisis will send out some very negative signals.
So, rather than remove the support provided during the pandemic, now is a good time to reposition what’s offered. As well as resulting in a spike in mental health problems, the pandemic has also increased the public’s awareness of the importance of health. A survey by Public Health England found that eight out of 10 adults are motivated to make healthier lifestyle changes in 2021, with seven out of 10 saying this is down to the pandemic.
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