Everyone’s lives have changed over the past year. COVID-19 has seen people work remotely, in furlough, and many experience unprecedented amounts of stress - that's why social wellbeing needs to become a top concern for employers
With lockdown restrictions easing across the UK, employees are beginning to return to work and rebuild the networks they had left behind in March 2020.
While many employers may be considering the health of employees and the practicalities of keeping COVID at bay in the office, it’s also crucial not to forget mental health in the workplace – and particularly social wellbeing. Is this for employers to consider? Undoubtedly yes, here’s why.
A foundational pillar
It is generally considered that there are four pillars of wellbeing – physical, mental, financial and social.
While the first three are often focused on within a work context, the last should not be underestimated. All four impact each other, and if someone is struggling in one area, they may begin to struggle in the others too.
A 2007 study that looked at workplace resilience and the ability to positively adjust to adversity, found that nurturing professional relationships was a key characteristic of resilient employees.
Another study, by Officevibe, found that 70% of employees say that friendship at work is the most important element to a happy work life, while analysis by Gallup found that employees are 50% more likely to report high social wellbeing if they have a best friend at work.
Loneliness linked to burnout
Loneliness and poor social wellbeing has also been proven to have a negative impact on employees, with research showing loneliness at work is linked to burnout among managers.
However, social wellbeing is especially important in the light of the past year. Social interactions have changed to their core since March 2020, with remote working, two-metre social distancing, mask wearing and the stay at home order.
Over 20% of employees have said the pandemic has made them feel more lonely, according to a study by Westfield Health, while 52% said they feel less connected to colleagues since they have worked remotely. Given the importance of social wellbeing to resilience and happiness, it is crucial for employers to take steps to help rebuild that wellbeing as employees return to the workplace.
The furlough fog
But, not all employees will have had the same experience over the past year.
A study into furloughed workers found that 56% said their mental health had got worse due to being furloughed, while 61% said financial concerns were a source of stress, and 38% said their physical health had got worse.
That’s despite 83% of employers using multiple channels to regularly communicate with furloughed employees, according to research by recruitment firm Wade Macdonald and law firm Doyle Clayton.
While it was important to take steps to look after employee mental health during furlough and remote working, it’s also crucial to keep taking steps to ensure that employees can rebuild networks well.
Some employees will find stepping back into work and social interactions more of a challenge than others.
It’s a potential that furloughed workers might go through a ‘furlough fog’, where everything feels much harder and less clear than before. They may feel entirely disconnected with changes at work. Others might experience FOMO (fear of missing out), or overwhelm at changes in social dynamics.
Distance doesn’t have to mean disconnected
Research by TenSpot has also found that 75% of workers want to keep working remotely at least a few days a week after the pandemic is over. Some might combine the two – meaning employers need to think about a blended approach of both remote and in-person connection. It’s important to be mindful of this difference and to be flexible and compassionate in your approach to social wellbeing.
Communicating with employees via an engagement survey could create an open dialogue to see what people are struggling with and tailor responses accordingly.
Using a buddy system to ensure everyone is being included, or uniting over a common non-work goal like taking on an active challenge for charity can also be useful tools to re-engaging employees.
Try multiple methods of reintegrating people to cater to different needs, or make it optional so people can go at their own pace. Tech can provide support for employees so they become healthier, happier and more productive. It can also ensure that employers can take a blended approach to support their people, not least through challenges and social activity.
Social wellbeing is a key aspect of overall mental health and it can take time to develop, but what’s important as an employer is not to underestimate the positive impact they can make by considering how to reintegrate teams and create connection.
Personalised action plans, practical strategies and financial tips are all available to your employees exclusively on Tictrac to help them become happier, healthier and wealthier.
Find out how our Workplace Wellbeing platform can help your staff become happier and healthier at work.