Taking a proactive approach to mental and physical wellbeing of employees in a time of isolation

Stressed homeworker

Amid all the lockdown uncertainty, the one constant throughout this challenging period for businesses has been the need to quickly adapt to significantly disruptive change.

And in order to successfully promote the mental and physical wellbeing of employees, it is more important than ever that employers adapt to this change far quicker than they expect their workers to.

In fact, a recent report from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has revealed the UK workforce unsurprisingly has many issues weighing heavy on its mind, and that there is still a measurable proportion of workers that are struggling with the transition almost two months into lockdown.

More than half of the survey respondents reported new aches and pains related to home working, with 64% reporting a loss of sleep due to worry and 48% reporting working patterns that include long and irregular hours.

The report also showed that a third of employees are eating a less healthy diet, and as much as 60% acknowledged that they are exercising less. But perhaps most worrying of all, half of all respondents reported being unhappy with their current work/life balance; with a third feeling isolated, and 21% worried about job security.

Top takeaways for employers to consider

Based on these findings, the report has suggested the following actions for employers:
• Ensure that the home office set-up is safe and ergonomic and that employees are mobile and undertake regular exercise
• Provide mental health support via informal messaging groups, virtual coffee mornings, access to assistance programmes and via regular contact with bosses and colleagues
• Focus on ‘high risk’ groups – financial concerns, eldercare, those struggling to adjust, those prone to feelings of isolation, those at risk of domestic abuse
• Rethink performance targets and monitoring, involve employees in decisions about reorganising work and reallocating tasks and priorities

The growing importance of forward planning to pre-empt major change

The first step to adapting to change is forward-planning, and to have an agile and flexible business model that is able to seamlessly implement major changes with minimal disruption. Modern businesses at the head of the pack would have already ensured that all staff have access to the data and systems that they require to do their jobs proficiently from their home office setup.

This includes cloud-based software that creates a virtual office environment for remote working. Another key aspect for any IT department is to ensure that all other operational tools and procedures are all set up in such a way that they can be accessed and worked upon remotely, i.e. desk phones should be routed through mobile apps, and a VPN should be ready to access.

It is also essential to regularly test disaster recovery systems in order to ensure that any fundamental flaws are identified and addressed to enable an entire workforce to work remotely at the drop of a hat. But it goes beyond that. When it comes to remote working, employers should enable their staff to replicate the office environment, by encouraging them to take as much office equipment as they need to make their home offices more comfortable.

Of course, this is just the first step in a marathon to regularly gauge and monitor employee wellbeing and happiness.

Remote support

Once the systems and processes are in place and work well in theory it is essential to remember that it may be difficult for staff to adapt to the new set-up, from an emotional and physical perspective. For this reason, any employer’s focus on staff wellbeing should be stronger than ever and in this period of remote and virtual living, companies should take extra steps to make sure that remote and virtual emotional support platforms are accessible to all of their staff members.

An effective approach could be to offer confidential online access to Q&As with a certified therapist, emotional coaching sessions, and online therapy sessions if the need arises. To keep employees happy and productive, another useful tool to strike the right balance is continuous performance management software that enables remote workers to rate how they are feeling to provide line managers with more context and a better overview of the performance of an employee that they do not engage with regularly on a face-to-face basis.
This approach will enable senior management to analyse data and to spot trends that could assist them in painting a clearer picture of who may fall into a high-risk group, and to take the appropriate action to assist them in a discreet and professional manner. What’s more, it also helps managers to determine whether performance targets are fit for purpose or whether they need to be relooked and adapted to reflect the current conditions employees are working under.

A work / life balance is difficult to maintain when at home on an almost 24/7 basis. As a result, regular breaks away from the screen to spend quality time with loved ones should also be encouraged. And to get fitness levels up while encouraging some good-natured competition, employees should be motivated to join social fitness networks too.

The future of work

Very few would debate the fact that almost every single worker in the UK has had to dramatically adapt their lifestyle and routine to accommodate a new work / life balance amid the Coronavirus lockdown. From my own personal experience, I have learnt that if you do it properly, home working really does work just as effectively as onsite working and when we finally come out of lockdown, Tempcover will certainly consider the remote working option, while always placing the health and wellbeing of our employees at the top of every decision that we make.

About the author
In 2006, Alan Inskip had a lightbulb moment – an insurance provider that can offer truly flexible cover for the time drivers actually need. No long-term commitment, no auto-renewals, just the cover they want for the time they need. The UK’s first InsurTech company, Tempcover, was born the next day. Alan sets himself apart from other InsurTech business leaders, as he is an experienced insurance broker whose parents spent more than 40 years in the industry too. As a result, Alan has since grown the business into a market-leader and is today responsible for overseeing company strategy, policy and performance.