The pandemic has accelerated the transition toward remote work for many employees across most industries. However, this transition comes with its own set of challenges, and as the line between work and life is getting blurred out, it’s taking a toll on employee well-being.
The problem is compounded by recent staff shortages, which seem to be hitting many large industries. It’s common across many workplaces to hear people saying that they’re doing the job of two people — and much of the time, they’re probably right.
In a recent article for The Conversation, clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland stressed the importance of having a workplace well-being plan in place during these challenging times in order to provide a healthy work environment. What this means is that shaping a work environment that fosters worker health, safety, and psychological well-being. In return, organizations benefit through increased productivity and worker retention.
Employee wellbeing is defined as the overall mental, physical, emotional, and economic health of employees, which are directly impacted by their duties, expectations, stress levels, and working environments, as well as nonwork-related factors such as parenting or personal finances. According to recent market research, the corporate well-being market is now estimated to be $20.4 Billion in the U.S. and is forecasted to grow to $87.4 Billion by 2026.
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report on mental health listed three key recommendations to prevent mental ill health at work:
organizational interventions to identify, remove or mitigate psychosocial risks;
mental health training for managers to identify and support healthy work practices and healthy workers;
interventions for employees to increase their personal coping capacity.
However, Sutherland’s research suggests that most organizations only focus on the third point, meaning they begin to take worker wellbeing seriously only after they’ve noticed their employees getting burned out and losing productivity after consulting their employee tracker data.
Rather than being reactive, the psychologist advises organizations to be more proactive and reduce risks to workplace wellbeing such that incidents are prevented.
“Historically, many workplaces have focused on the last recommendation. But to focus solely on boosting individuals’ coping abilities can place the blame on the person and mask the impact of broader environmental factors,” Sutherland wrote.
“Our experience working with organizations suggests interventions that only target individuals and not the broader organization implicitly give the message that employees are to blame if they’re not “resilient enough” to cope with overwhelming workloads and unmanageable deadlines.”
“Individually focused interventions can also be met with cynicism and lack of buy-in from employees.”
Prevention is always better than the cure
Organizations that want to improve their workplace well-being should consider a few things. Perhaps the most important thing is regularly speaking to employees about what is stressing them. Every work environment presents its own challenges, so this information gathered through surveys or interviews can then be used to make a custom-built plant tailored to employees’ needs. However, managers should work together with the employees themselves. Involving employees in the design of the well-being plan will likely increase buy-in and improve the uptake of any interventions.
The psychologist also highlights the fact that non-work factors should not be omitted. Although some companies believe they’re not responsible for what happens during an employee’s off-time, the reality is that personal factors can have a huge impact on productivity. Examples of non-work factors may include financial stress, parenting, and relationship difficulties. Acknowledging these difficulties — basically cutting your employees some slack — can go a long way in fostering a sense of well-being when employees show up for work. More recently, the pandemic has given employers increased visibility into the life struggles of their employees and has shifted the focus from just organizational issues to individual human life experiences.
Things are rapidly changing in the workplace and organizations that are attuned to these changes and are quick to adapt will stand to benefit. Those that do not risk disintegration. As the talent marketplace continues to heat up, new hires expect their company to be more considerate and reflect values that align with their own.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.