How can businesses address the growing health and wellness needs of their employees brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
Throughout March 2021, Springwise will be exploring the five themes of B Corp Month, starting with how to be a better employer. Springwise, and our partners at Re_Set, are both proud Certified B Corporations.
Are your workers sitting comfortably? Chances are, they’re not.
In April 2020, amidst the first UK lockdown, the Institute of Employment Studies conducted a survey to track the changes in the wellbeing patterns of employees working from home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over half of the survey respondents reported new musculoskeletal pains, with 58 per cent complaining of neck pain and 55 per cent with back pain. And this doesn’t include the 498,000 Workers already reported to be suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (new or longstanding).
With normal working habitats being shut down, and employees being relegated to the kitchen table, the sofa or even a child’s bunk bed, it comes as no surprise that, for many of us, our new make-shift home-working set-up has had negative consequences on our physical health and mental resilience.
On a recent Friday morning in the lead up to B Corp Month, the team at the next-generation, B-Corp Certified strategy consultancy Re_Set met with the startup Outliers Wellbeing (B Corp pending) to explore the issue of wellbeing and its many manifestations, in an organic, non-intrusive but altogether introspective and enlightening way.
“It enabled us to open up in a safe space on a fairly sensitive topic,” says Emma Nineham, a Director at Re_Set. “This was a great step back from the day to day and an opportunity to do something together as a team within today’s virtual world.”
It’s not often that CEOs and interns (and everyone in between) come together to discuss their aches and pains, anxieties and coping mechanisms. Indeed, for many, the prospect of sharing and bearing with their boss would be more than a little awkward.
But the opportunity to do just that in an informal, non-hierarchical setting raised important issues around communication within the workplace and how this “new normal” of digital connection and physical separation has impacted the way in which we interact with one another.
There is no doubt that the transition to online working has fundamentally disrupted the way employees and employers communicate. In a recent Gartner snap poll, 76 per cent of human resources leaders reported that the top employee complaint during the coronavirus outbreak involved “concerns from managers about the productivity or engagement of their teams when remote.”
New hires may be struggling the most, according to research by Slack. Whereas long-serving employees enjoy the benefit of having already forged social and professional relationships within the physical context of their company environment, the newly hired individuals entering into a totally virtual world of work lack this advantage.
Instead, many of those newly remotes are faced with the challenge of “getting to know” colleagues through the digital interface, attempting to negotiate a colleague’s tone of voice through hurriedly scribed e-mails, or a brief exchange with a co-worker before the signal drops out. While a virtual team lunch may sound appealing, the reality for those who have not had the luxury of meeting their colleagues in the flesh for a friendly cup of coffee or a quick lunch run may conversely feel shy to speak up and command the attention of fifty-odd faces on Zoom, leading to a greater sense of loneliness and isolation.
And yet, in spite of these challenges, the likelihood is that remote working will continue to be an integral component to professional life. With this in mind, businesses simply cannot carry on as usual but must prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.
One Size Does Not Fit All
In a recent report by Deloitte on remote collaboration, the consensus was that in order for a company to continue “creating value”, it must acknowledge the “unprecedented fusion of work and private life” that employees are now facing and, under these circumstances, make a greater effort to “understand, accept and support their employees’ specific situations and needs”.
In other words, there cannot be a one size fits all approach to mental and physical wellbeing. Consequently, a company’s communication with its employees must be attentive, reciprocal, and tailored to the individual in question.
On the ground, this means companies should consider laying clear boundaries as to what is required of their colleagues while also explicitly encouraging them to schedule their breaks where needed, take time out to get some Vitamin D.
Managers should also avoid the temptation to micromanage. While the lack of visibility into workflows and daily routines can induce a feeling of anxiety in those trying to run the show, it is about striking the right balance between being on call to provide support and advice, but also granting employees the agency to fulfil work requirements in the way that works for them.
Speaking to Springwise, Amber Hinds, the CEO of the B-Corp Certified website development agency Equalize Digital, says: “We believe in being present for our clients, but we also believe in taking afternoons off to watch a school play, Friday happy hours at a local brewery, and weekends camping in the woods.”
She added: “We believe that these employment policies help to make Equalize Digital a better employer, but also strongly contribute to our employees’ job satisfaction which brings the company better results as a whole, and hope to inspire other business owners in our industry to take similar steps.”
Offering True Flexibility
Indeed, many companies have already jumped on the bandwagon. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese tech firm Fujitsu, which was recently featured by Springwise, is cutting its office space by 50 per cent and has introduced the “Work-Life Shift” campaign, giving over 80,000 Japanese employees unprecedented work flexibility. The initiative includes a “Smart Working” principle that offers employees the option of planning their time around the contents of their work, their role within the company and their lifestyle.
It is clear that by endorsing a flexible work environment and communication structure, companies can further facilitate a culture of mutual trust and engagement. Employees who enjoy greater autonomy will feel more empowered, more valued, and therefore more accountable which in turn leads to greater commitment and investment.
Springwise Innovations — Worker Wellness
Holistically speaking, the concept of wellbeing then is as much an individual imperative as it is a collective responsibility: the wellbeing of an organisation – its sustainability, resilience, endurance and its functionality – cannot be nurtured without first oiling the individual cogs in the wheel.
A culture in which communication is open, clear and explicit, is also one in which, according to Tom Allen, co-founder of the B-Corp Certified travel company Pura Aventura, ”everyone has stewardship.”
With the unprecedented growth of remote working, it is vital that companies consider the adjustments they need to make to foster open and reciprocal relationships with their employees. In the words of Outliers, which rallied the team at Re_Set from their pre-coffee Friday morning stupor: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
Our Better Business series aims to provide actionable takeaways for companies and entrepreneurs looking to bring more purpose to their work and create positive change within and beyond their sectors.
Written by: Tabitha Bardsley
3rd March 2021