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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Supporting employees' wellbeing

Posted on 20th May 2020 at 13:35pm

During the Covid-19 crisis, it is crucial that organisations develop a well-defined strategy that will support the wellbeing of the people who work for them, not just now, but thinking ahead to what will be a new normal for us all, writes Helen Moore, an independent occupational psychologist.

While the majority of organisations will be concentrating on adapting to meet new requirements at pace during this global pandemic, the people who help make that happen are likely confronting their own versions of the crisis, in ways they have never had to do before.

Even the most resilient of employees who work well under pressure will have been affected in some way by the effects of Covid-19 – psychologically, emotionally, financially and socially. We are living and working differently and when these two fundamental aspects of our lives are disturbed at the same time, it understandably has a far-reaching impact on our wellbeing.

Many are working remotely when they never had to before. A large percentage will also be working while children are at home, or in an environment that is not conducive to working as productively, facing constant and conflicting distractions. Some will have caring responsibilities and some will have lost loved ones. Others are facing uncertainty every day by coming into contact with the public, with the added challenges and risks that the virus presents.

Then add to the mix that we can’t socialise like we did before and usual coping strategies to support wellbeing aren’t as readily available. Many of your people will feel socially isolated, and for those living alone, this may present a greater impact on their wellbeing.

Owing to these fundamental changes in how your people are now having to live and work, their emotional and psychological resilience will have been – and will continue to be – put to the test.

To use an example, a person who lives alone and worked in a close-knit team environment every day at their place of work. They had an active social life and played team sports and went to the gym to help maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Owing to Covid-19, they now work remotely at home every day and the only social interaction is via telephone and video calls. They can no longer go to the gym, play team sports or physically socialise with friends and colleagues. Very quickly, this person has experienced major changes to both home and work life. While they have no choice but to adopt the changes, they face increased feelings of loneliness, isolation and don’t have access to their usual wellbeing coping strategies. This affects physical and mental wellbeing; they don’t sleep as well, they start to feel anxious, detached and unable to concentrate. This then further impacts on the quantity and quality of work they can produce.

Wellbeing strategies

Now consider that every person in your organisation is very likely facing a myriad of work and home life challenges that will be affecting their wellbeing at this time. As people and their situations are uniquely different, so will be the effect on their wellbeing. Now think about how that will affect each person in the short and longer term, and your organisation as a whole.

You might be thinking that you already have an established wellbeing strategy in place and you have reminded your people about the importance of maintaining their wellbeing during this time. However, as we progress through this crisis, what many organisations have in place now is unlikely to be enough.

Organisations will need to make sure that they have carefully and robustly re-assessed the potential effect on their people’s wellbeing. Existing strategies and practices will not necessarily be fit-for-purpose, providing guidance that no longer addresses the change in working practices or the way we live and work. Extra assistance may also be required to support your people to address the challenges they have faced and the impact of Covid-19 on their wellbeing, so they can navigate their way back and work effectively in the organisation.

When re-assessing your organisation’s wellbeing strategy, consider that it should involve a comprehensive wellbeing review to ensure it meets the needs of your people and aligns to your organisational requirements. Including your people in the review will further ensure you achieve an inclusive approach that puts your people at the heart of your strategy. How it is communicated and how messages will be received by your people are also key considerations. Never has there been a greater need to integrate the specialism of Occupational (Organisational) Psychologists into your organisation to ensure your most valuable asset, your people, are able to respond effectively as your organisation picks up pace into what will undoubtedly be a new normal for the majority of individuals and organisations.

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