While confusion, unrest, and uncertainty remain, what is certain is that safety programs and employee well-being initiatives are finally having their day as essential to business operations. Employers and employees are struggling to know what the new world of work will be post COVID. Returning to full operations is complicated with many components to consider. The decisions aren’t easy, and the bottom line is that there may not be an approach that works for everyone at your organization. As your plan continues to evolve, the needs, health, and safety of all stakeholders must be considered and all employees need to feel heard and supported, regardless of the decisions made. It is essential that business do not rush back to normal or ‘work as usual before COVID.’
Too much has changed and will never be the same for any of us. Instead, business leaders need to take the time to learn what the new normal could be and consider the possibilities. This plan needs to be fluid as everything continues to evolve and change. Life altering changes are still being experienced worldwide. Individuals, society, and businesses all went through major disruptions, and business as usual is not reasonable especially if too hastily done. This is especially true if employees do not feel supported physically, emotionally, and psychologically during the decision-making process.
This quote in a recent article sums it up,
“Expecting people to just ‘return to work’ does not acknowledge the challenges and difficulties employees endured. Employers can’t expect employees to just pretend like we didn’t just live through a social catastrophe — especially as that catastrophe continues to unfold around the world,” Stanford University sociologist Marianne Cooper said. “Employers need to understand the employees returning to the office are not the same people who left…March 2020.” (America’s workers are exhausted and burned out)
What has been demonstrated though is that employees enjoyed the flexibility of remote work, and studies have found that this not only benefitted the employees and their families, but productivity increased thereby benefitting their employers too. However, for others, the team dynamics of in-person brainstorming, and project planning have been missed. It is difficult! However, keep in mind that requiring all employees to return to the office full-time can be detrimental. A recent study found that 40% of employees surveyed would seek another job if forced to return to the office full-time.
Also clear, is that the pandemic placed many employee groups at a clear disadvantage with women leaving the workforce at greater numbers, reporting higher levels of stress, and having difficulty with childcare and meeting child school needs. A Gallup poll found that stress and worry have been increasing over the last decade for adults in the USA and have exponentially trended upward since the pandemic. Concerns over the virus, sickness, social isolation, financial insecurity, and racial injustice all contributed to added stress. This is truer in the USA than in many other parts of the world such as Western Europe, that have safety nets for working parents.
These issues are not just employee’ issues to deal with on a personal level, but for leaders to address at the organizational level (Can burnout be prevented). Ensuring employee well-being, safety, security, and resilience and, addressing factors in the organization that impact these are critical. The good news is that many corporate leaders not only realize this critical need but are tackling the issues.
- Financial Stability, Benefits, Education, and Fair Wages
- Career Prospects, Learning Opportunities, and Skill Development
- Family and Community Welfare
- Organizational Culture and Climate
- Organizational Policies and Support Systems
- Leadership Development
- Psychological, Emotional, and Physical Safety and Well-Being
- Social and Collaborative Opportunities
- The Organization of Work and Work Schedules
- Purpose and Meaning
- Flexibility, Autonomy, and Voice
The business value for employee safety, well-being, and resilience is more apparent than ever. This value has always been true, but now can no longer be ignored. A paycheck alone is not enough, employees want, need, and expect more from their companies. An ecological model of well-being is essential to consider all elements of wellness and safety on both an individual and organizational level, such as:
Most experts agree that the business approach of focusing on profits alone has come to an end. Companies must take a vested interest in the well-being and safety of their employees not just for the sake of employee health and productivity, but because it is the right thing to do. A few of the essential learnings from the disruptors of 2020 and 2021 demonstrate our interconnectedness and the inextricable connection of organizational and individual well-being.
Below are just a few considerations to embrace the future of work, and foster a thriving and resilient workforce, which in turn ensures a thriving and flourishing organization. There is no denying this necessity as you continue to make decisions during this incredibly difficult time.
- Survey all employees regarding their concerns and issues
- Schedule focus groups to share and discuss experiences and needs
- Develop managers to realize the need for a resilient workforce
- Coach managers on the new skills needed to lead and support employees
- Coach managers/leaders on cultivating personal connections and listening skills for one-on-one conversations with their employees
- Ensure that resilience and well-being are considered, and initiatives implemented, and that support systems are readily available
- Communicate the value of well-being that embraces meaning, purpose and resilience
- Recognize the value of employee contributions
- Review benefits and boost mental health benefits, policies, and practices
- Cultivate a safe place to work, one that is not just physically safe, but psychologically, emotionally, and socially safe for all.
It’s a process, but a journey that organizational leaders must begin or foster. There are no other options. It is necessary to wade into the messy journey where the possibilities will become clearer. The river is flowing that direction. Leaders can decide to either get swept away with the changes or start rowing in the direction of the current.