The following was taken from a recent blumshapiro presentation, held on July 21, 2020. This piece was co-authored by Debra Wein, CEO of Wellness Workdays. For a recording of the webinar, please click here.
No event has impacted the economy with the suddenness and velocity as the COVID-19 pandemic, an event that hit seemingly overnight. In the span of about eight weeks, unemployment shot from under 4% to nearly 15%. Some economists claim that, due to misclassifications and discouraged employees who quit looking for work, the number was actually at 20% or more; a number comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. To put this in perspective, it only took 90 days for the unemployment rate to rise higher than it did in two years during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. There’s no way to spin it – the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis has been a traumatic event in countless other ways.
As organizations continue to grapple with the ongoing uncertainty and myriad of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, (along with a highly charged social, racial and political climate), it’s no wonder that Human Resources (HR) and employee wellbeing have taken center stage. Layoffs, furloughs, remote workers ,concerns about returning to worksites, health and safety, changing legislation, outdated polices and technologies are just some of the many areas that business leaders, HR departments and employees have had to adapt to all at once.
Employers and HR professionals would be well served in beginning to think beyond an organizational survival mode mindset to one of transformation (with the understanding that there are still many businesses fighting for survival). What can be gleaned from all of these changes and challenges that will provide opportunities to positively impact employee morale, wellbeing, retention and productivity—all of which directly impact overall growth and profitability of the business? Below are key areas for consideration in both HR and Employee Wellbeing:
5 Key Areas of HR to Be Thinking About
- Remote Work
- Perhaps the largest HR initiative in history and one where some employers and employees were more prepared than others is the massive shift from offices to a largely remote workforce. The challenges are many – adequate technology and cybersecurity; the loss of in-person collaboration and connection; managing employee productivity; and the blurred lines between home and work. However, employers are learning that when structured properly, the benefits of what was thought to be a nonstarter proposition because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” can provide a return that far outweighs the challenges – including eliminating stressful, time-consuming commutes, flexibility to manage both home and work demands, and reduced office/overhead costs, all of which impacts the ability to attract, retain and engage talent. Employers should ask themselves if they’re requiring all employees to return to the office, why? With clear guidelines, expectations and technology in place many employers are realizing that “face-time” doesn’t always equate to production!
- Employer Polices and the Legal Landscape
- FFCRA leave, leaves of absence, PTO, layoffs vs. furloughs, recalls, unemployment, safety (including infectious diseases control plans), telecommuting, travel – the list is seemingly endless when it comes to the amount of employment policies and legislative changes that employers are now having to manage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t yet dusted off your long-ago updated handbook now is the time! Handbooks (or as we call them Team Reference Guides) are a critical tool in ensuring that your employees are not only informed of the requisite state/federal laws and your policies but also your values and what makes your company a great place to work. Technology allows for a much easier process of designing, developing, communicating, updating and distributing Team Reference Guides vs. the paper-based, cumbersome and not-user-friendly handbooks of yesteryear.
- HR Technology
- “The Future is Now” has been a mantra for many companies but not necessarily when it comes to HR technology. 91% of SMB leaders say HR technology is critical or beneficial to their business, yet only 57% are currently using it. Readily available data for critical business decisions, consistent, compliant and efficient recordkeeping, and the opportunity for employees to access and update their own information are just some of the many reasons why an investment in HR technology is sure to provide an immediate and sustained return. Price points for SMBs are much more palatable as is the ability to “talk” to other financial and operational technologies. HR technology isn’t just for large companies anymore – if you’re still using paper folders and files now’s the time!
- Leadership Skills
- “Understood me…had my back…listened…cared…” These are just some of the words employees have used to describe the characteristics of great leaders in their work and personal lives. Now, more than ever, these Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills, especially self-awareness and empathy, have served leaders and cultures well in maintaining morale, resilience and engagement of employees. Employees trust and follow leaders who “get them,” which in turn creates the intrinsic motivation to give their very best. By incorporating EQ skills assessments and training into existing curriculums and development programs, organizations will be well prepared to develop future leaders and create the kind of culture that can weather crisis and yields results.
- Culture is what you do, not what your handbook or a plaque on the wall says it is. How you responded to the COVID-19 pandemic – and continue to respond and adapt – speaks volumes to both current and potential employees, as well as clients and customers, about who you are as an organization. Ask your employees – “how are we doing?” “How are you doing?” Seize opportunities for interaction, connection and collaboration – just be prepared to share and respond to the feedback!
New Perspectives in Work-Life Integration and Employee Wellbeing
- Employee Population Health Management
- The physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of employees has been tested like never before. The level of stress and anxiety brought on by economic and other uncertainty has been exacerbated by altered daily routines, less than healthy eating and exercise habits, and working more—not less. Employees managing underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and lowered immunity are considered to be at higher risk of complications associated with COVID-19. What this potentially means for employers is higher rates of absenteeism and lower productivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually. Companies that promote wellbeing save an average of $5.82 in lower absenteeism costs for every dollar spent on employee wellness programs. Higher job satisfaction, engagement and productivity have also been linked to employee wellness programs. Employers looking to implement such programs should be mindful of privacy issues and thus ensure that they enlist the support of a wellness vendor/partner or resource. Asking employees what’s important to them will also help to inform a successful program design and launch along with successful outcomes.
- Mental Health
- Research studies conducted during the first and second quarters of 2020 have revealed a troubling but not entirely surprising trend; the frequency of reported levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, along with a dramatic increase in the frequency of related prescriptions. Ginger, an online mental health resource provider, found that 88% of survey respondents reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress. 62% of those lost at least one hour of productivity and 32% lost at least 2 hours due to COVID-19 stress. Employers should take a holistic approach to wellness programs, programs that are no longer just about weight loss or nutrition but overall wellbeing including mental health.
- Building and Promoting a Resilient and Healthy Culture
- The ability to exhibit resilience during times of crisis and uncertainty starts with promoting a healthy culture, and employees are looking to employers to demonstrate their commitment to this. A 2018 Global Talent Survey revealed that over 50% of respondents would like to see more of a focus on wellbeing, as well as workplace flexibility and purpose. A study by United Health Care indicated that 73% of respondents say they would be interested in such initiatives if offered, while an additional 42% say they are “very” interested. Well designed and socialized programs promote stronger relationships at work, improvement in mental wellbeing, engagement and ultimately retention, productivity and morale. Effective wellness programs convey the following:
- The company cares about its employees.
- The company values the health of its employees.
- The company is offering a great opportunity.
- Employee participation is voluntary, and results are confidential.
- Employees who participate will receive an incentive.
- Employee data is safe and private.
Where to start? Don’t assume what your employees want and need – ask them! Utilize an expert (Employee Assistance Program, Resilience/Wellbeing coaches etc.). And leverage technology—employees expect it!
As we all continue to adapt and evolve through these unprecedented times so should our approach to HR and employee wellbeing. These two critical business areas are inextricably linked. “That’s the way we’ve always done things” isn’t a strategy for employers that are looking to remain competitive in talent and business. Now is the time to take a step back and begin thinking, not just about survival but transformation.