5 Wellbeing questions as employees return to work

 

Businesses in the UK have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Managing the initial lockdown and furlough of employees was a huge challenge, and now the complexity of returning to the office needs to be dealt with. 

There are currently over 9.6 million employees on furlough in the UK, and the number of us who are working from home is almost too high to count. Of course, getting everyone back into the office safely is being encouraged by the government (furlough has cost them £25 billion so far), but it comes with significant wellbeing challenges.

The role of HR has always been to champion the health and happiness of our employees, so it’s vital that they feel protected in their working environment, and supported by the business.

After speaking with all the HR professionals that we work with, we’ve set-out the five questions that we all need to consider as employees return to the office. 

1) Overall Wellbeing
Do your employees need to come back right now?

It’s important to ask yourself if it’s actually essential that all employees return to the workplace straight away, or whether they can continue to work from home so long as they have access to the right support? Consider your employees ability to work remotely. If they are coping well, and you’re confident that productivity is at the right level (many companies have seen increases during lockdown!) does it make sense to stagger their return to the office? It’s also important to consider whether they have a desire to stay at home during the ongoing health crisis? Happier employees are proven to be more productive.  In fact, some surveys have found that 60% of employees have stated they would like to work from home more often than they did pre-coronavirus, allowing them to save more money, and improve their work/life balance. 

 

2) Physical Health
Do employees feel safe returning to the office?

Making sure that the office environment is as safe as possible can be complicated, but it will ease the worries of your staff. This includes making plans for a gradual return to work that doesn’t include everyone coming in at once, ensuring some level of social distancing is possible, and that the right PPE materials and barriers are in place. Also consider how your staff travel to work – do you have a bike parking, lessening the need for public transport? What about your vulnerable employees – how will you manage their return to work? The government has released a Working Safely During Coronavirus guide that explains what you need to do to protect your staff as they return.

 

3) Mental Health
Do your employees feel supported and listened to?

Speaking with your staff about coping during coronavirus, is essential to understand their ideas, concerns, or worries they have about returning to the workplace. How can you be more flexible or accommodating to alleviate their fears?

As well as getting their feedback, be sure to let them know all the steps that you’re taking as a business to protect them. For some employees, the office environment was a key part of their wellbeing, and if your company is looking to continue working from home, how will this impact the people who were looking forward to going back into the office? For others, working from home gives them the time and space to improve their mental wellbeing and they may be anxious to come back into a physical location. 

 

4) Financial Health
Do you know how your employees are coping? 

Think about the past few months – many people have been struggling with a great deal of stress and anxiety about what the future holds for their finances. Can you support them in more meaningful ways with coaching and guidance while facilitating a smooth return to work? During coronavirus we have seen the household income for many employees fall and the amount of unpaid bills increase. Even if your staff have not been impacted directly, their family members may have, affecting the financial security of the entire household.

Financial wellbeing impacts both individuals and businesses, with 94% of employees saying they worry about money, and three quarters admitting it impacts their work. This means that c.15% of a company’s payroll costs can be lost due to the effects on productivity, engagement, and retention from poor financial health. If you’re interested to find out more about this issue, we’ve written a guide about it here.

Implementing a financial wellbeing benefit can provide the tools your employees need to deal with the aftermath of coronavirus, but also prepare them for financial uncertainty in future. Having the tools to budget better, set financial goals, understand financial protection (e.g. life insurance, income protection), and get 1:1 support from an expert, can have a huge impact on their wellbeing. Indeed, this kind of support can give them the confidence to get on with their work knowing they’re financially prepared for whatever the future may hold.

 

5) Finally
What has your wellbeing engagement been like over the past 5 months? 

The ongoing disruption, to your business and the lives of your employees, makes it a good time to review how your mental, physical, and financial wellbeing benefits (where you have them) have been supporting your employees. Have your existing products and benefits done a good job at assisting your employees or have they fallen short? Take a look at employee usage and get feedback from your employees. If it’s not hitting the mark, now may be a good time to improve what you have in place. 

If you don’t have anything in place, many companies have found that COVID-19 has been a catalyst to fast-track new wellbeing initiatives. There may be no better time to deliver new solutions to your employees to support them when their needs are the most acute.

 Despite all the uncertainty about what work will look like in the future, and not knowing exactly when or if we will all be back in the office, planning strategically now is the best way to ensure that when the time comes, your company is ready. If you’re a HR manager or part of the leadership team, then you can shape what returning to work looks like. It’s been a truly unprecedented and complicated time in recent months, but finding the right ways to support the wellbeing of your employees at this moment could be the difference between those companies that thrive and those that falter.

Financial wellbeing with Bippit: Recent research from PwC found that 1 in 3 employees say access to an unbiased financial coach is the No.1 program they want to see introduced. If you want to learn more about Bippit’s services and how we deliver the best financial care to your employees, you can find out more here.