While the impact of COVID has lifted employee wellbeing up the corporate agenda, it has also fundamentally shifted the way we think about our employees, the support they need and how to best communicate with them. As a result of this shift, employers are starting to re-think the benefits they offer their people. This evolution will continue as more work places open up again and we map out the new hybrid way of working.
Using findings from our survey of 10,000 employees that was carried out in Autumn 2020, I analyse the top five areas where COVID has impacted employee wellbeing and what benefits employers should be considering to better manage wellbeing within their organisations in response to changing employee demands.
1. Communicating effectively during Covid
During a time of huge uncertainty with many employees working on their own at home, continuous and meaningful wellbeing communication between employers and their people has been critical. Unfortunately, the results of our survey showed that this was not the case in many organisations.
Over half of employees felt they received little or no wellbeing related communication from their employer. This presents an ongoing challenge for companies who are looking to embrace flexible hybrid working in the longer term and also for those industries who have workers without regular access to email. For all firms, more effective communication should be a top priority.
The key objectives for a clear communication strategy is to ensure messages are received in the way they are intended, are understood and any calls to action are clear. In terms of delivery, employees told us that personal one to one meetings and emails with advice were the preferred communication methods. This was followed by trusted internet sites and online seminars.
2. Reaching the hardest hit
All of us have experienced heightened health concerns either for themselves or for loved ones over the past year. Our survey showed that early career professionals have taken the hardest hit in terms of their mental and physical health.
We found that large numbers of young people were affected by Covid with 31 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds reporting a positive diagnosis, and 35 per cent reporting a physical health problem or concern. In addition, 60 per cent of people between the age of 16 and 24 reported a mental health problem or concern, compared with just over 20 per cent of those aged between 55 and 64.
More broadly, employee concerns have shifted from their own physical and mental health to that of their loved ones and the need for convenient care and support has rocketed. As they continue to be impacted by the virus, we encourage employers to place greater emphasis on benefit strategies that give employees the option to include additional cover for partners and dependents.
3. Solving for the haves and have nots
Covid has created a divide between those that have coped okay and have had finances positively impacted and those who have found themselves in severe difficulty. On average, 1 in 4 employees (25 per cent) report feeling concerned and negative about their finances and that they can’t cope in the last couple of days before pay-day. At the same time, we have found that more than six million employees have found it easier to save than normal during the pandemic, through a combination of reduced spending, reduced indebtedness and increased savings.
The gap between the haves and have nots has widened and employers can play a key role in helping employees to build knowledge and awareness of how to save more, including promoting workplace savings schemes, while at the same time rewarding those who are putting additional savings into pensions through incentive schemes.
4. Shifting employee priorities
Understandably we have seen a change in the value placed on different employee benefits over recent months. Pensions remains the most valued employee benefit followed by flexible working. Given the negative impact on health and increased remote working, it is not surprising that providing office snacks has dropped out of the top three to be replaced by life insurance.
Our findings showed that pensions are the most commonly provided benefit (given auto enrolment) and two in five said they value / would value workplace savings options. When building a wellbeing strategy, it is critical to consider the value placed on certain benefits by your workforce to ensure you are meeting their needs.
5. Building a valued workforce
Making sure that employees feel valued and cared for is crucial as we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic and adjust to the new future workplace. Communicating for change as well as providing regular business as usual updates will be critical in helping employees to feel part of this transition.
To achieve this, it is important that employers build a robust wellbeing communication strategy into their workplaces going forward. This will involve listening to employees so that they can develop and communicate a programme that will best respond to both urgent and longer-term needs.
Ultimately it is the companies that make their people feel safe and secure in their jobs now that will see the higher levels of employee retention once the effects of the pandemic begin to ease and employees begin to have more confidence in their future prospects.