As we gradually move out of the worst stages of the coronavirus pandemic, we are beginning to realize that COVID-19 has changed the world of work in at least three fundamental ways:
- The hybrid work model and its variations have quickly gained wider consideration and implementation.
- The topic of employee mental wellness has been destigmatized, and the need to expand employer-sponsored tools and programs to support mental health has expanded.
- The scope and quality of benefits employers are providing and employees are demanding has expanded; a recent employee benefits survey found that if people had to choose between a high-paying job and a lower-paying one with quality health benefits, 88% of employees would consider the lower-paying job.
These trends are a combined siren call to employers, warning that if they hope to thrive as we move out of the pandemic, they need to get flexible with their benefits. They need to effectively meet employees on their own terms to deliver the physical, mental, and emotional care and support employees need and want today.
Consider these top four 2021 work trends based on a Microsoft study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries:
- Flexible work is here to stay.
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wakeup call.
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.
- Gen Z is struggling and will need to be re-energized.
As a result, the report concludes that “extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.”
“Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing,” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, said in their report. “All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.”
More specifically, as companies redesign their wellbeing strategies for a more flexible post-COVID-19 workplace, it’s critical that they apply the same level of flexibility to help employees stay better connected with their mental health.
During the pandemic, roughly 2 in 5 U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder — up significantly from 1 in 10 who reported these symptoms in the first half of 2019. The rate is even higher for essential workers (42%) compared with nonessential workers (30%). It’s important to note here that a majority of essential workers are non-desk and front-line employees.
Meanwhile, company investment in what one study called “effective mental health initiatives” can return an average of just over $4 for every $1. Sadly, many employers haven’t gotten the news. As many as 40% of employees say their organization has not yet communicated any vision for post-pandemic work, and 28% say they only received vague information. A recent study by Unmind and WELCOA found that:
- Only 37% of employers feel they have a strong understanding of the mental health and wellbeing of their people
- Only 64% of employers have a strategy in place for specifically managing employee mental health and wellbeing
How can employers ensure their employee mental health programs are truly flexible — that they meet all of their workers, on their own terms? Meeting two goals will help:
- Enhance existing wellbeing resources with a variety of tools that can be accessed through channels employees actually use
- Adopt resources and communication strategies that will engage and be accessible to non-desk and service workers, as well as to computer-based employees
To reach those goals, employers can look for a solution that takes a four-part approach to employee mental health:
- Applies a whole-person, whole-organization mindset: A platform flexible enough to address today’s hybrid workforce needs to start from the position that the state of every person’s mental health has a ripple effect throughout the organization.
- Leaves no employee behind: Being flexible for employee mental health means empowering everyone to navigate their own situation, instead of offering treatment options only for the 1 in 5 U.S. employees who report having mental health concerns.
- Empowers employees and delivers practical insight to HR and wellbeing leaders: A successful, flexible employee mental health platform will give HR critical insight through: (1) outcome measures, (2) a variety of programs and tools, and (3) accessibility for everyone. It will empower employees with tools that include self-guided programs, in-the-moment exercises, daily diaries, and the receiving of gratitude and praise.
- Provides a human touch and is based on solid science: To reach people where they are — physically and emotionally — the optimal employee mental health solution will have experienced, dedicated client service specialists to support HR and employees. But it will also be built on solid science.
In short, the world of work has suddenly gotten more flexible, and the programs to nourish and support employees need to be flexible too. It’s the only option for staying competitive and building a great employer brand.