Flexibility and empathy are the key to employee wellbeing in the new normal, and participative technology-driven wellbeing plans need to be part of your HR strategy.
The pandemic changed the way we work overnight. Meeting room brainstorming gave way to team video calls and watercooler conversations shifted to instant messaging. But the changes ran much deeper: The pandemic brought with it fear and uncertainty — over health and safety, jobs and finances — along with long periods of social isolation and lockdowns.
Soon after the world shifted to WFH, organizations realized they would have to engage differently with employees in this new normal, characterized by incessant video calls, a blurring work-life divide, and intensifying physical and mental health problems. They would have to take care of employees’ holistic Wellbeing needs — virtually this time.
Many companies took an agile approach to addressing employee wellbeing needs, taking their inputs and adopting and reworking wellbeing programs to incorporate new, dynamic elements. While companies had already started shifting from a curative to a preventive model in the last few years, the new reality accelerated this shift and adoption of employee wellbeing programs in Corporate India. Here are some of the things organizations are doing and some they can do better to ensure employee wellbeing in a remote working environment:
It’s all about flexibility and empathy
The first line of support to ensure employee wellbeing came in the form of WFH and flexibility. Most companies kept the wellbeing plans flexible, allowing for personalization at the team level. Leaders took the lead by being more empathetic and transparent with their teams. Team leads were asked to connect more often with team members to gauge their wellbeing needs. Managers were asked to ease off the pressure of presenteeism and focus on tracking deliverables vs time spent ‘logged in’ at work. Flexible and/or reduced hours and blocked calendar hours were thrown in for good measure to help employees address their own, parenting, and elder care needs.
Building a human connect — virtually
Organizations started using online communication platforms such as Teams and Zoom to engage more innovatively with the workforce. Team leads were encouraged to organize weekly coffee connections and lunch get-togethers, birthday and festival celebrations, games and fun — all virtually. Leaders started having more frequent connections (weekly or fortnightly) with their teams, sharing updates on operational matters and COVID-19-related initiatives and answering top-of-mind questions from employees. To keep employees engaged, companies came up with innovative formats for leadership webinars and discussions, recognition and reward events, L&D sessions, volunteering opportunities, etc.
Wellbeing programs: Personalization and technology are key
Many organizations are implementing wellbeing programs for their employees. According to the RoundGlass Wellbeing at Work Survey 2020-21, more than 50% of organizations offer benefits such as health screenings and health awareness or meditation sessions to employees. Sixty-five percent of the organizations find it challenging to elicit employee participation in wellbeing programs, with only 24% having an average employee participation rate (EPR) of more than 50%. To increase EPR, companies need to take employee inputs while designing programs, personalize initiatives, and use technology. Many organizations are adopting wellbeing platforms, apps, and gamification, etc, to deliver one-on-one expert-led coaching programs on nutrition, fitness, lifestyle management, and emotional wellbeing.
An effective wellbeing program should be part of the company strategy — it needs to be documented, budgeted for, have a team to run it, and use data and technology as enablers.
Leaders also need to inculcate a culture of wellbeing by participating in these programs and championing the cause of wellbeing. While leaders and HR of organizations are doing this, line managers don’t always follow suit. This needs to be addressed as supervisors have a big influence on the workforce and could contribute to improving the EPR in wellbeing programs.
COVID-19 care and wellbeing at the core
The onslaught of the pandemic has been such that even the toughest of us needed help and empathy in large doses. Many organisations also formed COVID-19 support and resource groups to facilitate access to medical facilities, critical medicines, and ancillary support such as home nursing and meals for patients.
Organizations are increasingly viewing employee wellbeing through the broad lens of holistic Wellbeing. As things open up in varying degrees, some companies are making a permanent shift to WFH, while many others are moving to a hybrid model. In either case, physical interaction is likely to remain low for a long time to come and flexibility and empathy will need to be permanent fixtures in any employee wellbeing strategy.
Also, to deliver true wellbeing to employees, HR leaders need to adopt a participative technology-driven wellbeing program and keep employee wellbeing at the core of all their decisions and the organizational culture.