Health and wellbeing programmes used to be a “nice to have” for many organisations, but the pandemic elevated its importance. Research by EY found that two thirds (67%) of UK Asset Management firms are increasing their focus on employee mental health and wellbeing, highlighting the toll that Covid-19 took on staff. The pandemic reminded us that nothing is more important than health, and employees expect more from workplace wellbeing practices as a result.
Employees may be experiencing burnout from an arduous 18 months, remain fearful about what the future holds, or be reluctant to return to previous ways of working. Deloitte also estimates that poor mental health costs UK employers £45 billion each year. So, supporting employees with their wellbeing is not only a moral imperative – but a business one too.
Organisations need to ensure that wellbeing programmes support the chaos left behind by Covid-19 and are future-proofed for the healthcare challenges ahead. The following elements are worthwhile considering when modernising businesses wellbeing practices:
The role of artificial intelligence (AI) soared in the pandemic and one area was supporting with mental health. A survey by Oracle found that 82% of people believe robots can support their mental health better than humans, and 68% said they would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work. Chatbots have also been found to improve mental resilience, with 45% of users in one study reporting a reduction in their depression.
AI can help in numerous ways – from providing employees with information about mental health coping mechanisms, to automating workplace tasks into digestible chunks. It plays a valuable role in enabling employees to seek answers to their concerns, without fear of judgement or reprimand.
AI also helped with physical health during the crisis, supporting employees with exercise programmes. Where physiotherapy wasn’t available face-to-face, for example, AI could support with rehabilitation exercises. It enabled employees to keep on top of their physical health, track goals and monitor results. AI proved its value during the pandemic, and its role in health and wellbeing is only set to increase in the future.
Even though levels of anxiety around the pandemic have decreased, in part due to the vaccination programme taking effect and lockdown restrictions easing, feelings of loneliness and not coping well have increased. Some employees may continue to work from home and feel isolated, missing out on the comradery and water-cooler moments that can happen in an office.
It’s important for businesses to check in on their employees regularly, to ensure that their health and wellbeing remains paramount. Some organisations have continued social Zoom calls, ensuring interaction and non-work conversations still take place. Employees expect more from organisations with monitoring and supporting their wellbeing, so businesses that check in regularly are likely to benefit from a more engaged workforce.
Offer greater benefits
More than just discounted gym membership and free fruit Fridays, businesses could benefit from considering what else employees want from their health and wellbeing packages. Some organisations, such as General Electric, enable a section of its workforce to take unlimited days off. This, in part, is to encourage employees to take time off when they really need it and don’t come into work when sick. Other organisations have ramped up private medical insurance packages, to ensure health concerns that were put on the backburner during the pandemic are promptly addressed.
The Covid-19 crisis put health and wellbeing firmly back on the map. How businesses support it, through benefit packages and policies, will be more important now than ever before. Businesses need to consider how to modernise their wellbeing practices, to ensure continued support for employee health – which is particularly important in the aftermath of the pandemic.