• Organizations must prioritize people and purpose over processes.
  • They must venture beyond traditional norms and explore creative solutions to support the workforce effectively.
  • Companies that prioritize employee well-being and experience will gain a competitive advantage as the world builds back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has changed the way businesses operate. Unprecedented work-life integration and social distancing have had a transformational impact on the employee experience. The pandemic has also provided a wealth of insights into employee wellness and how mental and emotional health in the workplace should be defined.

There is an urgent need for organisations to venture beyond traditional norms and explore creative solutions to support the workforce effectively. This includes developing and adopting a framework that is grounded in compassion, holistic wellness, meaningful interactions, and flexibility.

Here are a few ways in which businesses can safeguard the well-being of their employees.

360-degree wellness

Establishing a work-life balance in the current climate of uncertainty while coping with social isolation can have a negative impact on an employee's mental health. Companies are now met with a unique opportunity to break free from the archaic ideas of 'wellness' (which were primarily based on physical health) and strengthen their focus on mental health components. They need to revisit existing employee initiatives and identify measures to ensure the holistic well-being of their workforce.

Employees and their dependents should have frictionless access to professional healthcare services, including mental health support, and additional services like childcare, caregiving for the sick, and elderly care. Where possible, companies should consider offering employees paid days off and guidance about tangible self-care habits, like regular exercise and a nutritious diet. Engaging employees and their loved ones in health-focused initiatives like yoga and guided meditation sessions can also foster a sense of community and belonging.

COVID, workers, well, health

What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

Keeping workers well. It is the united aim of a global community influencing how companies will keep employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 testing? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure health at work for all employees?

Members from a diverse range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from over 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than 1 million employees are involved in the COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening ability to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches for returning to the workplace safely as part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, by joining the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare.

Learn more about the impact.

Feedback-based action

We have moved into an age where employees must be treated as stakeholders in the business. A well-intentioned initiative can have a detrimental effect on the workforce if it gets implemented without consulting them. Businesses can navigate this new normal with greater ease by engaging with their workforce to get their perspectives and to course-correct based on that feedback. Feedback mechanisms are useful because they lead to the democratisation of people processes.

When leaders make an effort to engage employees in the decision-making process, employees are more likely to feel valued and be more receptive to future policy revisions. For instance, decisions around returning to work should be made with employee input, suggestions, and concerns. This will allow companies to effectively address their queries, incorporate their recommendations, and ensure a less stressful progression towards reopening fully or a hybrid work system.

Communication

The uncertainty that came with the pandemic highlighted the need for open avenues of communication between employees and their managers. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company found that 47% of the respondents felt anxious when there was no clear communication from their firm about the future.

Going forward, companies must ensure that employees have access to regular and credible information on policy, workflow processes, and broader business decisions. Companies should also ascertain that information around mental and physical health is easily available to employees from a variety of independent sources. As the pandemic continues to take a toll on populations around the world, companies must ensure that employees are aware of pandemic protocols like mandatory testing and the importance of vaccination.

Employee engagement

Today, the workplace has become the primary sphere of social engagement. It is now an opportunity to connect with others, build relationships and find common ground. In this regard, support groups can be valuable in promoting a collective social identity and reassuring employees that they are not alone. A safe and judgment-free space with peers, led by diverse leadership, can encourage employees to share their experiences openly and find solutions together.

Empowering employees should also include giving them greater flexibility and autonomy at work. A 2020 study by global talent mobility platform Topia, found that self-directed work teams in the UK and the US displayed more engagement and helped improve the firm's profitability.

If organizations wish to give employees a greater sense of ownership and ensure retention of staff, they must adopt an outcome-oriented approach. This is more beneficial than gauging their performance merely against hours clocked.

Looking ahead

Organisations must prioritize people and purpose over processes to create a workplace culture driven by empathy and focused on holistic employee well-being. Though the lessons from the pandemic have been difficult to accommodate and adapt to, they will remain relevant in the post-COVID world.

Employees prosper and exceed their potential in organisations that value them as people and not just a means to a profitable end. They remember the support they receive during times of crisis and cultivate loyalty accordingly.

Organisations that continue to place employee well-being and experience at the forefront of their decisions will remain relevant and have a competitive advantage beyond the pandemic