(Post)pandemic employee wellbeing: Three trends we were happy to see in 2021
Flexible work is only part of the story. The pandemic has punched holes into the boundaries between work and life in many ways. By showing us how deeply our personal and professional lives affect each other, it has shaken the view of work as an insulated compartment within our lives.
More than ever, the people we coach are not OK with pretending their personal battles and family priorities don’t exist the moment they step into an office or virtual meeting room. Several studies show that, with burnout and mental health problems on the rise, people are increasingly willing to change jobs in search of caring cultures where they can comfortably disclose mental health conditions.
Employers are keeping up. They’re aware that it’s no longer enough to look after their employee experience – they must play a role in improving their life experience, too. Two separate studies, by Care.com and the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that 40% of US employers are expanding mental health benefits during the pandemic, and that’s just one example.
Our work at Urban Hatch is all about addressing private and professional challenges as two pieces of the same puzzle. A few years back, after two decades of helping parents (to be) as a midwife, I founded Urban Hatch to offer coaching and awareness-building programmes to companies. I realised that, to make it through tough times, people need to feel supported at home and at work.
It’s exciting to see this very human view of our professional lives becoming mainstream. Here are some examples of how we’re seeing this shift play out in the way organisations care for their people:
1. From box-ticking to driving change: a focus on impactful programmes
With a prolonged pandemic chipping away at people’s mental health, and strict travel restrictions putting people’s lives upside down (especially in many Asian countries) it’s getting harder for firms to retain talent and safeguard their wellbeing.
Employers are having to show their people that they’ve got their back, because telling them is no longer enough. They’re going the extra mile to build genuinely caring cultures, tweaking written policies and transforming the unwritten rules that govern day-to-day practices
How are they doing this?
- New support formats: Many of our corporate clients are moving from sporadic knowledge-sharing seminars that just about ticked the box, towards ongoing programmes and group coaching sessions designed to have a more perceptible impact. We recently held a group coaching session with eight new fathers at a large bank, who described the session as “life-changing”.
- Bringing managers in: There’s growing recognition that, to drive real change, managers need to be given the right tools. We’ve gone from helping expectant and new parents themselves transition into and out of parental leave, to also coaching their line managers on how to make that transition easier for their team.
2. From taboo to talked about: New issues on the agenda
From pets lurking in the background of Zoom calls to special work arrangements made in response to school closures, employees’ private lives are suddenly much more visible to colleagues. It has become OK to talk about the things that matter to us and expect empathy.
Things have gotten real, and this deeper connection is out of step with the hush hush way in which topics such as the menopause, infertility, miscarriage have been traditionally treated (or ignored, rather) at work.
Two client examples that illustrate this trend:
- Taboo topics on the agenda: Diversity and inclusion, HR and wellbeing teams have a growing interest in addressing previously stigmatised topics. Warrior Woman™, our (peri)menopause education and support programme is gaining traction, as more companies become aware that it’s not OK for women to suffer in silence. Fresh topics like this are also great at getting high engagement and participation rates among Zoom-fatigued workers who need some novelty to want to join “yet another” virtual event.
- Leaders are human too: Covid has made it clear that leaders have challenges of their own to navigate and are not immune to mental health problems. Firms who previously engaged us to train managers to lead with empathy and compassion, are now adding support sessions for leaders themselves.
3. From work-life balance to self-care: employee wellbeing redefined
The pandemic has been a collective self-care wakeup call. Employees are prioritising their wellbeing when choosing where to work. Westfield Health’s recent research showed that among people looking to move jobs, one third of them are doing so to protect and prioritise their mental and physical health.
Organisations are adjusting to this shift in several ways – from offering broader health benefits and better insurance, to adopting more flexible work arrangements to avoid burnout. In our line of work, we’re seeing a redefinition of “wellbeing” initiatives. The question is not just “how do we help people manage work-related stress”, but rather “how do we help people live sustainably and navigate life challenges”.
Two ways in which this shift is affecting employee support programmes:
- Ongoing wellbeing support: One-off knowledge sharing sessions about wellness don’t quite cut it anymore. Clients are asking us to design comprehensive and long-term wellbeing programmes that address mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing (anxiety in particular), and which combine awareness-building with group coaching and ongoing email prompts.
- Leaders modeling healthy living: As we mentioned in trends 1 and 2, leaders are being humanised and given a very active role in catalysing cultural change. Giving top leaders access to wellbeing training is becoming a priority so that they can not just encourage but also model healthy living and sustainable work.
It would be too simplistic to say that the pandemic is the single driving force behind these changes. But this historic collective experience has undoubtedly created fertile ground for workers and employers to rethink the meaning of workplace support. It’s inspiring to see HR teams, D&I professionals, advocacy groups and peers in the executive education and coaching finding silver linings in this crisis, and I couldn’t be more excited about what 2022 will bring.
Get in touch and learn more about how we’re helping organisations level up their employees’ wellbeing.