Helen Kelleher seeks out expert advice on actions employers can take to ensure worker wellbeing is prioritised in their strategic plans

Employee wellbeing needs to be at the top of the corporate agenda and by this we don’t just mean exercise and healthy eating but a redefining of physical wellness to encompass the wide spectrum of the different wellbeing areas.

Traditionally, wellbeing programmes were built around topics such as mental health, nutrition and exercise; however, on the back of 2020 and 2021, people are looking for these and more assistance around sleep, communication, time management and work/life/parenting as a result of remote working.

Ibec, the group that represents Irish business says organisations are embedding wellness into business strategies – their most recent survey showed that 44% of organisations explicitly included wellbeing in their business strategy compared with 26% last year.

Kara McGann, head of social policy, Ibec, said: “In the early days of the pandemic it was about how do we support people with practicalities, such as the tools to work remotely and the flexibility they needed to do it.

“Then the focus was on mental health and managing it. As the lockdowns continued, the focus shifted to include social wellbeing too as over time we have seen homeworking give rise to a sense of isolation, burnout, lack of morale and people feeling they were missing out.

“That social connection which brings us together and strengthens us as individuals is missing for a lot of people. And that connection strengthens the business too in terms of retention and productivity. That casual interaction of the office is gone. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’ now we know it is a ‘must have’ and something we have to pay attention to because if we don’t engagement, creativity and innovation all suffer.”

Employees, said Kara, need to feel valued and respected so while companies usually mark events such as new babies, big birthdays and retirements now many are sending out care packages to their employees, and at times like Christmas and Easter too to boost morale.

“It’s a way of saying we may not be together but we are all part of the same team,” said McGann. “We are building for a new world of work which will play an increasingly important role in preparing the economy for emerging competitiveness challenges.”

The key areas of HR investment planned for the next five years include investment in employee wellbeing, investment in the physical workspace and equipping managers to manage dispersed teams.

Flexible workspace specialists Glandore are witnessing this first hand. Their head of marketing, Henry Daly, said their employee wellness programme focuses on three main areas – Grow in Life, Grow in Body and Grow in Mind, delivered through exclusive webinars, on-site seminars, exercise classes and pamper days across their nine locations.

Through the programme, Glandore hosts events such as yoga classes, nutritional 1:1’s, lunch and learns, fitness classes, virtual Pilates, wine tasting, business consultancy and meditation.

The programme he says has become a way of not only supporting our member’s personal and business wellbeing but offering them a healthy opportunity to connect with others.

“That’s something that’s never been as important as it is now. We take every opportunity to remind our members how important wellness is on a weekly basis with regular tips and quick and easy programmes to follow,” said Henry Daly.

Mr Daly said the company conducted research to ask employees what they missed most about the office whilst working from home.

“The majority of people said they missed the comradery and everyday chit chat with their colleagues and a daily routine that the office provides, something that is hard to set at home,” he said.

“Depression has increased and mental health has been more challenging in recent times for some more than others and most definitely it is fuelled for some by working remotely.”

Olympian athlete and corporate wellness speaker David Gillick set up Remotewellbeing.ie to engage and promote wellbeing within organisations, both remotely and in-person. Workplace wellness he says has been brought to the forefront of many people’s minds over the last 12 months “which is extremely positive”.

People, he said, are now really understanding the importance of and the wide spectrum of the different wellbeing areas.

“Over time, we have seen homeworking give rise to a sense of isolation, burnout, lack of morale and people feeling they are not really part of something. The challenges of remote working are starting to show. Blending work and life means we have had to be even more precious with our time.”

Meaningful communication and valid evaluation of issues are critical in keeping remote workers engaged, feeling supported and valued while navigating this new space seamlessly and keeping them emotionally invested in an organisation.

“We talk to the employees about their needs and tailor the programmes based on that. This may sound straightforward or even blindingly obvious but employers are often unaware of what their employees want or need when it comes to wellbeing.

“We have also found that, due to the changes the flow of a working day and working week, how people engage is now different. Combining face to face, virtual webinars, 24/7 content and e-learning courses enables all employees to engage so office workers, remote workers and the often forgotten shift worker can all access the information available to them. The key is the journey – through education, engagement and empowerment.”

His advice for others going through a big change or struggling to stabilise their mental health? Go easy on yourself: “Allow yourself some time, get to know yourself and most importantly don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s also about the simple things like investing in yourself: give yourself 5-10 minutes to read the paper or go for a walk – if you don’t plan it, it won’t happen.”