As the turmoil caused by the pandemic moves to the rear-view mirror, the focus for employers is on supporting back-to-work wellbeing. It’s an issue that is important for organisations of all sizes, large and small.
When Micheál and Carmel Smith of Hybrid Energy Group in Cavan wanted to mark the lifting of restrictions last month they did so in a way designed to let their 12 staff blow off tension and anxiety of the past two years.
“We surprised staff with a half day, without telling them what we had planned, and took them off for some outdoor activities, to blow off some steam and just have a laugh,” says Carmel.
The company, which provides renewable energy solutions to the public and private sectors, has won awards for its approach to workplace wellbeing.
A happy staff has always been important to the couple, who set up the business 14 years ago. It’s particularly important as the world returns to normal and pent-up demand fuels the need for their services. “There’s a lot of pressure for everyone,” says Micheál.
As organisations across the country feel their way into the post-pandemic era, supporting wellbeing is top of mind.
“Workplace wellness has moved centre stage more than ever for employers and management teams,” says Sinéad Proos, head of wellness at Laya Healthcare. “We have started to see it through the ‘great resignation’, particularly among 18- to 35-year-olds.”
A survey it undertook last year found 50 per cent of that age group were considering changing jobs, with one third of those actively seeking out employers that put wellbeing at the centre of their offering. That shift is only feeding into the labour market right now.
“It’s why more and more organisations are talking about the HR policies they have to support health and wellness, and how they adhere to those policies,” she says.
The pandemic has raised the stakes significantly.
“While a focus on health and wellbeing has always been important in the workplace, especially when it comes to sustaining high performance, there is no doubt that Covid-19 and its aftermath has had a strong and lasting impact,” says Fania Stoney, CEO of Healthy Place to Work.
The organisation supports organisations to build and sustain healthy and high-performing work environments.
“When we look at the experience of the organisations we work with it varies from those supporting front-line staff to those transitioning to full-time remote or hybrid working, to those whose day-to-day work environment didn’t change all that much despite the pandemic,” she says.
Despite the variety common themes have emerged.
Firstly, people’s expectations have shifted.
“In a pre-pandemic environment an organisation might have got away with the occasional nod to wellbeing – a fruit basket here, a yoga session there. The pandemic experience has given people the chance to reflect on what is important to them, particularly when it comes to their health in the workplace, and how their organisation is – or isn’t – supporting them in that,” says Stoney.
“Layer on to this all of the evidence around ‘the great resignation’, we are seeing that people are actively seeking out organisations who are clear on their health offering, able to articulate it, and live up to the promise.”
Healthy Place to Work takes a broad view of health that encompasses levels of purpose, mental resilience, connection and physical health, and how they apply in a range of workplace settings.
It’s a holistic approach in which it partners with organisations to help them build their health and wellbeing strategies, develop their employee value propositions and employer brands, allowing them to make data-driven decisions and certifying those which excel in this space.
It recently certified the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), for example, the governing body for rugby union on the island of Ireland.
“Its focus on wellbeing at work has been human-centric, responding to feedback and adapting their supports to match the ever-shifting demands being placed on their people. This is particularly impressive given the myriad of challenges that have arisen in the wake of Covid-19,” says Manon Morelli, customer success and marketing associate, Healthy Place to Work Ireland.
Coming through Covid has resulted in a rebalancing of priorities for many organisations, with the need to build resilience coming to the fore too, something Healthy Place to Work can help to measure. “Those organisations with strong levels of resilience were better able to adapt both to the immediate crisis and continue to do so in the face of ongoing uncertainty,” she says.
Some leaders are doing better than others.
“Leaders are busy. They are busy driving the business, getting their job done and managing their teams. Many have had to adapt and build new competencies like never before,” she says.
“What we are seeing strong leaders do is include their people in that ‘busy-ness’. They focus on articulating purpose, discussing the big picture of the overall goals and ensuring people feel their work is uniquely connected and necessary to the success of the organisation.”
That helps to establish a sense of shared purpose among their people, at both individual and team level. “In the organisations we work with the leaders who best take this on are creating the healthiest and highest performing teams in the organisation,” adds Stoney.
Authenticity matters too.
“People are increasingly savvy about who is being authentic, and who is merely paying lip service to a wellness culture. Leaders who genuinely care for the wellbeing of their people, and demonstrate healthy behaviours themselves, are more likely to be creating a healthy workplace.”
She says any organisation can invest in a health and wellbeing strategy. The challenge lies in creating a sustainable, strategic and genuine wellness culture.
“The best organisations in this space understand the importance of leadership buy-in and participation when it comes to walking the talk in terms of creating a healthy workplace.”