Work plays a significant role in our lives, and as technology is being used more frequently it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate work life from home life. Technology and mobile devices allow employees to always be contactable and it can become difficult to set boundaries and switch off from work. During lockdowns across the globe, many people commented that they were busier than normal and work calls never stopped because co-workers and clients knew they were stuck at home and therefore assumed they were contactable. So what are the lasting impacts of Covid-19 on employee wellbeing?
The constant edging of work into home life causes significant pressure leading to stress, anxiety relationship problems and a decrease in overall happiness. With 90% of the population forced to work from home, it was natural to experience elevated rates of stress or anxiety. Being thrust into a new routine, worrying about loved ones contracting the virus or economic pressures could all be contributing factors to higher stress levels. The World Health Organization also expected levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour to rise.
The economic impact as a result of Covid-19 plays a significant role in the equation. With thousands of employees across the UK placed on furlough, those who retained their jobs also experienced an impact on their mental health and wellbeing. According to research by the London School of Economics, “increased unemployment creates significant anxiety among those who retain their jobs; the negative impact on well-being experienced by the whole community is four times the effect on the individual alone.”
The WHO issued this guideline in March and although life is slowly starting to get back to normal, the impact on employee wellbeing has long lasting effects. Many people are anxious to return to normal life and others are still having to find the right balance while working from home.
For many people, the change in routine has also impacted their physical health. When our mental health takes a knock, it’s often hard to find the motivation to be active. Those who enjoy workouts outdoors or at the gym were forced to find ways to be active at home. The process is cyclical - lack of exercise can lead to a deterioration in mental health which in turn leads to a lack of motivation to be active. Encouraging exercise and healthy eating helps mental and physical health. Encouraging employees to exercise and eat healthy will significantly decrease absenteeism, resulting in a more efficient business as a result of more engaged employees, who want to do their best for the company.
Work can easily take precedence over everything else in our lives so ensuring the balance between work and personal life is an essential task. As an employer there are many ways you can support your employees in gaining this balance.
Company culture often praises those who are at their desk the longest but we’d like to see this culture change. In countries like Switzerland, it’s frowned upon to be the last person at the office. If you’re the last person, you’re seen to be an unproductive member of the team, having not used the time available from 9-5 to get your work done effectively and efficiently. When working remotely, being the last person online and messaging team members while they’re spending time with their families or on weekends can also cause you to lose the respect of your employees in cultures that promote a healthy work life balance.
Having said that, it is important to bear in mind that some people are naturally more productive at different times of the day. The future of work should also be inclusive for night owls who, in the modern world, have been forced to adopt a work cycle that isn’t necessarily healthy for their natural circadian rhythm. Allowing flexible work hours is one way to accommodate and get the most productive hours out of these employees.
For both early birds and night owls, working unnecessarily long hours isn’t the best approach for maximum productivity. The quality of work decreases and time spent on tasks can increase which is not optimal for any business. Encouraging timely deadlines and not encouraging extra hours promotes a healthier work life balance and businesses do better as a result of more productive, more engaged employees.
Encourage employees to go offline on time, so they are able to read to their children at bedtime, or relax and not be afraid to unplug after work. Encouraging staff to read is a great way to support their mental wellbeing as reading has been linked to stress reduction and enhanced concentration. Lead by example, don’t send urgent emails and texts out of office hours. Doing this can cause stress to employees and leave them feeling pressured to be available around the clock. Instant messaging apps like Slack and email providers like Gmail allow notifications to be switched off outside of office hours or allow you to schedule emails to send inside of working hours.
A healthy work life balance can help employees become more well rounded individuals. Having interests outside of work increases and improves skills. Achieving a workplace culture that promotes balance can only be achieved when everyone who is involved understands that it’s more beneficial than the workaholic mindset. Having a good work life balance benefits both employees and the business, it is worthwhile investing time in encouraging open lines of communication to get the balance right - especially if it’s a new remote policy or culture that you’re trying to encourage. Not everyone has the same work life balance goals, by finding out what your employees are striving for, you can work out a way to best support them in achieving this. Culture is often adopted from top-down, so if encouraging a better work life balance is something your business wants to achieve, ensure those in management positions are leading by example.
Actively emphasising that a good work life balance plays an important part in your business will not only help you to retain your best staff, it will also help you in attracting top talent when you’re hiring. If you want to increase staff retention and have happy employees the importance of encouraging a healthy work life balance is paramount. Having a healthy work life balance allows employees to separate their personal lives and their work lives without either encroaching on the other. Continuously stressed employees risk becoming burnout, which can then lead to irritability, fatigue and a decrease in productivity. Stress in the workplace can be caused by a variety of things, ranging from an increased or heavy workload or not feeling valued for the work being done.