Cigna Europe CEO explains how putting employee concerns at the heart of a HR strategy can create a happier, more productive workforce
With more than half the UK's working population currently working remotely, and leading employers such as Google and Facebook encouraging employees to work from home until 2021, millions of Brits are destined to spend many more months stationed at their pop-up workstations, kitchen tables or makeshift offices.
Of course, many Brits have welcomed the move to remote working and the opportunity for longer lie-ins, no commute and the chance to spend more time with family. In fact, despite the many challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cigna's Covid-19 Global Impact Study found that working from home during lockdown has surprisingly increased overall job satisfaction and improved work relationships, with nine in every 10 employees (90%) maintaining good relationships with colleagues (compared to 86% in January) and 82% with supervisors (compared to 74% in January).
Whilst this is good news for employers, the reality is that a lot of people don't feel that they have had anyone to turn or talk to during the current pandemic. The lack of human contact that comes from spending weeks working from home with limited interaction with friends, family and colleagues, has led to many more employees reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This has the effect of heightening people's anxiety, with our research reporting as many as seven in 10 (73%) Brits feeling stressed, especially those who are juggling childcare, home schooling or helping shield elderly or high-risk relatives. Now is the time for employers to step up to protect their team's mental health and well-being during this very stressful and unprecedented period of history.
Adapting to the ‘new normal'
Despite the government's recent recommendation for the nation's workforce to return to offices, the ongoing response to Covid-19 is having a negative and lasting impact on Brits, with one in five believing that life will never return to normal, even when this pandemic has run its course.
Many of us will re-enter a working landscape that will have changed beyond recognition, and it's up to employers to make sure that this is reflected in their workplace culture, employee assistance programme (EAP), and workplace benefits. For many employers, these would have been finely tuned over many years to provide employees with incentives to stay in their role, as well as providing them with assistance and support to help ease health concerns, such as anxiety and stress.
Refresh employee assistance programmes
Now more than ever, employers need to take stock of and refresh their EAP and other benefits to help employees take care of themselves and their loved ones. This could include supporting employees who have had to alter their working hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities, approving requests to allow employees to return to working for the NHS during this period and offering employees access to digital and virtual health tools such as Cigna's Living Life to the Full, which offers valuable emotional wellbeing support.
With 60% of employees expressing fear about returning to work, companies should also increase internal communication to provide reassurance that government and industry-specific guidelines about the pandemic are being adhered to and to provide additional sources of information if required.
Create a caring culture
Whilst these are important considerations for HR Teams, one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect workers is by recognising that during periods of change, people are more likely to experience mental health issues related to stress and anxiety. That's why we've introduced a new ‘Check-In' initiative across our business, which urges employers and employees to check in on their co-workers, friends, loved ones and family members - and we're encouraging other UK employers to follow suit.
It's important to create a caring culture where it's ok to not be ok, or to take time out of your day to check in on your friends and family's mental health. More than ever, companies need to address the impact that remote working has had on their staff and creating a ‘check-in' culture is one of the best ways to ensure that staff feel supported and cared for. With 48% of Brits feeling that they lack companionship, we want to challenge this and start a conversation about well-being in lockdown as it's something everyone in the UK can relate to at the current time.
To help employers embrace a more caring workplace culture, Dr Peter Mills, Cigna's in-house medical expert, has developed guidelines for making the check-in culture a part of everyone's daily practices:
- Warm-up - talk about lighter topics and gradually start going deeper. Being open about your own experiences is a great way to start conversations
- Open-ended questions - ask non-invasive questions that help guide the person towards finding potential solutions to their issue
- Listen actively - give full focus on what the person is saying - actually talk about how they're coping
- Be non-judgmental - avoid responses such as ‘You're just having a bad week' or ‘I'm sure it's nothing'. Be non-judgmental and take them seriously
Without a doubt, Covid-19 has changed the world as we know it. Employers that take action now, putting employees' concerns at the heart of their HR strategy will be the ones to come out on the other side of this current pandemic with happier, healthier and more engaged staff.
Arjan Toor is CEO of Cigna Europe