The sudden move to working from home has been a challenge for many SMEs. With smaller teams often benefitting from close knit relationships with their colleagues, Covid-19 is forcing many businesses to reconsider their approach to employee wellbeing. In many cases, however, this is easier said than done, with research from Wildgoose finding that nearly half (47%) of employees at SMEs are finding that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
When shifting to remote working, it’s important that employee wellbeing does not fall off a company’s list of priorities. As such, Sodexo Engage, the employee benefits specialist, reminds SME leaders to consider the 5 pillars of workplace wellbeing to help support their staff during this tough time.
1. Mental and emotional wellbeing
Working from home can be a blessing, but it can also add further stresses and strains to life, especially for those living alone or needing to look after family members. It’s therefore no surprise that over a third (37%) of UK adults are reporting high anxiety levels according to the ONS.
Open communication is key to supporting positive mental health. Managers should schedule regular one-to-one catch ups with team members to chat through how they are doing, including some non-work chat so people feel able to speak about their emotions. Providing professional support to those who need it is also very important; a dedicated employee assistance programme can give staff confidential access to professional mental health counsellors when they need it most.
2. Social wellbeing
If we didn’t know it already, the pandemic has proved the importance of everyday human interaction. Not having the office experience means that we’re missing out on things like lunch with colleagues, a drink after work or a chat over an afternoon coffee. These things may seem small, but they often create a sense of belonging that is hard to replicate virtually.
It’s therefore important to find new ways for employees to socialise virtually, both inside and outside office hours. There’s plenty of virtual classes, from yoga to cheese tasting, as well as different challenges that encourage team building, like quizzes and exercise competitions.
3. Financial wellbeing
For many, financial wellbeing has taken a major hit as a result of the pandemic, with pay cuts, furlough, and the threat of redundancy weighing heavily on many employees’ minds. Improving financial wellbeing means removing the stigma around talking about money. Employers can help enormously here by providing employees with the education, tools and support they need to manage their finances effectively. Giving access to impartial advisors can also play a vital part.
With Christmas coming up, many employees would happily take advantage of schemes such as employee discounts, vouchers, or employee cashback cards to help stretch their pay cheque a bit further. It’s worth looking into these options for staff rewards, especially with no Christmas party this year.
4. Physical wellbeing
Being physically well means taking regular exercise, eating right and getting enough quality sleep. Not only is the virus itself a threat, but the impact of working from home is also taking its toll. Research from the Institute for Employment Studies found that 60% of employees surveyed were exercising less while a third said they were eating less healthily.
Every person is different, so companies should focus on addressing the individual needs of their staff. Some may need a new more supportive office chair, while others need a bit of motivation to get moving. For the latter, leaders can bring out a team’s competitive side with a challenge to walk a certain number of steps as a group, or offer access to virtual exercise classes.
5. Digital wellbeing
Research from Onecom found that 83% of SME workers claim that the time they spend on their phone and using technology has increased since lockdown. At the same time, the lines between work and home life are increasingly being blurred, which can make it harder for staff to switch off at the end of the working day.
Employers need to translate some of the unspoken rules of the office into the virtual world. These can cover things like what hours people can send emails, as well as reminding employees that they don’t need to ‘prove’ they’re working by replying to messages instantly, which can hinder their productivity.
Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments:
“With many people still working from home, we’re facing a challenging winter that will take its toll on staff wellbeing. Employers need to engage with all five pillars of workplace wellbeing to boost employee engagement, motivation, and productivity, all of which will be vital through the coming months. SMEs have been previously been able to rely on close knit teams to boost wellbeing, so they will need to change tack urgently to take care of their people in the current climate. They are not facing this challenge alone, however; there are many tools, guides, and solutions available to help employees feel healthier and happier, even during tough times.”