The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a number of crises over the last few years. Most were anticipated, but there was one major issue that emerged that many business leaders were ill-equipped for: employee well-being.
The statistics highlighting COVID-19’s impact on employee well-being have been alarming, to say the least. On average, employees experienced a 45 percent increase in anxiety, a 48 percent increase in depressive disorders, and a 22 percent increase in higher stress levels. As the emotional impact on someone’s life rises, their motivation to take care of their own well-being gradually declines.
Jake Croman, VP of Centennial Properties NY, believes that the pandemic forced a complete culture shift.
“Company culture has always been a prerequisite to happy employees and a successful business,” Jake says. “But the benefits and support that traditionally cultivated a good workplace needed to evolve.”
COVID-19 created a new itch that higher pay and free snacks could no longer scratch. Employees don’t want — and will no longer tolerate — the old relationships they had with their jobs. They’re finally advocating for a healthier work-life balance, but they’re also voicing their expectations for employers to make employee wellness a company-wide priority.
Whether your company will continue operating remotely or your employees are gradually returning back to in-office work, employers have a lot of work to do to start tackling this new culture shift. Because while 96 percent of executives believe they’re doing enough for their employees’ mental health, only 69 percent of employees agree that’s actually true.
If you’re wondering how you can better promote employee wellness within your organization, Jake Croman believes these are the two most impactful initiatives to focus your efforts on.
The Impact of Flexibility
At the start of the pandemic, many companies didn’t realize they’d either have to temporarily close their doors or be part of a nationwide work-from-home experiment. Only 6 percent of American employees worked from home before the pandemic, but that number jumped to 35 percent, or 48.7 million people, in 2020.
Fast-forward to today, where does remote work stand? Around 26 percent of employees are still working remotely in some capacity. 16 percent of companies are fully remote, but the rest offer hybrid options where employees are only required to come in one or a few days a week. Regardless of the frequency of their work-from-home days, employees have grown incredibly fond of remote work, with 87 percent of them taking the flexibility if their employer offers it.
You’ve probably heard many traditionalists arguing the validity of remote work, saying that it’s just as harmful to productivity as it is to well-being. Employees will be too distracted or they’ll feel lonely not being surrounded by their coworkers. Interestingly enough, neither of these arguments are true. Remote employees say that having a flexible schedule has reduced their levels of anxiety, depression, and stress and helped them finally achieve work-life balance, thus reducing their levels of burnout. But at the same time, research has also shown that full-time remote employees are 29 percent more productive, and hybrid workers are 4 percent more productive than those with no flexibility at all.
To Jake Croman, these numbers don’t lie: flexibility cultivates happier, more productive, and more engaged employees. Even if you can’t extend full-time remote work to your workers, Jake believes business leaders should consider offering any semblance of flexibility as it has immediate benefits.
A Holistic Approach to Wellness
Even before the pandemic, a lot of companies already recognized the influence physical accommodations contributed to employee wellness. This led to them building wellness spaces where employees could work out, blocking out time during the day for company-wide yoga sessions, or even paying for gym memberships as part of an employee’s benefits package. Yet, physical health is only one attribute of a person’s overall well-being.
The pandemic illuminated how closely tied emotional wellness is to well-being, but Jake Cromam believes factors like social and career support are also all components of better mental health.
More than ever, employees want to feel connected to their work. If they don’t feel like work is meaningful, it creates a snowball effect of disengagement and despair. It’s no coincidence that what’s being referred to as the Great Resignation happened in the midst of the pandemic, and why so many workers are “quiet quitting” their jobs. If they’re detached and unhappy in their roles, they’re going to leave. Companies must put even more resources towards their employees’ professional growth and development while keeping work-life balance in mind.
Outside of work, there are other social factors that play into a person’s well-being — family being the most significant. You’ll have team members who have to tend to their children’s needs and others who are caretakers for family members. Initiatives like childcare perks and flexible schedules go a long way in showing your employees that you are committed to supporting them even when it includes circumstances outside of the workplace.
Employers have a responsibility to create a supportive, compassionate environment with the goal of impacting the emotional needs of their workers. Companies should build out an extensive list of mental health resources that employees can access if a need arises. Employers should also encourage workers to use their paid time off and block out time in their day to step away from their desks and take a break.
“It’s time we start destigmatizing mental health in the workplace,” Jake says. “And it’s time we begin transforming our organizations into safe spaces for all of our employees. If we don’t shift our perspectives, they’ll find an employer who will.”