The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every workplace across the world to confront their daily tasks in new and creative ways — ensuring the health and safety of their employees and redefining their workflow at the same time. And yet, with increasing numbers of office workers logging in remotely and working from home, little thought appears to be given to the impact remote working and quarantine are having on employee mental health.
In an effort to explore this topic with greater depth, Peakon and Denmark In New York have teamed up for Employee Wellbeing: People over Profit, a unique webinar devoted to discussing hands-on learnings and insights in confronting the dramatic new reality of employee mental health in the age of COVID-19.
Denmark in New York caught up with Patrick Cournoyer, Chief Evangelist at Peakon, for a preview of the webinar and why the new frontier of employee mental health should be on every employer’s agenda.
Denmark in New York: How has the COVID-19 crisis put such a unique spotlight on employee mental health?
Patrick Cournoyer: Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we discovered in our 2020 Employee Expectations Report there was a growing expectation among employees for wellbeing support that was not being satisfied in all workplaces. However, when COVID-19 started to infect economies and individuals worldwide at the start of 2020, wellbeing was seemingly propelled to the top of the agenda.
It makes sense given that businesses have so rapidly been forced to adjust to new ways of working, while many others were pushed to the brink. This is having a huge impact on employees worldwide. Workers are either facing job insecurity or having to quickly change how, when and where they work. Meanwhile, they are juggling new fears and concerns outside of work. Financial worries, self-isolation, childcare, a limited supply of food, illness, caring for those who are sick, to name but a few.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that, in March, we saw a 51% rise in the proportion of employee comments on the topic of wellbeing worldwide. This is evidence of workers looking to their employers to take action, and do more to support their wellbeing — mental, physical and financial — as the crisis unfolds.
What are the biggest mental health concerns for employees in today’s work setting and how do we address them?
Patrick Cournoyer: Employee overall health and wellbeing should be the main focus of organizations in today’s climate. However, the most prevalent terms currently appearing in Peakon employee comments around wellbeing and mental health are: Life balance, job security, work from home, anxiety, family health and managing workload. This sheds some light on what workers are most concerned about right now. It also highlights some of the key areas managers should address when it comes to supporting them.
As organizations tackle this scenario one week at a time, they should also make sure they’re checking in with how their employees are feeling from one week to the next.
One way to achieve that during today’s remote working setting is through regular and anonymous feedback surveys. This way, employers can ensure they are keeping up with their employees’ evolving needs and expectations, and taking the right and most effective actions.
To help support organizations and their employees through this time, we’ve compiled a range of resources — from webinars to new COVID-19 survey questions — in our new Support Hub, for instance.
Additionally, we are offering free access to the Peakon platform, and these COVID-19 questions, for the next three months. This way, all businesses can be sure they are taking the actions that matter, based on up-to-date insights, and support employee success and wellbeing during COVID-19.
Beyond the current crisis scenario, we have frequently seen productivity emphasized at the expense of employee mental health and work-life balance. What have companies been getting wrong?
Patrick Cournoyer: In discussions that I have been having with many leaders, a common realization has been dawning regarding the concept of “managing to time” as opposed to “managing to output.”
There is an existing attitude of evaluating work based on how fast someone responds to a message or email, or if their “active” notifications are on at the “start” of the workday. But, instead of “managing to time,” I suggest treating employees like the adults they are. Set meaningful, measurable and tangible work outcomes that are clearly defined, and allow the employee to decide how they accomplish these outcomes — free from judgment.
Freeing up the stress of time pressure, and refocusing on time management to realize work output greatly decreases common challenges that affect employee wellbeing. This degree of autonomy and trust also helps support employee engagement, which in turn drives higher productivity and better overall business outcomes.
Many experts forecast a complete change to the way we work in a post-COVID world. What are some of the key lessons we should take from the working-in-quarantine experience?
Patrick Cournoyer: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound and lasting effect on each and every one of us, and will forever reshape the world of work. For years, many organizations have said they “can’t” operate with a significant number of their workforce working remotely, or offer flexible working hours. But the past six weeks have turned that idea on its head. Out of a sheer need for business continuity, companies have had to adjust, and make these ways of working work.
Clearly, COVID-19 has not granted the ‘flexibility’ that employees worldwide crave. Indeed the crisis has created a new wave of inflexibility — most people are confined to their homes for weeks on end. But, it has served as an interesting experiment and proved that these different ways of working really can work.
There will be many learnings from this crisis. Many companies will still be trying new things and making changes as they go. But I’m quite certain that things will never go back to exactly how they were before. Employees will be a valuable resource to help build these new and revised ways of working, and employers should stay close to them to fully understand how COVID-19 is impacting their work. At Peakon, we believe work should work for people, and employees are the most critical drivers of company success — businesses need to recognize that and be agile in responding to their employees’ needs and expectations.
How do we ensure that the conversation about employee mental health continues even after the COVID-19 crisis and becomes ingrained in work culture?
Patrick Cournoyer: Being ‘People Forward’ has never been more important or impactful. The companies who prioritize and listen to their employees, and act upon their feedback — just as they would their customers — will be among the quickest companies to bounce back once this is all over. People-forward organizations lead with their teams, because success is a team effort.
How companies act now will make-or-break the trust their employees have in them for the long run. Protecting their mental health and wellbeing will not just ensure your workers are fit to continue working, but will also help you to attract and retain the brightest and the best — giving you a competitive edge over your rivals.
As our Employee Expectations report revealed, there is a widening gap between what employees expect from the workplace and what is being delivered. If, like us, you think that work should work for people, then listen to their evolving needs, and work to meet them. If the virus has shown us anything, it’s that employee wellbeing practices are no longer ‘nice to have’, but an absolute necessity.
Emilie Haaber Lyngaard is the Strategic Communications and Press Intern at Denmark In New York.