Remote working and wellbeing: Do they go hand-in-hand or are they in competition?

One of the central issues facing the HR function as we move from the height of the pandemic into the new reality is employee wellbeing.

ManpowerGroup’s latest Skills Revolution white paper found that 63% of HR leaders see maintaining and supporting employee health and wellbeing as their number one priority for 2021 and beyond, while the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that supporting wellbeing can increase overall productivity by as much as 12%.

Having an all-inclusive wellbeing strategy in place should be top-of-mind for most if not all organisations.

So what’s caused this focus on wellbeing?

In short, the shift to remote working. Research from NordVPN revealed that on average, employees across the UK are working an extra 2 hours a day compared to before the pandemic. And Aviva’s ‘Embracing the Age of Ambiguity’ report discovered that 44% of surveyed employees suffer from an inability to fully switch off from work, since transitioning to remote working.

These numbers suggest that this extended period of working from home could be negatively impacting employee’s work-life balance. So while many organisations and individuals reported feeling the benefits of remote working last year, including a 47% increase in productivity, it appears the appeal is beginning to wear off for many.

This is especially the case for millennial leaders, as 39% of executives aged 18-34 reported reduced motivation as their enforced home working continued.

But how has remote working negatively affected employee wellbeing?

MetLife’s ‘Re:Me’ report recently found that remote working is causing a breakdown in the relationship between employers and employees. 1 in 3 employees believe the pandemic has weakened their relationship with their employer, with 41% confessing that they felt as if they weren’t a top priority for their employer throughout 2020.

Employee burnout is another major concern for the HR function. 72% of SME business owners have admitted they no longer have at least two non-working days per week, while LinkedIn’s Glint platform examined 1.75 million employee-engagement surveys, and identified a 33% rise in signs of burnout.

The World Health Organization cites exhaustion and detachment from their job as common symptoms of those experiencing burnout. And so with more employees feeling disconnected from their organisation and struggling with fatigue, what steps can be taken to address these challenges?

How to look after employee wellbeing in the new reality

Despite the concerns around the negative implications of working from home, flexible working looks set to stay. According to ManpowerGroup’s research37% of HR leaders believe the implementation and maintenance of flexible working models will be a priority for their organisation moving forward, while Harvard, in partnership with Coleman Parkes, found that 83% of UK business decision makers believe remote working is a trend that will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

So how do business leaders ensure their employees receive enough support, now they’re no longer coming into the office?

  • Upskill and train Line ManagersUpskilling managers in leadership and coaching skills enables them to have more effective career conversations with their team members. These conversations can help employees realign their career aspirations and values with those of the organisation, and start to regain their motivation for work.
  • Maintain internal communications: Whether it comes from HR, the Senior Leadership Team or Line Managers, employees will appreciate receiving regular updates regarding business direction and goals. This can contribute towards creating a culture of transparency and trust, whereby employees are kept in the loop and feel reconnected with their organisation.
  • Provide access to health supportResearch has found that 74% of decision makers think providing employees with access to mental health support has become more important since the pandemic began. So for those organisations that aren’t providing access to such support, now is the time to update their benefits offering.
  • Make the most of technology: It’s important that managers and leaders don’t forget the importance of face-to-face communication. Whilst ‘Zoom fatigue’ may be an issue for many, scheduling regular team or 1:1 calls maintains an element of human contact, and can help support employees who may be feeling isolated from their colleagues.

These are only a selection of practices HR leaders can encourage within their organisation. And as no single practice can fully address employee wellbeing, creating and implementing a comprehensive wellbeing strategy should be a priority for every business moving forward.

So, does your organisation have the right level of support in place?