The past few years have been a lot. Combine a global pandemic with rising inflation and geopolitical unrest, and it’s no surprise many employees are feeling stressed. With 51% of EU workers saying that stress is common in their workplace, HR managers and leaders are faced with the challenge of how to support their teams in a relatively new, hybrid environment.
Hybrid work is here to stay, but we’re still adjusting to our new ways of working. While many remote employees enjoy increased productivity and a better work-life balance, others can struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Cultivating a company culture where wellbeing is placed front and centre now looks a little different.
The APA Stress in America report revealed that 63% of Americans think the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their lives forever. Stress related to the pandemic caused a range of health issues including disturbed sleep, decreased mental health, lower levels of physical health, and an increased reliance on unhealthy habits. And each of these has the potential to affect employee morale and wellness, especially if workplace wellbeing programmes don’t keep up with the changes to the way we work.
What Is Employee Wellbeing?
Employee wellbeing encompasses many different elements, including:
- Overall health: physical health, plus emotional and mental wellbeing.
- Workplace: communication, culture, workload, management, and health and safety.
- Values: diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), leadership, and ethics.
- Social: cultivating positive relationships, involvement, and communication.
- Personal development: opportunities for career progression.
- Lifestyle: promoting physical activity, and healthy eating at work.
- Financial wellbeing: fair pay, benefits, retirement policies, financial support, and access to health insurance or health services.
Taking a more holistic approach towards your employee wellbeing strategy offers a range of business benefits to a business beyond just looking after employee health. These include helping retain top talent, improving employee productivity, retention, engagement and above all, optimising your employee experience by letting your team know you care.
4 Steps to Support the Wellbeing of Hybrid Employees
Many of the traditional tactics for managing stress in the workplace aren’t available to hybrid or remote workers. Stepping away from your desk for a quick chat by the water cooler, or separating work and home life over the course of a commute, aren't always possible.
That means in addition to remodelling how and where we work — we need to adapt the way hybrid employees are supported. Leaders may need to adjust their own approach and start to implement proactive strategies or incentives to support their employees, rather than taking reactive measures when an employee flags an issue.
To better support their employees, leaders themselves need to have high levels of emotional intelligence, also referred to as emotional quotient (EQ). Self-aware managers and leaders help foster a sense of belonging using a range of strategies, including prioritising the wellness of their team and recognising that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Here are some expert tips on how to implement this in practice.
1. Establish an open and honest working environment.
There are many different ways to foster a culture of openness — and what works for one employee may not work for another. But what’s key for all employees is letting them know you’re available if they need you. “Managers should be checking in regularly with all employees to ensure that everyone is feeling supported and has what they need to be successful,” said Danielle Bedford, head of marketing at Coople.
Bedford suggests that “one option is to simply ask how each person is doing and whether they need any specific support. Another is to look for signs of struggle, for example increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, or changes in attitude.” And if you notice that an employee seems to be struggling, Bedford’s advice is to “have a conversation to see how you can best support them.”
These conversations can sometimes feel daunting for managers — but it can help to focus on creating a gentle framework to help guide you. This can be as simple as allowing your employees the time and space to speak without judgement, continuing to check in on them on a regular basis, and championing any mental health resources available.
“We’ve always made good use of the Lattice Updates feature as a way for our People Team to keep a close eye on weekly employee sentiment scores,'' said Sophie Martin, people partner at Digital Twin technologies company Sensat. “We use these scores to help measure how changes and initiatives are landing in the business and as an early indicator if we need to offer more support,” added Martin. And during COVID-19, these scores proved particularly insightful.
“We noticed that sentiment scores were starting to dip, alongside managers seeing a number of themes in the updates that showed employees were feeling either isolated from their teams, or silos were starting to form between teams,” Martin said.
If you’re concerned your employees may need more support, the best thing is to ask. Make sure you have a two-way communication process in place, and that you’re not just providing company or project updates, but creating connections with each employee as well.
2. Check in with your remote workers.
It can be a lot harder to get a sense of each employees’ wellbeing when you don’t see them every day. Digital presenteeism can be a problem for remote workers. They may feel like they can never truly switch off from work notifications, or shouldn’t take time off when they’re sick because they’re worried their attendance record will be negatively affected.
“Not all employees work best in a remote environment,” said Bedford. “Some may struggle with loneliness or isolation, while others may find it difficult to stay motivated without the structure of an office.” As a manager, part of your role involves working out what level of individual support each member of your team requires. Bedford makes sure to offer a range of options, including “additional check-ins, flexible working hours, or access to resources like mental health support or childcare.”
If your company allows for asynchronous work, make sure there are established boundaries around your expectations. You can encourage employees to turn their notifications off after work, or make their availability clear so you know when they’ll be online. And if those weekly hybrid team meetings aren’t productive, or it’s difficult to find a time to suit all international employees, switch to one-to-ones instead.
“People are at the heart of everything we do at Sensat, and one of our core values is Win Together,” says Martin. “Despite our remote-first way of working, we know how important it is to build a sense of connection and togetherness amongst our teams,” she added. “We use Lattice Updates among our teams to keep an eye on anyone who may need a helping hand, and the questions we ask in these weekly updates give a good insight into how everyone is feeling,” explains Martin.
3. Take steps to address burnout.
Burnout is now so commonplace that it's included in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases. Burnout is classed as an occupational phenomenon, the result of ongoing workplace stress that hasn’t been recognised or managed.
Stress is our response to external factors — and it’s completely normal. When stressed, our bodies release "fight or flight" hormones that can cause short-term emotional, physical, and mental reactions. This often leads to feelings of urgency or hyperactivity that dissipate once the stressful situation has been resolved.
But when we’re exposed to high levels of stress on a daily basis, this can lead to burnout. Over the pandemic, all generations of US workers reported increased feelings of burnout. Addressing these feelings needs an individual approach, but regular check-ins are essential so you can start to identify issues like burnout as they develop, and take steps to address them as soon as possible.
“We use Lattice Updates to stay connected with our team,” said Martin. “On one occasion, a team member flagged that they were really struggling. As a result, their manager reached out to help. We also set them up with a course of Spill sessions so they could get expert advice on the challenges they were facing,” she added. Regular updates like these are just one way managers can uncover any issues — but also put plans in place to support their team.
At Absolute Digital Media, HR and Culture Manager Nomana Mirza places employee mental health and wellness and the heart of their strategy. “We offer counselling sessions through our private healthcare coverage, an extra three wellness days that can be taken without question, plus a weekly session with a personal trainer as a way to step away from the desk and have a bit of fun.”
Burnout that stems from remote or hybrid work models can create some additional challenges for managers, as they attempt to support employees from a distance. Mirza adds that by allowing their remote team members to work from anywhere in Europe, “our hope is that this can give them a bit of a boost, as they can travel whenever they want or even see more of their family that live abroad.”
4. Make sure your team feels included.
Remote work can bring some specific challenges around how to create a feeling of inclusion for all employees — especially when they’ve never even met each other. There may be events where you can bring together employees that work from home and those that work in the office, or interactive online events that everyone can attend no matter their location. You could also roll out a range of employee recognition rewards like Lattice Praise or a tangible reward in the form of a gift card, spa day, or team celebration.
“We created a calendar of events which will be both in-person and remote,” said Martin. “These vary from things like company all-hands where the leadership team shares updates about the company, to monthly quizzes with cross-team groups, regular team-building events, and our annual ‘Senfest’ summer party.” Events like these can help foster a feeling of inclusion and engagement, and if you can find out how well these are received by your team (plus any suggestions for improvements) that’s even better. Plus, they can even have a trickle-down impact on your employees’ creativity at work, too.
“We recently ran a team-building day for our engineering and product team. After the event, sentiment scores [within Lattice Updates] increased for the whole team. The opportunity for cross-collaboration also resulted in the creation of new features for our platform and the formation of new mentoring partnerships,” said Martin. “The success of this initiative means that we’re now rolling out something similar for all our teams,” she added.
Mirza makes sure to “involve all our staff members in regular team meetings, including our quarterly sessions where we update them about the business.” This is a great way to make sure your remote or hybrid employees always feel included and up to date with where the business is at. Mirza added that “this strategy has helped our employees to trust us and feel more comfortable with their job.”
Redefining Employee Wellness in the Hybrid Workplace
Cultivating a hybrid workplace where employee health and wellbeing is centre stage takes time and effort — but the results are well worth it. When employees feel their wellbeing is taken care of, it not only decreases stress, but improves employee engagement, which can have a knock-on impact on performance.
However, for your employee assistance programme to be most effective make sure each and every employee knows that it’s designed to meet their needs and that their input is a vital piece of the puzzle.
This is somewhere that tech can help.“Not only did Lattice Updates alert us to the problem that some of our team members were feeling isolated, but they have also been an excellent way for us to track the success of these initiatives and measure the temperature of our teams during this ever-changing time,” explained Martin.
Leveraging a survey tool like Lattice Engagement can help you support the wellbeing of hybrid employees by finding the most effective ways to support their unique needs. Request a demo to find out more about how it can help your people managers support their team, wherever they work.