4 Key Things the Pandemic Taught Us About Employee Well-Being

COVID-19 has been a wakeup call on employee well-being. As workers experience unprecedented stress, employers must offer new means of support.

A woman working in her home office takes a break to spend time with her child. They are looking online on a smartphone together

The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the most significant disruptions to the modern world. The workplace is still experiencing the seismic effects and adjusting to the new normal.

Suddenly, most companies had to shift to a fully remote workplace. Employees and employers alike had to adopt new policies and technologies to adjust to an entirely virtual world and learn to make it work.

The pandemic rapidly accelerated the need to support employees in their whole lives, not just their roles at work. Suddenly, sick family members had a harder time accessing medical care (and a greater fear of doing so). 

Children were home from school and needed help with virtual learning, and employee caregivers were working from home amidst frequent interruptions and demand on their time. In addition to putting stress on the limited hours in their day, employees struggled to adapt to new ways of working while facing loneliness and social isolation. It was a tall order that forced record numbers to reconsider their priorities and leave the workforce altogether. As rising vaccination rates send workers back to the office, employers are facing historic staffing shortages, fueling a race for talent. 

Child virtual learning

Yet work well-being remains at record lows, with 44% of employees reporting that they feel more burned out than they were just one year ago, putting employers at risk for further losses.

For most companies, the pandemic has served as a wake-up call to the value of employee well-being. While employee well-being was a pre-pandemic initiative for some organizations, it is now top of mind for most. Employers are learning that employees need and deserve support to maintain positive well-being as their biggest asset.

So what lessons have employers and Human Resources professionals learned from this experience in the last 18 months? 

We've compiled a list of the most critical employee well-being findings.

1. Work-life balance is a must

Feeling the wind and relaxing after remote work

Remote work during the pandemic has introduced more pressure and longer work hours for many employees. Before COVID-19, wellness programs were a coveted employee benefit viewed as a nice-to-have.

As remote work blurred the lines between home and work, employees found it hard to balance, catapulting employee wellness to a necessary initiative. As a result, companies will have to prioritize work-life balance, from small policy changes like no-meeting time blocks to more significant initiatives like new benefits programs.

2. Communication

Employee doing a presentation in front of his coworkers in the office

Uncertainty became rife as entire industries lay dormant and thousands of people lost their jobs. For those lucky enough to still have a job, there was a nagging thought about whether they'd be next. Finally, it dawned on employers that there was a need for regular communication to offer some certainty.

Further, employees need to hear about employers' actions to keep them safe. They also need communication to feel connected to the business. Pre-pandemic, office life gave employees a sense of community, so many felt disconnected working virtually.

While individual check-ins with every employee are not feasible, hosting company town halls, giving pulse surveys, posting in slack channels foster communication.

3. Mental health support

Employee wellbeing through mental health support between two employees

Before the pandemic, according to the Human Resource Executive, most employers did not have the programs or culture to offer mental health support at work.

Before the pandemic, mental health was a growing topic among workplace leaders. Employers had already invested time and resources to identify mental health issues symptoms. In addition, many companies started offering free or low-cost virtual mental health visits.

The pandemic, however, has generated a sense of urgency among employers to expand their resources to meet the need for mental health support. Experts point to extensive mental health issues as employers begin to feel the effects that stress and anxiety have on their employees. In addition, two-thirds of employees report poor mental health has decreased productivity in their job responsibilities.

It's also crucial that employers understand the particular concerns of their team members to best support their mental health and future ways of working that boost their mental health.

Further, introducing employee resource groups can help them connect better with others. According to the Harvard Business Review, resource groups created to cater to mental health promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for workers struggling with mental health. Additionally, giving monthly rest periods and focus days helps them get enough breaks from work. Finally, a subscription to mental health apps and regularly availing counseling to anyone who needs it creates a sense of feeling valued.

Companies that have already adopted flexibility with work schedules report increased job satisfaction and much less absenteeism among their employees.

4. Employees need caregiving support

A woman helping her grandfather walk by holding his hand

The pandemic highlighted an already existing crisis. Employees who also have caregiving responsibilities had difficulty balancing their caretaking and job responsibilities.

According to a National Alliance for Caregiving study, family caregivers now account for more than one in every five people in the US. Yet, alarmingly, caregivers are in worse health than they were five years ago.

A similar report from the American Psychological Association shows that caregivers record higher stress levels than the general public. However, the study also showed that caregivers who feel sufficiently supported have much lower stress levels than those who don't.

With a growing older population, the public and private sectors can collaborate to create solutions to support family caregivers and caregiver employees.

First, employers can help caregivers by creating a supportive culture and adopting caregiver benefits like Papa, which connects families to pals to help with caregiving needs, transportation services, house help, and more.

Secondly, adopting a culture that allows employees to choose their work hours and remote work when needed can benefit overall employee well-being. Health experts say that flexibility with work schedules can help alleviate stress, reduce the chances of burnout, and even increase happiness.

Employee well-being beyond COVID

The pandemic was a catalyst for change, and even after it's over, it's clear that the workplace will never be the same again. As a result, employee well-being programs and initiatives are growing in popularity. While the pandemic may have highlighted employee well-being issues, these lessons can help create a healthier, more inclusive workplace moving forward.