The COVID-19 pandemic has placed never-seen-before pressures on organisations, and the words “unprecedented times” will ring in our ears for years to come. The economic pressures have squeezed thousands of businesses around the world, and our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing have been pushed to the extreme. Consequently, the longer the pandemic has continued, the greater the concern has grown for our welfare.
Despite this unforeseen crisis, our first Welfare Report, conducted in May 2020, left us with an overwhelming feeling of positivity in terms of how businesses had adapted to take care of their employees. Many organisations were paving the way with well thought-out strategies and policies and, for the most, part stuck to them.
In February 2021, with an end in sight, we decided it was fitting to review the state of play. Is positive progress still very much on the cards, or have efforts begun to wane? The results make for interesting reading.
The majority consensus is that the UK’s business leaders have continued to make outstanding efforts to support employees, despite the numerous fluctuations in and out of lockdown, the volatility of the jobs market and the ever-growing concerns around mental ill-health. However, it’s clear that as the strain of the pandemic continued for much longer than initially expected, certain areas of support begun to slip through the net.
Our initial report in 2020 showed that businesses had adapted well to support their staff, with an impressive 59 per cent proactively implementing a plan for staff welfare, whether proactive or reactive.
Over the past nine months, the number of employees with access to EAPs, Online Self-Service Platforms, Private Doctors and Coaching has all grown, on average, by 5 per cent since last year. Many businesses have also taken further initiative by introducing parental support, free online fitness classes and virtual social events.
Nevertheless, when we delve deeper into this, our 2021 research suggests that progress has slowed. Whilst 62 per cent of businesses now have a welfare plan implemented, only 28 per cent reported a reactive response when required, and 10 per cent of businesses still have nothing in place at all.
Mental health support
The pandemic has had a profound impact on our mental health, and it’s clear combatting mental ill-health has remained at the top of businesses’ agendas. 42.5 per cent of organisations have appointed mental health first aiders and/or mental health champions for staff – a brilliant step in the right direction.
The Working from Home era
Last year, it was clear that employees believed homeworking should become more commonplace going forward, with 69 per cent of respondents reporting a preference for a hybrid working model when the world returns to ‘normal’.
The majority of employers have taken these viewpoints on board, as 93 per cent of respondents have reported that they will be offering staff a hybrid working model. 22.5 per cent will expect their staff in the office more than they can be at home, with 24 per cent offering a 50 / 50 split. 15 per cent are proposing more time at home than the office and 31 per cent will be leaving it completely up to employees to decide.
Whilst some employees have reported the benefits of remote working such as improved work/life balance, flexibility and financial savings, concerns still remain around the true impact on staff productivity, presenteeism and potential IT security risks.
Equipment and IT support
Despite the nation shifting to almost completely digital modes of remote working, only 37 per cent of organisations have been offered financial support towards equipment or amenities to work from home.
Not only does this put productivity at risk but it will undoubtedly create socio-economic divides between staff and teams. It becomes an indicator of who has financial viability to afford equipment and who doesn’t - a problematic and ethically questionable issue.
Whilst the furlough scheme has left many employees feeling uncertain around their future job prospects, it has undoubtedly been a very positive government policy and saved thousands of jobs. Out of the 63 per cent of respondents who said their employers had utilised the furlough scheme, most felt they had treated furloughed staff well with 88 per cent reporting consistent communication.
Nearly a year on, the report found engagement with furloughed staff remained just as high through measures such as telephone calls with management (65 per cent), team video calls (46 per cent), company newsletters (40 per cent), online training courses (35 per cent) and virtual social events (36 per cent).
Whilst our Welfare Report 2.0 has shown that there is still room for improvement, there are a lot of positives to reflect upon. Our workforces have showcased their impressive abilities to adapt to uncertain circumstances and outstanding efforts and steps forward have been made over the past year. Now is the time to look ahead to how we can incorporate the lessons we’ve learnt over the past 13 months to create even better working environments in the future.