The Future of Work and Digital Wellbeing – Protecting Employees in a Covid-19 shaped world

Article posted by Griet Houbrechts

AHRMIO webinar 9th December 2020

One of the red threads of AHRMIO’s year 2020 has been the growing concern about mental health and wellbeing. Throughout the year, several discussions with members, webinars and sessions during our Leadership Series looked at different aspects of this important issue for many of AHRMIO’s member organisations. With the support of one of our AHRMIO sponsors, Allianz Partners, we continued this important conversation.

Beth Warne of The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) kicked off the webinar presenting the findings of the EIU research. The study aimed at finding out whether Covid-19 has changed how we work and what its impact has been on employee wellbeing. It was also aimed at identifying what companies could be doing to support their workforce better.

Even before the pandemic, technology was driving some fundamental changes in the way we work:

  • The rise of the global knowledge economy led to the rise of global teams.
  • The introduction of digital communication led to increased connectedness.
  • The advent of mobile computing meant that people could work from anywhere.

Covid-19 has accelerated these trends with increased online communication and remote work, but also more opportunities for global teams. Some of these developments are positive and are likely to continue in the future. Some preferences also changed. More people want to work from home, feel more comfortable now with working online and are more open to hire remote workers in their teams.

But not all the changes are beneficial for employees and organisations. And not all changes have had the same impact in all geographical and demographical groups. If the culture is more hierarchical, organisations and people are likely to struggle to adapt. The age is also a factor, as well the the need to juggle different responsibilities.

The panel discussion that followed included input from Peter Thomson (Future Work Forum) and Dr. Ulrike Sucher (Allianz Partners), and focused on what comes next. All panelists agreed that we should see this as a structural change. All the advice that had already been formulated in the past suddenly accelerated. Organisations are moving towards a more hybrid form of work. Covid-19 has often had a negative impact on mental health and this is a real risk for the future.

But not everything has been negative. The opportunity to take small breaks, participate more actively in the daily routines of family life, the absence of commute-related stress and the opportunity to create stronger links with the local community and to think about life in general has been positive. Working remotely has also given people the opportunity to get a glimpse of the homes of colleagues and they could now see staff and leaders as people.

Despite ‘zoom fatigue’, it is important that digital replicas of in-person support services continue to be offered. The isolation has had a big impact and it is important that managers become more sensitive about mental health. Informal sources of support are not available in the digital world, casual conversations in the corridor, coffee corner discussions and the likes.

Managers are humans too, and they should act like humans, not being afraid of talking about stress, loneliness and self-care. Staying in touch with their team is vital, but also trusting that team members are self-motivated. Managing by results and learning to let go will lead to a more positive atmosphere. For organisations, it is important that HR provides advice and coaching to offer managers the right tools and to develop an organisation-wide culture that prioritises wellbeing.

Apart from the classical support that was often used in the past, the digital employee assistance programmes that also provide a confidential type of support are in use a lot more. Clear proactive communication should make managers and employees aware of the tools and the organisation’s willingness to help. Care and genuine support as well as controlling the effectiveness of the endeavours will lead to further improvements.

Technology gives us flexibility to use different tools for different purposes as well as the opportunity to get feedback on what people are using. Monitoring and improving the mix of tools has the potential to improve our experience of work. It could be interesting to look towards the entertainment industries to find tools that make life and work more human.

The increased connectedness also creates its own challenges. Organisations need to acknowledge that although 24/7 engagement might be considered interesting, it is very challenging for staff.

Coaches, but also networks of peers can be powerful ways to support employees. Some organisations have mental health champions with their teams that are bound by confidentiality. Training these champions would be a worthwhile investment for organisations. There is good online mental health training available.

This webinar confirmed the need for a frank conversation on mental health. The participants received answers, but even more questions were raised. Some of the old ways will still remain valid for the future. We shouldn’t miss the golden opportunity we have now to create a major shift and to build organisations based on trust that thrive because all of us are taking care of ourselves and are cooperative, productive members of our organisations.

Panel:

  • Beth Warne, Senior Analyst in the Public Policy Team, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)
  • Dr. Ulrike Sucher, Chief Medical Officer International Health at Allianz Partners
  • Peter Thomson, Director of the Future Work Forum

Moderator: Danijela Milic, Human Resources Policies Officer, United Nations / ICSC, AHRMIO Board Member

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