As part of a recent project with the Movember Foundation, we spoke with Professor Sandro Galea, (Dean of Public Health at Boston University and expert on the impact of trauma on mental health), who described COVID to us as “a real trauma in the traditional sense, impacting our very security and survival”.
It is this real trauma that employers must recognise and respond to when defining its workplace strategy going forward. It is not just about providing a safe and supportive place for their people to work (as defined by government guidance), but also having a clear strategy that underpins the wellbeing and performance of individual employees, and the entire business they work for in this new world.
Each workplace will have its own challenges and requirements, be it an office, construction site, retail site, health care facility, care home, or home office - but what they have in common is that beyond the new set of rules and regulations, they will all need a new culture of safety, openness and trust at work. This will not be solved by a fruit box or a white labelled digital app but by a new employee-employer ‘psychological contract’. A major determinant of this ‘contract’ is the organisation culture and working practices. Not only is this crucial for productivity, retention and attracting talent, but in our experience, the culture of the organisation can also be the difference between good and bad employee health.
For instance, working practices can have a huge impact on stress and ultimately our health, either directly (via the impact of stress hormones on the body and mental health), or indirectly (via unhealthy use of alcohol to self medicate or not having time to prioritise our health). The scientific literature shows us that stress and associated behaviours are not simply a result of high job demand, but actually how much we feel in control of our workload and crucially the way we work. A feeling of being personally in control has also been shown to be a driver of entrepreneurship, so the culture of an organisation that delegates authority, trains its people and provides resources not only improves employee health but also creativity.
The key difference an employer can make right now is to start proactive conversations with their employees about how they can co-create a workplace that promotes good work and healthy living in a post-COVID world. What does the business need and what do the employees want? From there how can we design the healthy, happy and productive workplaces of the future?
We would love to hear from you about any conversations you have had at work post COVID and how this has changed your approach to employee health? What challenges do you face? What are you doing? Please get in touch or leave a comment.