How can firms keep their staff health and happy in the face of current pressures on businesses?

With new research from Totaljobs showing two in five employees believe their workload is “unmanageable” amid continuing staff shortages, health and wellbeing has moved further up the agenda for many employers in the wake of COVID-19.

By Anna Melton
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 8:36 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 8:38 am

In addition to increased workload, employees are also said to be dealing with the ongoing anxiety and strain caused by the cost-of-living crisis and, for many, the return to the office after months of working from home.

Despite the increasing pressure on workers’ health and wellbeing, a recent survey by CIPD found that just 50 per cent of organisations have a formal wellbeing strategy, with 27 per cent claiming they are much more reactive than proactive.

This month, the round table put mental health and wellbeing under the spotlight.

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The round table brought together experts and business leaders

Held remotely via Zoom and organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, key figures from the health and wellbeing sector came together to discuss the importance of employers providing a happy and healthy working environment amidst the current pressures on businesses.

Taking part were:

DS – Dom Stevens – Destination Chesterfield Manager (Chair)

LR – Lucy Robinson – Director of Resources, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)

SS-B – Siân Spencer-Bray – Co-Founder, Therapy & Lifestyle Clinic

JS – Jenny Stocks – Director of Higher and Adult Education, Chesterfield College

JW – Jane Wells – Project Coordinator, Junction Arts

IS – Isobel Stockdale – Head of Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism, University of Derby

JM-B – Cllr Jill Mannion-Brunt – Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Chesterfield Borough Council

With the increase in the cost of living becoming a challenge for many, how important is it that employers recognise external pressures on employees in the workplace?

LR – A lot of people are concerned about the increased cost of living and employers can’t ignore it. People are under huge stress and employers need to be open to having conversations about it with their staff.

IS – The cost of living is an issue, but also the changes to life over the last two years is adding further pressure. Some workers are now trying to readjust to the physical workplace and that’s also presenting challenges.

JW – With the rising utility costs, I think people might want to be in the office more in the autumn and winter to stay warm. It’s about employers being flexible and understanding where employees are coming from with their requests.

JM-B – Quite a lot of people have said to me they’ve lost their sense of self during Covid.

During lockdowns, we got used to asking people how they were feeling. We need to create opportunities in the workplace for staff to talk and people to listen. We’ve found that people seem to be more open to talking about how they feel when they’re outside the workplace.

SS-B – Sometimes people don’t realise that they’re struggling, and it might take having that conversation to help them understand.

JW – It’s one thing to ask people how they are and listen, but it’s also about having the skills and confidence to know how to take the next steps and actually help people. There are lots of courses around health and wellbeing, including some that are free. Allowing employees to do those courses will be a valuable investment.

SS-B - Mental Health First Aid courses for management can be beneficial to help them understand and spot the signs of poor mental health in the workforce.

Is there a danger that some businesses will start to pull back from focusing on the wellbeing side as financial pressure hits?

LR – From the feedback we’ve had, businesses are realising that health and wellbeing is massive. People are trying to keep an eye on it but, especially for smaller businesses, it’s more difficult as, for a lot of them, right now it’s about survival.

IS – I think there’s now an expectation from employees that their employers that they will address health and wellbeing in the workplace. However, business owners need the training to know how to deal with any issues that employees come forward with.

JS – Businesses can’t lose sight of health and wellbeing. A poorly workforce is not an effective workforce. It’s really important to have that time and space for employees to reassess, readjust and communicate.

JM-B – Employers need to be able to support their staff in order to retain them. Whilst it’s tempting to go at 100mph to get back what the pandemic has cost you, you probably can’t take some of your staff on that rapid journey. It’s about valuing the contribution your different employees can make.

JW – When we all came back to the office in January, we introduced a wellness afternoon once a month. We don’t do any work for about two hours and take it in turns to come up with an activity for us all to do. I thought that there was no way I’d be able to give up that amount of time, but it’s a chance for employees to get together socially and get to know each other again. It’s a luxury, I appreciate that, but it has been a lovely thing to be involved in.

JS - We could so easily stay in our offices all day and use email and Teams, but we must encourage people to get out and see people face-to-face and have those ‘walk and talk’ meetings. We’ve been running internal workforce development activities about self-care, self-help and wellbeing.

For companies adopting a permanent hybrid model of working for staff, how can they ensure that both office and home-based staff are supported and able to work as a team?

JS - We have got a member of staff that actually prefers to do telephone health meetings from the clinic, because she has no distractions but also has the support of the team – I think it’s really important to have that flexibility.

SS-B – It is important to understand why people do or don’t want to work from home. It might be more practical for them but might be an anxiety issue.

IS – During the pandemic, we had formal weekly meetings but also did Friday quizzes to ensure everybody logged off. The rule was that nobody talked about. We’re back to normal lectures and are trying to get everyone back in. We’ve done the same thing with students too, introducing social activities to get them engaged.

JM-B – Having spent the last two years learning online, rather than in the classroom, there is a concern that young people, coming into the job market, have forgotten how to act in a social environment. This is something employers need to be aware of.

IS – A lot of 16-18-year-olds have hidden behind a phone screen for the last two years and have most of their communication through text.

LR –Businesses need to think about how they do their inductions to help people settle in to the working environment, particularly for those who have done the majority of their communication by text for the last two years.

SS-B – It’s also important to remember that it’s not just 16-18 year olds. Everyone hasn’t been able to practice being fully sociable through the pandemic and that will have created anxiety for a lot of people.

JW – This all might not be over yet. We’re getting back to normal but there might be another variant and more lockdowns. It’s important to bear this in mind.

What are the wellbeing benefits for businesses and people based in Chesterfield?

JM-B – Ove the last two years Chesterfield, more than any other place in Derbyshire, has increased its physical activity. We do punch above our weight. As well ab being on the edge of the Peak District, we’ve also got three destination parks, two of which are big country parks. We’ve got the canal, walkways, cycle tracks and two sports centres. There are a lot of facilities that everybody can engage with to benefit their wellbeing.

LR – We’ve also got a lot of food and drink establishments, which is great both for meetings and for socialising outside of work.

JS – During the pandemic, we noticed that demand for our nursing, midwife and counselling courses rocketed as people wanting to develop those skillsets. We’re helping those people develop the skills they need to help the wider community.

JW – Chesterfield has a thriving voluntary and community sector, as well as green spaces and great cultural offering. We’re doing well attracting new volunteers at the moment and we’re hoping to start volunteering more ourselves as a team as we want to put the shoe on the other foot.

SS-B – We are so privileged to have those green spaces and getting outside is great for both our physical and mental health. Chesterfield has so many different support services and organisations and there are so many diverse opportunities here. There is also money being invested in residential and commercial spaces in the town too, which will make it a better place for living and working.