There has been a palpable change in the national mood since Boris Johnson’s announcement this week that we may return to restriction-free life from 21st June. While this positive burst of optimism is welcome, it conceals the longer-term unknown impact that the pandemic has had on our wellbeing. It comes as little surprise that mental health problems have worsened across all age groups in the past year, and the third lockdown has been particularly harmful thus far due to struggles with job security, home schooling, caring responsibilities, bereavement and lockdown fatigue all being prolonged. While, as according to PwC, 90% of UK CEOs are already conducting wellbeing initiatives within their organisation, it is vital that this continues post-pandemic, supporting employees’ physical and mental health as they emerge from lockdown and adjust to the hybrid workplace.
Today, ‘levels of stress are absolutely astronomical’ in the words of Arianna Huffington, with employees feeling tired, stressed and burned out by their circumstances. This is in no small part down to the role of technology, as while it has been our lifeline over the past year, spending even more time learning, working and socialising digitally with an ‘always-on’ culture doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Beyond the physical effects of eyestrain, poor posture and reduced physical activity, a paper published by the World Psychiatric Association on the ‘online brain’ concludes that excessive use of the internet impairs our brain and verbal development, with mass social comparisons (think Zoom envy) affecting self-esteem and media multi-tasking impairing our attention and memory. And that’s when the technology actually functions as it should. YouGov has been tracking Britain’s mood weekly since June 2020, and its latest data in February shows that frustration, boredom and stress are still our most frequently felt emotions.
The impact of employee wellbeing on business is not to be taken lightly. Deloitte reported last year that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. More positively, however, Deloitte also found that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions they get £5 back in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover. Here at The Argyll Club all employees have access to health and wellbeing service Help@Hand, which offers remote GPs, mental health support, physiotherapy, medical second opinions, and life, money and wellbeing support. Starbucks introduced an emergency relief programme for its international licensed store partners facing extreme hardship as a result of COVID. Virgin offer Virgin Pulse, an employee wellbeing solution that provides daily engagement tools, personalised micro-learning and targeted communications to cultivate good lifestyle habits, and this includes a 2021 Mental Wellbeing Toolkit, with videos, quick reads and tip sheets on topics such as practising gratitude and beating burnout.
As Sir Richard Branson himself says, ‘Take care of your employees. They’ll take care of your business’. To mitigate stress and uncertainty, employers must provide tools and resources that can support employees to reach their professional potential whether they are working remotely or returning to the office post-lockdown. Equally, employees must recognise their own agency in protecting their health, for example by taking regular breaks or setting up an end-of-day ritual; McKinsey draw an analogy with physical training, as we all require time for growth where we are pushing ourselves in combination with time for rest and recovery, where we can process events and incubate ideas. Without our health, we have nothing. It starts by understanding that wellbeing is no box to tick, but the foundation of success.