COVID-19 has propelled interest in corporate wellbeing, and here’s what we can expect to see longer term

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every individual, community, and organisation in the world. It has brought prolonged periods of professional, personal, social and financial stress, and we are all being challenged mentally, physically and emotionally like never before. These many stressors have put employee wellbeing at the forefront of organisations and the corporate landscape is forever changing. No longer a nice-to-have, the safety, health and wellbeing of employees has become a distinct corporate responsibility. As a result, we are seeing a shift in the treatment of employees to a more holistic approach and we can expect to see more companies prioritise wellbeing and integrate it into their policies and processes permanently.

A 2021 market study published by Global Industry Analysts reveals the global corporate wellbeing market is on track to reach US $83.6 billion by 2026. While the concept of wellbeing has garnered significant attention in the last two years, it hasn’t always been taken as seriously. Prior to 2020, corporate wellbeing was more often considered a buzzword than a legitimate responsibility for employers. However, the health of employees can impact many aspects of a business, including engagement, retention and productivity. These issues, combined with an acceleration of remote working during the pandemic, are prompting organisations to focus on corporate wellbeing as a longer-term strategy.

Currently, corporate wellbeing initiatives are naturally being tailored to the immediate needs of employees living through the current health crisis. The exploration and expansion of remote working is leading to many unforeseen wellbeing issues and benefits. According to the Global Wellbeing Institute, as companies adopt remote work policies, from sick leave to flexible work schedules, many will keep those policies in place permanently. Budgets will also see a shift from corporate real estate and other centralised costs to investments in strategies, technologies and resources to keep remote workers connected, productive and resilient. However, the Global Wellbeing Institute predicts this will require the development of new models of leading to include: shifting leadership responsibilities to everyone; and building leadership skills organisation wide to embrace new roles of facilitators, coaches and mentors with the purpose of empowering wellbeing, trust and effectiveness within people and teams.

We can also expect to see companies consider wellbeing in the building of workplaces. Building with ventilation, sanitation, cleaning, and light, will be a part of wellbeing strategies. This will also involve ethical examinations of factors detrimental to wellbeing that have, until now, been accepted and ignored e.g. the long amounts of time spent in motor vehicle commutes. For proactive wellbeing initiatives, we will see trends in programs that target things like: managing and preventing burnout; creating boundaries with work hours and time spent with family; putting caps on after hour communications while working from home; a focus on social wellbeing; building connection with colleagues; post-COVID worry and stress; financial insecurity; and managing the fear of the unknown.

In particular, mental health will be considered a top priority. A 2020 study by Allianz Australia of more than 1,500 Australian workers found 80% wanted more resources and initiatives to address mental health in the workplace. Our own data from Springday’s Wellbeing Check Tool shows that reducing stress was the most important area of improvement for emotional wellbeing across different organisations. While some workplaces are targeting this through providing ‘wellbeing days’, that allow employees to take a day off with no questions asked for time to recharge, the occasional day off will only be impactful as part of a broader wellbeing strategy around the general culture of the workplace. Workplace values will need to protect mental health and managers will need to regularly check in and be educated on how to support their team members.

Some good examples of corporate wellbeing programs targeting mental health were celebrated in last year’s AFR Boss Best Places to Work Awards. Treasury Wine Estates launched TWEforMe to build employee resilience and wellbeing, personal development skills, and an inclusive, supportive and collaborative culture. Furniture and homewares business Koskela moved to a nine-day fortnight at full salary giving employees the first Friday off for personal care. Carman’s Kitchen runs a program that includes free healthy lunches each day plus discounted homemade meals for home. Our client, PWC, was also part of this list have implemented a “Leading Inclusive Teams” program which aims to teach and embed everyday behaviours around feeling comfortable expressing a unique point of view and building a sense of belonging within teams. So far, employees have reported feeling more comfortable speaking up, in addition to improvements in psychological safety.

These types of programs are only the very beginning of what corporations will soon look to offer.  Corporate wellbeing is fast becoming critical to business strength, sustainability and growth. We can expect these various wellbeing factors will now motivate organisations to redefine their beliefs, policies and practices supporting when and how people work within their organisation with the aim to facilitate greater wellbeing and effectiveness. Now considered a corporate responsibility, those businesses that do not take accountability for their employees’ wellbeing will likely face criticism for overlooking it.

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