To retain the best and brightest talent, and build trust with their workers, employers need to embed mental wellness support in their return-to-work programs and clearly communicate the steps they will take to keep workers safe. Two key steps are required to reinforce employees’ resilience in the post-pandemic world. They are:
- Expansion of mental wellness benefits to ensure support for individuals who require them, or who are at greatest risk of suffering poor mental health in future.
- Reorganization of the physical workspace and introduction of behavioral changes to make employees feel safer.
Here, technological solutions can play a key role. For example, collaboration platforms can be used as an alternative to face-to-face meetings, contactless technology can be adopted in workplace canteens, and staff can be developed using virtual training tools rather than in classroom settings. Potentially, sensors can be used to track people’s movements and monitor social distancing.
Employees may even be prepared to share their data via contact tracing apps if doing this keeps them physically well and enables their organization to continue operating in the event of another outbreak. Based on the Future Consumer Index results, nearly 60% of individuals will share their personal data if it helps with disease prevention.
But to maintain trust with workers, employers should make sure their employees retain control of this data. The employees, not the employers, must be the ones to decide who has access to their personal data when — and under what conditions. That means if employers use contract tracing apps developed by third parties, employee representatives need to be involved in vetting those app developers. Irresponsible handling of data is one of the fastest ways to lose consumer trust and currently more than a third of consumers EY surveyed completely trust technology providers to handle their personal data appropriately.
In addition to making the physical environment safer, technology can help to build strong mental health. Employers can make a number of solutions available to their employees, including mindfulness apps, chatbots and telehealth visits with mental health providers. These technological solutions can be complemented by more liberal sick leave and vacation policies, as well as feedback mechanisms that enable employers to listen to employee concerns and use data to respond quickly and appropriately.
Many employees — especially those who have felt isolated during the pandemic — will happily return to their workplaces, provided they believe it’s safe to do so. Others will want to keep working from home. To compete for talent effectively, organizations should provide flexible policies that support longer-term shifts in working practices.
These policies should also acknowledge that, in future, the whole notion of ‘going into the office’ is likely to become more intentional. People will congregate in shared workspaces for specific activities such as networking or brainstorming, which may be less effective when performed remotely.
The health and safety of employees is critical to long-term value creation. Employers that fail to invest in their people’s wellbeing will struggle to retain their most productive staffers and fall behind to rivals. So, as organizations reframe their future, they must consider how they can reinforce both the physical and mental wellbeing of their workforce. They must also empower employees to be fully present during what is likely to be an extended period of both disruption and opportunity.