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Employers can ease employee concerns by prioritising their wellbeing

Laya healthcare research shows that offering wellbeing solutions is a necessary way to build resilience, fostering engagement and connectivity among employees

Prioritising wellbeing is the best way for employers and employees to cope with today’s “anxious normal”, new research from laya healthcare suggests.

“Nine out of 10 Irish workers feel anxious right now,” states Sinéad Proos, laya’s head of health and wellbeing. Likewise, just over half of employers are worried that employees will be afraid to return to their workplace in case they get sick.

They are just two findings from a comprehensive national survey, conducted in July, of more than 1,000 employees and 188 employers across Ireland. In-depth interviews with human resources leaders and business owners also formed part of the extensive research.

Carried out by international insights and research agency Spark, this is the largest body of research ever undertaken by laya healthcare and has resulted in the Brave New Era series of practical ‘Playbooks’. Aimed at HR leaders and business owners, each is filled with useful information to help teams thrive in the worried world of work.


The Prioritising Wellbeing Playbook  is now available and contains a wealth of tips and insights to support employees through challenging times. It has a particular focus on the importance of planning and communication, as well as the value of having an always-on employee assistance programme.

New ways of working

The pandemic has upended traditional work practices. Some organisations have switched to having all staff working from home, others have seen their teams continue in the office or on-site, and many are managing a mix of both. What all staffing scenarios have in common is anxious employees.

For employers, top of the list at 66 per cent is concern about the impact of Covid-19 on employees’ emotional health. And with further government restrictions on movement likely to come and go throughout this pandemic, focusing on virtual employee wellbeing resources makes sense, as these provide support regardless of an employee’s location.

For employees, their concerns centre around the challenges of maintaining social distance with colleagues (40 per cent), while others have concerns about using shared spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms.

In addition, one third of people who responded to the survey consider themselves to be particularly vulnerable to the virus, because of an underlying health condition. “It’s something employers need to take into consideration as they look to transition people back to the workplace safely,” Proos says.

Almost all employees express concerns around the risk of getting sick, not just because of Covid-19 but also because of coronavirus-related stress and anxiety. They are afraid of getting sick themselves, and fear bringing the virus home to family members too.

[Download Prioritising Wellbeing, the second in a series of playbooks, available now.]

Taking CARE to ease minds

Having a detailed return-to-work plan and communicating it is vital to ensure employees understand what is involved, says Proos. Take particular care with vulnerable people, providing specific return-to-work pathways for those one in three workers who have a pre-existing condition.

Get external help if you need it. Just under half (43 per cent) of employers say they would look to a third party provider for communications support around wellbeing, health and safety protocols and guidelines for employees.

Laya healthcare provides significant practical and strategic support to employers who are looking to put structure and supports in place to answer their employees’ concerns by recommending the C.A.R.E. approach to bringing workers back onsite. The acronym stands for:

  • Communicate effectively with employees
  • Anticipate potential risks and employee expectations
  • Respond to both operational needs and human requirements
  • Engage with employees

Many employees will not know what to expect when they return to the workplace, so it’s important to set the scene for them in order to prepare them physically and mentally. The Government’s Return to Work Protocols are only the starting point, says Proos. After that it’s about “really listening, and having open and frank conversations”.

This is particularly key as we are seeing guidelines change in accordance with the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19 framework. The continued proliferation of Covid-19 will impact on employers’ decisions for months to come.

Ways to provide real help

One third of people who are working remotely are struggling with loneliness and isolation. It is a situation which can dramatically impact both quality of life and performance at work, says Proos.

Simple steps can help enormously to dissipate stress. “It might be as simple as making sure someone has a regular virtual coffee with others, just as they would have done before Covid-19,” she says. Having strategies in place to help beat loneliness can help a lot too.

Team-building calls where employees hold fortnightly or monthly knowledge sharing sessions, or online group work sessions can be helpful. So too can teams getting together to raise funds for nominated charities or celebrating colleagues’ birthdays, as they would have done in office-based settings.

There is also an unlimited online GP consultation and prescription service available to all members until the end of 2020

Another really helpful way to support staff through anxious times is to ensure they have access to an employee assistance programme (EAP), such as laya healthcare’s 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme.

It provides confidential counselling to employees and their families, to help them manage both work and personal issues. Designed to be used proactively, the programme helps users to build resilience, especially helpful in periods of on-going stress. And it can be used to help cope with periods of mental distress or anxiety and to help users deal with the juggle of their everyday lives.

Laya healthcare also offers several services that are of great employee benefit, such as Wellbeing Live free virtual classes and seminars. Wellbeing Live brings some of Ireland’s leading health and wellbeing voices together on one platform.

With 27,000 people registered for Wellbeing Live, it offers something for everyone from tips to stay present in the moment to Pilates. Because it is available online, it is there when employees need it and can fit in with their schedules, offering them a break from work and a positive way to connect with people across organisations.

There is also an unlimited online GP consultation and prescription service available to all members until the end of 2020, GPLive video consultations and Healthcoach programmes, as well as online ergonomic assessments and e-learning seminars.

Breaks, not burnout

Laya healthcare’s survey shows that just over half (54 per cent) of employers are worried that staff aren’t taking their holidays. They fear employees are not taking adequate breaks during the day too. Given the already challenging environment we are living in, that dramatically increases the risk of employee burnout.

People need to know they can access support and resources whether working from home or returning to the workplace

Here too, prioritising wellbeing is crucial. “Burnout is easier to prevent than to treat, so make sure employees can recognise the signs in themselves and others, and understand they can and should take breaks,” says Proos.

After all, whether working remotely or on site, employees have the same rights and should be given access to the same health and wellbeing support and resources.

More than ever, prioritising wellbeing is vital to organisational success, regardless of how – or where – it is delivered. “People need to know they can access support and resources whether working from home or returning to the workplace,” she says.

Learn from industry experts on how to keep your workplace well with laya healthcare's free resource, part of a series which will guide you in supporting your workforce with flexible working and relevant digital wellbeing programmes. Download Prioritising Wellbeing, the second in a series of playbooks, available now.

Insurance provided by Elips Insurance Limited trading as Laya Healthcare. Laya Healthcare Limited, trading as Laya Healthcare and Laya Life, is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Unrestricted benefits are available until the end of December 2020. Fair usage policy applies.