As we move through the stages of the pandemic, research from laya healthcare suggests there is now a growing threat to workers’ health and wellbeing from exhaustion and worry.
The findings are released in Tackling Fear and Fatigue, the third of a series of 'playbooks' the healthcare provider has developed during the pandemic, aimed at HR practitioners and business leaders.
Entitled The Great Reset: A Brave New Era of Work & Wellbeing, the series establishes just how exhausting an experience the pandemic has proven to be for all of us and sets out the strategies employers can use to support staff through it.
As one of the leading providers of health and wellbeing programmes in the country, laya healthcare provides more than 3,000 wellbeing programmes to 2,000 companies annually. Ensuring it has the right strategies to support its client companies is vital, explains Sinéad Proos, the company’s head of health and wellbeing.
Adapting and optimising amidst uncertainty and worry
Laya healthcare characterises the journey the workplace has been on since the pandemic started in four words: forming, storming, norming and performing.
Forming was the rapid change to new ways of working that occurred when the pandemic first hit. Storming was the huge effort it took to make the new situation work. Norming relates to that period of getting used to the change. Performing, the research shows, was the calm after the initial storm, when productivity for many companies actually increased.
Now it is all about ‘optimising’, says Proos, but to do that effectively means tackling the fear and fatigue that laya healthcare’s research has uncovered.
For employers the big risks are employee isolation and burnout.
“Isolation is twice as harmful to health as obesity,” says Proos. “We are social beings, we are wired to connect, to engage. But we can’t hug, we have to socially distance, we’re sanitising our hands and wearing masks. Touch is restricted and now we are even further isolated.”
Managers and leaders need to realise the importance of keeping in touch but should be careful how they do this.
The early rush to video meetings proved exhausting. Some 26 per cent of employees said they were attending too many digital meetings.
“Digital technology is a huge enabler but people are tiring of that too, as they navigate the new world of working with and socialising via computers and other digital devices” she says. A better strategy is to think more broadly about your purpose of using technology and keep it engaging and interactive. Turn on video cameras at meetings, use body language to ensure others in the meeting can interpret your message.
Video chats are great for fun things, like a virtual coffee and catch up on a Friday.
Digital tools have also become a great enabler of virtual fitness programmes and carrying out employee wellness surveys and risk assessment at scale.
[Download Tackling Fear and Fatigue, the third in a series of playbooks, available now.]
“Nine out of 10 people were anxious or nervous and one of the biggest overall fears is the uncertainty of the future, which is exacerbated now that we are back in lockdown,” she says.
In July, 45 per cent of people felt uncertain about the future, with almost the same amount (42 per cent) worried about the economy. One in three reported that they were anxious about money. Just over one quarter, at 26 per cent, were concerned about job security.
From an employer's perspective, the biggest fear was a second surge of the virus
These unique insights have been informed by the largest piece of research the healthcare provider has ever undertaken. Carried out by international insights and research agency, Spark, on behalf of laya healthcare, it is based on an independent survey of more than 1,000 employees and 188 employers, as well as in-depth interviews with human resource leaders and business owners.
“From an employer’s perspective, the biggest fear was a second surge of the virus, a fear that has since been realised,” says Proos.
Engagement with Employee Assistance Programmes is up however, suggesting people are utilising the wellbeing resources employers provide.
Laya healthcare has seen a doubling of calls to its 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme, a confidential service of which Proos has used personally and can speak to its benefits.
“I’ve phoned it myself three times when I’m working from home,” she says. “It’s not a glorified call centre. There’s no question of someone taking your details and telling you they’ll get someone to call you back. It’s staffed by trained psychotherapists and counsellors right there providing ‘in the moment help’ just when you need it,” Proos says.
More than 500,000 people have access to this service nationally and that people are using it more is good news.
“It is normal to feel anxious and fatigued at this time and that fact is starting to play out in our mental and physical health,” explains Proos.
“We can’t plan, we can’t socialise. We’re looking forward to the weekend for a break and then spending it wondering what we can do. It’s exhausting because you constantly have to be aware of Covid-19 restrictions, and how they are changing,” says Proos.
Duty of care
Employers have a legal duty of care towards employees, to take every reasonable step to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing. “It is important to remember that this duty of care extends beyond those who wish to return to the workplace,” points out Jennifer Cashman, Employment Partner at law firm Ronan Daly Jermyn.
“Employers have an equal duty of care to those who work remotely, which is a key consideration as we now look to live and work alongside Covid-19 for the foreseeable future,”
That includes ensuring staff have time to switch off, “and not always be thinking about ‘what’s next’ on the to do list,” says Cashman.
Laya Healthcare’s Wellbeing Live resource has seen enormous uptake for its free virtual classes and seminars on physical and mental wellbeing, with over 30,000 registrations. These daily and weekly seminars and classes are free and accessible to all. To date, there have been health and wellbeing seminars delivered by Ireland’s leading experts including Sonia O’ Sullivan, Anna Geary and Gerry Hussey.
“Whether it’s an employee feeling like they really have a Pilates instructor right there in their home or an employer knowing they are providing proper ergonomic risk assessment for staff, digital supports are brilliant for this,” says Proos.
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 2021. Fair usage policy applies.