October 23, 2020

Live Well, Work Well

Tips for fostering employee wellbeing in the workplace

If there was ever a time when extra support around mental health, resilience and wellbeing was needed, it’s clearly now, as we continue to adapt to life in a global pandemic. That’s exactly why we chose to explore the topic in a webinar – Live Well, Work Well – with Worldwide ERC®.

Sterling Lexicon’s Melanie Klaschka sat down for a conversation with three HR and wellbeing professionals: Dawn Larlee, Manager, Health & Wellness with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Hazel Robinson, Associate Director – Reward & Wellbeing, Human Resources at Brunel University London; and Deborah Saberi, Global Learning and Development Manager, Human Resources, Marie Stopes International to hear more about their unique perspectives and approaches.

If you missed it, you can access a recorded version.

The panelists represent very different organizations and industries, but there were plenty of common themes evident throughout their conversation, including:

    • The pandemic has been a catalyst for bringing the focus on mental health and wellness to the forefront.
    • The challenges of the pandemic are affecting ALL of us, and it’s essential for senior leaders and managers to embrace the difficulties, demonstrate and respond to their own vulnerabilities and encourage strong messages of genuine organizational support – from the top down.
    • Not all support programs have to involve large sums of money – there are resources and options that can be very effective at little or no cost.
    • With a greater spotlight on, reduced stigmas around and a wider scope of what’s covered under mental and emotional wellbeing, now is the time to not only retain its high-priority status, but to “keep a foot on the pedal” and continue to support its expansion.
    • The work associated with wellbeing efforts can be hugely rewarding, but equally draining. Whether you manage front-line responders, are juggling the ramifications of “accidental expats” who retreated to different locations during lock down, or are supporting employees through the challenges of remote work, it’s important to engage in self-care, too.

A Look at Some Interesting Statistics

Conversations around an employer’s responsibility to provide duty of care to employees were certainly not new in early 2020, particularly for those with expat populations. And yet, many organizations were still caught woefully off-guard by the scope and magnitude of the coronavirus. A Covid-19 research report by the Society of Human Recourses (SHRM) found that 34% of employers did not have an organization-wide emergency preparedness plan in place prior to the pandemic.

Of those that did have one, more than half reported that it did not cover communicable diseases.

The impact on the workforce has clearly been significant: A September Mobility magazine article –  How Emotionally Committed Are Your Employees? – cites an O.C. Tanner survey recording a 221% increase in anxiety among employees as a result of workplace changes in response to Covid-19, and a 135% increase in feelings of isolation.

Clearly, Covid-19 has thrown us into a world of challenge and change, but our panelists had plenty of ideas for how to help you and your team cope.

From simple things – like encouraging desk workers to engage in exercises to stretch neck and shoulder muscles or breathing techniques to slow down the normal rates – to more complex solutions, such as expanding employee assistance program (EAP) and emotional health services, the webinar panelists offered several valuable tips. A few are summarized below, and you can also download a helpful tips resource to share.

Use the Data to Assess Your Employee Population

For some organizations, wellbeing might have fallen into the category of a “nice-to-have” benefit prior to Covid-19, with the provision of EAPs, onsite fitness facilities or discounted gym memberships. The focus was likely on things like absenteeism, presenteeism and the connection between physical health, happiness and productivity. For others, wellbeing may have been more deeply entrenched in company culture. Regardless of where you were on the spectrum pre-pandemic, it’s clearly an essential part of organizational talent strategy now.

If you haven’t already, all of our panelists encouraged using data points to level-set where your employees are today, and identify what they need to feel respected, supported and safe as we continue to move forward. Anonymous, confidential tracking of the use of EAP support programs, for example, or anxiety and depression-controlling measures can help you gauge how your overall population is faring. Regular surveys on how employees are feeling about office and safety measures, PPE equipment, travel and remote work will help you continue to take the pulse on where your employee population stands, what they want and need – and how that changes over time. Developing the right solutions needs to start with having reliable data.

man meditating laptop

Remember that “Communication is Free”

All three webinar presenters also shared that, in many ways, what the data shows is that what employees need and want most right now – no matter where they work, what industry they’re in, or where they are on their personal journey – is communication. They want to feel connected, supported and to know they are not alone. For many, talking about emotional health is not easy, particularly given our cultural tendency to place such high value on the qualities of strength and resilience. But all three panelists emphasized how important it is for senior leaders and managers to talk about their own ways of coping with the effects of the pandemic, and to reinforce the support resources and tools that are available to help.

One panelist shared that one of the tools they developed to help with that goal is an emotional and mental health resource guide, divided into three categories:

Green: With resources on what employees might want to know, including tips for maintaining emotional health and wellbeing.

Yellow: Containing need-to-know information and resources about what to do and where to go for help for those employees who are feeling stressed, anxious, or lonely.

Red: With information and resources for such urgent needs as those employees who may be feeling in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Another shared the enormous relief that many felt when the CEO announced early in the lock-down phase that as long as employees were able to accomplish their work, the hours in which they performed it were flexible. That news was particularly welcomed by parents juggling online schooling or the care of young children at home.

Another volunteered that one of their organization’s approaches was to ask for volunteers to serve as wellbeing champions – to offer the opportunity for anyone who might be struggling to get in touch with someone geographically close to them to help relieve feelings of isolation.

How Mobility Can Play an Important Role

Of interest to HR and talent mobility professionals, the panelists connected some of the dots between the workforce skills needed now, and the skills already present in a globally mobile population. Expatriates tend to be naturally resilient and possess the qualities that allow them to readily embrace and adapt to change. The panelists noted that in many ways, the adjustment to working remotely or from a different location can be a bit like an assignment – requiring new opportunities for finding personal connections, adapting to different ways of working and communicating, and supporting family members as they acclimate to new routines and environments, too.

Just as with individuals relocating, employees and their families should expect to need some time to adjust to the new ways of working now, experiencing ups and downs as they go.

Companies with globally mobile populations can consider leveraging some of the adaptability and resiliency skills and traits within their expat community to help other team members hone and build their own – whether they ever move across a border or not.

No matter what approach you take, it’s important to remember that now is the time we all need a bit of extra support, connection and care. What that support looks like will be different at any given time, not just for the companies providing it, but for the individuals working within them. But in the closing words of one of our presenters: “If you’ve helped one person, you’ve helped.”

Download a summary of helpful tips for fostering wellbeing in your organization.

See all of our blogs and updates at www.sterlinglexicon.com/resources.


Kristin White

Kristin White

Kristin brings nearly 30 years of experience in global workforce mobility, PR, marketing, editorial planning and communications to her role as a member of the thought leadership and content development teams. Before joining the company in 2020, she worked for many years at Worldwide ERC® in collaboration with cross-departmental teams and industry stakeholders to develop in-person and virtual event programming, digital and print content, and served as editor of Mobility magazine. Contact Kristin at kristin.white@sterlinglexicon.com.

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