The current coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world of work into uncertainty, with around a million jobs at risk and those still employed having their usual routine disrupted by the unique demands of remote working.
Career uncertainty is incredibly stressful, with employees relying on regular salaries to pay bills and provide for families. When this stress becomes prolonged, it threatens both physical and emotional wellbeing.
Helping businesses build a tailored and comprehensive benefits plan is, therefore, more important than ever, equipping employees with the tools to cope with stress and build emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is the ability to face, adapt to and even be strengthened by adversity. Anticipating and ‘bouncing back’ from periods of difficulty is an important skill for those in the workplace. Regularly managing tight deadlines, mounting workloads, adapting to new technology and navigating complex workplace relationships, all require unique, individual coping mechanisms. Everyone has their own ‘stress signature’ although common physical symptoms include fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbance and digestive issues. Chronic stress also increases susceptibility to health issues like obesity, heart attack and stroke.
The emotional impact of stress lead can lead to difficulty concentrating, indecision, irritability and depression with long term stress eventually leading to exhaustion and burn-out.
Employee benefit propositions should be designed with emotional support in mind, giving employees access to the tools they need to cope during stressful or uncertain periods.
This should include access to specialists with whom they can discuss their difficulties and learn positive coping mechanisms.
With so many working remotely due to social distancing measures, this may mean telephone or online CBT sessions to explore unhelpful thinking patterns or relaxation techniques and even quick and convenient telephone assessments to discuss specific concerns.
Equipping managers with the skills to support their teams is key. Investing in webinars and online workshops to prepare managers for the demands of remote working means they can quickly recognise signs of distress and have the skills and confidence to support others.
For example, emotional literacy training is an effective tool for boosting employee resilience by ensuring staff have a common language to discuss mental health. It gives them the knowledge, self- awareness, and empathy to be better listeners.
The stresses on each employee are different and the support on offer from their employers should reflect this. However, worryingly, a recent survey by Mercer revealed only 15 per cent of employers had surveyed staff to understand their needs during this difficult time.
Recent Ipsos Mori research also underlines public concerns related to Covid-19, including increased anxiety, fear of becoming mentally unwell, reduced access to mental health services and the impact on mental wellbeing.
Understanding the workforce is key. This means getting to know employees through surveys, online forums and one-to-one chats, understanding their needs and priorities, which can be done remotely.
Does the business offer access to trained and responsive line managers or mental health champions who employees are encouraged to talk to about their worries or difficulties? And if not, how can you help them provide this service through your benefits offering?
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be exacerbated while away from the office. Supporting employees with remote therapy of their choosing, either by video, phone or email, provides an additional expert support network while away from their colleagues.
Advisers should support employers in making sure employees are aware of the benefits they’re entitled to.
While working remotely, this might be through informal calls, emails or even inviting representatives from each service to host a video chat or webinar for employees to talk through the benefits and what they mean for them.
The role of an employee benefits adviser is to support and facilitate a workplace culture where conversations about mental health are both welcome and expected. This is more important now than ever.