Sep 30, 2020 | by Sean Russell

What can businesses do as employees return to work from furlough?

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The current working population will be employed for an average of 50 years – that’s nearly two thirds of our life. In light of this, even in ‘normal times’ it is important to look after the health of employees, but with the seismic effect that Covid-19 has had and continues to have on the physical and mental wellbeing of workers – this now matters even more. 

It is important to understand the younger population entering the job market have different thoughts and needs about the work arena, but also to recognise that as we get older we have additional challenges. The more senior working population in some of the most deprived areas of the country have lower healthy life expectancy levels – reduced by around 13 years compared to other more affluent areas. This means that employers will need to think about how they can support an ageing workforce to maintain a productive workplace.

On top of this, the way we work and commute has changed as a result of the pandemic, and the future for many people is very uncertain. More than half of all adults in the UK say that they are still unable to make plans. So as furloughed workers begin to return to work, either in person or virtually, we must make sure we think about how we can promote mental and physical health in the workplace. 

Work and wellbeing in a new normal

Health and wealth are two sides of the same coin. If we promote good workplaces and good quality jobs, we ensure better health and a better work/life balance that allows people to thrive and be the best version of themselves. This can in turn improve the productivity and resilience of your business, and as those in employment are also paying taxes, can benefit the economy as a whole.

Getting people into good work is the first step and then we need to encourage them to keep them there. Having a good quality job matters – and the role of the line manager can be critical in delivering this. Quality is what makes a job worthwhile for us and can apply to any skill level, type or industry. These elements are key to job satisfaction:

  • Greater control over your job
  • Supportive social connections
  • Skill development
  • Clear responsibilities
  • Opportunities to have a say
  • Physical safety 

effect of different wellbeing factors on workplace wellbeing graph

Work and Well-being: A Global Perspective Jan-Emmanuel de Neve Said Business School, Oxford University

What wellbeing activities actually work?

There are many different interventions that you may be thinking about introducing in your workplace. From those that address the specific health risks associated with Covid-19 and new working from home setups, to those that foster a sense of purpose and teamwork. The question is, where to start?

 The findings from The What Works Centre for Wellbeing’s systematic review of workplace wellbeing activities identified a diverse range of successful programmes that organisations have introduced. It also found that even in organisations where there is cynicism towards wellbeing interventions, this can be overcome.

At the West Midlands Combined Authority we have a programme called ‘Thrive At Work’. The foundational programme runs for 90 days and companies move towards bronze, silver and gold levels. We have seen over 400 businesses sign up for the programme and the early adopters are reaping the rewards though better staff morale, reduced sickness and a more coherent offer of support and engagement for their staff.

For any activity – from job design to team-building to sport programmes – there are five principles that underpin a successful wellbeing intervention which you can use when planning your approach:

  • Communication 
  • Commitment 
  • Consistency  
  • Coherence  
  • Creativity 

 Employee wellbeing will be pivotal in the recovery from the pandemic. Now, more than ever is the time for organisations, large and small, to commit to looking after it.

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