More than two-fifths of employers are re-evaluating their employer value proposition (EVP) following the coronavirus pandemic, a survey has found, with many businesses putting more emphasis on wellbeing and assistance programmes.
The poll of 332 HR professionals by Aon found 41 per cent of employers planned to re-evaluate their EVP in light of the crisis, with the majority of businesses (97 per cent) indicating that mental health is going to become a focus in their organisation.
Almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) survey respondents said they were now focusing on wellbeing for home working, while 68 per cent said they were concentrating on providing emotional support. More than half (56 per cent) had targeted their wellbeing initiatives to improve resilience among employees. The poll was part of Aon’s Benefits and Trends Survey 2021.
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Commenting on the findings, Kevin Daniels, professor of organisational behaviour at Norwich Business School, said that even after the health impacts of the coronavirus had been dealt with there would still be a “ripple effect for a number of years”.
Through his own research, Daniels said he has seen communication become one of the areas organisations are focusing on. “We’ve found that organisations with better developed wellbeing offerings and programmes seem to be able to respond better to the crisis. Communication practices were really important because that’s how you reach people,” he said.
In the Aon survey almost nine in 10 (86 per cent) employers said they were prioritising employee communications, while 71 per cent said they now conduct research among their employees to understand their needs – 9 percentage points higher than last year.
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Daniels added that job insecurity was one of the biggest causes of stress at work, and employers should do what they can to mitigate this. “We know from the last recession that a lot of job losses are offset by organisations taking a proactive approach to flexi-time, offering shorter hours and trying to maintain the workforce one way or another.
“Hopefully changes won’t peter out in two years’ time when the worst of the recession is over – my concern is that these issues will slip back,” he said.
Renée Clarke, director of the Work Well Hub, agreed that improvements must be long term. “Ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of employees should not be a reactive exercise when adversity strikes,” she said. “It should be a continual process of prevention and protection. In order for employees to thrive they need to know their employers care 24/7, not just in times of trouble.”
Zofia Bajorek, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, also argued there needed to be long-term changes to improve employee wellbeing. “There needs to be constant communication, where wellbeing is continuously on the agenda. I’m wary of employers just doing this as a tick-box exercise to get through the pandemic,” she warned.
More frequent contact with line managers is significant for employee wellbeing, Bajorek said, as it makes workers feel more valued and listened to. There also needed to be more cultural awareness of what employees are going through, as well as a cultural understanding that no one has to work past their contracted hours.
“Line managers need to be trained on how to have conversations at work,” she said. “Organisations need emotionally intelligent line managers who are trained on how to have better wellbeing conversations.”
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said managers weren’t always equipped to take on these responsibilities without training. "Our research shows that managers are not always confident at having sensitive discussions around mental health – and only a minority are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill-health.
"Employers must ensure that managers have had adequate training on how to talk about mental health and are comfortable putting this into practice. It’s important managers can discuss any supportive changes that could help an employee and, crucially, know how and when to signpost to more expert sources of help where needed.”
However, Andy Charlwood, professor of human resource management at the University of Leeds, was sceptical about improving wellbeing means in practice, especially as line managers are themselves under pressure. “I don’t think top management commitment to supporting employees’ mental health always works its way down to the frontline, where managers, who are themselves under strain, may not have the resources to prioritise employee wellbeing,” he said.
“We can see evidence of this in the large number of women with children who have left their jobs during the pandemic. Balancing work with homeschooling is simply too demanding and employers have not stepped up to offer furlough as an alternative to job loss.”