As the hybrid model takes root around the world, investing in the psychological wellbeing of teams is just as important for happier, more productive employees.
The enforced trial of remote working through various lockdowns has proven a success both for people and businesses, and has acted as a catalyst for the hybrid model of working, which empowers people to split their time between a company HQ, home and a local flexspace.
It’s proving popular because although offices are opening again, employees do not want to give up the better work-life balance that remote working affords or go back to the daily grind of commuting.
What’s more, the level of flexibility that hybrid working offers means that it’s a model that respects individual needs and empowers people to fulfill their professional obligations in a way that doesn’t force them to compromise their personal life – or their mental health.
The ability to choose when and where you work is demonstrably making people happier but companies still need to pay special attention to building supportive cultures and good lines of communication, which isn’t always easier with a distributed workforce. But in doing so, they will reap the rewards of a thriving team.
Schedule in-person meetings
In the past, openly discussing psychological struggles in the workplace was taboo, especially between staff and managers. Most people felt that it was unprofessional to cry or ask for help, for example, and consequently suffered in silence. The fear was that it would be perceived as weakness or a sign that they weren’t able to do their job, which put them in a vulnerable position.
With conversations about mental health now becoming far more mainstream, companies have a responsibility – and opportunity – to change the narrative for the better. And with many companies embracing the hybrid model, giving their employees the flexibility to choose how and where they work, leaders can set about nurturing more of a sense of ‘togetherness’ through regular appraisals, in-person meetings, team-building retreats and away days.
During the pandemic, many people reported feeling lonely and even paranoid because they were unable to work side-by-side with colleagues. By encouraging people not to work from home full-time, instead offering them access to a convenient nearby coworking space, individuals will benefit from both being around others and getting away from the isolation and distractions of homelife.
Focus on people before profit
It seems obvious but it’s in everyone’s best interest to reduce stress and burnout, alleviate anxiety, and boost confidence and happiness among employees. Unfortunately, it’s not something that’s always been high on the agenda for companies.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%, equating to £225bn a year in total GDP in the UK alone. If left unchecked, mental illness will be a far bigger problem in the future.
In fact the Lancet Commission says that by 2030 mental illness could cost the world $16trn annually, due to 12 billion working days lost to employee absence and poor productivity. How should businesses respond?
McKinsey & Company says: “Leaders need to think about mental health outcomes across a variety of domains: designing workplaces to minimise harm, building both organisational and individual resilience, facilitating early help-seeking, and supporting recovery and return to work.” Ultimately, by investing in employee wellbeing, productivity will go up and profit will be a natural outcome.
Embrace digital wellness
For the hybrid worker who is not always in the office, it can be easy to feel unnoticed. To mitigate against this, large companies should designate ‘mental health marshals’ in different departments who are in charge of regular online check-ins among team members, in the same way as a health and safety officer might look after employees in the office.
In a virtual space there is a lot that can be done to help remote workers get the support they need, and for some people, communicating by instant messaging can be easier than sharing worries face-to-face. Scheduling webinars, inspirational talks and guided meditation can also be beneficial, as can online therapy sessions, which can be provided as a perk.
Some companies such as Facebook and Amazon already offer free counselling sessions to employees, as well as paid-for subscriptions to wellness apps such as Headspace and Calm. Monthly digital ‘happy hours’ where colleagues can come together to share strategies for coping with stress, for example, can easily be conducted over Zoom.
Setting boundaries around the sending of emails could also be positive. In France, for example, citizens have the ‘right to disconnect’ at the end of the day, allowing staff in companies of more than 50 people the option to ignore emails they receive in the evening or on holiday. The law was introduced to deliberately discourage people from working after they left the office in a bid to improve people’s state of mind.
Looking to the future
It’s undeniable that the world of work has irrevocably changed over the course of the pandemic. Ultimately, it’s evident that the hybrid model can deliver “spectacular benefits for employees and employers alike,” says IWG CEO Mark Dixon. Now businesses need to use the model to its advantage to build a happier, more engaged workforce.
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