Over the past couple of years, the pandemic – and numerous lockdowns – have significantly reshaped the way we work. Now, as many of us return to the office once more, employers must continue to focus on the mental wellbeing of their employees.
There’s been much discussion recently about the Great Resignation – the large number of employees leaving, or considering leaving, their jobs. It’s a trend that’s come about because of workers re-evaluating the purpose of their jobs and the work/life balance they’re being afforded. At this pivotal moment, employers need to step up – and many have been.
We’ve already seen some great examples. Just before its employees returned to the office in August last year, Nike announced a week off for staff to destress and recover from the pressures of the pandemic. LinkedIn and Hootsuite took a similar approach, while Microsoft gave employees five additional holiday days, and a pandemic bonus. At Zendesk, we introduced Recharge Fridays – one paid day off a month as a trial from September - December 2021, to give teams the chance to unwind in a way that best suited them.
But it’s important for companies to look at longer-term strategies too if they want to build closer relationships with their workers. Recharge Fridays, for example, was so well received by both employees and managers, that we made the decision to continue the initiative for the whole of 2022. Here are some of the other initiatives we’ve found helpful at Zendesk:
Trust and support employees
A vital part of the flexible working model is a shift towards recognising outputs rather than celebrating presenteeism. But this requires companies to trust their workers, particularly if they are giving them the flexibility to choose their start times or days at home. As employees transition to spending more time in the office, initiatives that support their wellbeing will be greatly appreciated. Every employee is different, so the support they need will also vary. Examples of useful company policies could include caregiver leave, employee assistance programmes, or health and wellness training.
Leave no one behind
Work can, and indeed should be, inclusive – whether staff are based in the office or at home. Digital-first principles are important in this regard. When communication is seamless across the likes of Slack, Teams and internal Help Centres, it bridges the gap between employees, wherever they are.
But beyond the platforms themselves are the approaches that underpin their use. As people transition back into the office, consider safe spaces for them to listen and share. These could include employee communities, such as The Village and Whole Self – two of Zendesk’s employee-driven groups. (The former focuses on parents and caregivers while the latter on employees’ mental wellbeing.)
Treat the office as a verb, not a noun
In the era of hybrid work, the office, in my view, has a more fluid purpose beyond four walls – it’s a valuable hub for collaboration. Encourage teams to use the office for activities that reflect this purpose, such as meeting together, brainstorming and team building, rather than a required place to check in and out of for work. However, if employees are working across office and home locations, they must be comfortable in each. Offices can be designed teamwork and workers should have access to ergonomic workspaces at home. Some companies such as Twitter, Spotify and Zendesk have initiatives in place to support this.
Regular communication reduces anxiety
Changes to working practices are inevitable due to the unpredictability of the Covid virus. The pandemic will therefore continue to throw us curveballs that neither employees nor management will see coming. That can be a major source of anxiety for those who value certainty in their daily work lives. So, communicating as much as possible – even the known unknowns – will be helpful. McKinsey research on post pandemic working arrangements found that organisations with clearer communication are seeing benefits to employee wellbeing and productivity. Communicating clearly and listening intently to your employees will ensure they remain productive, even in unsettling times.
Allow staff to share questions and answers in a centrally accessible place, such as an internal Help Centre. That way they can see that their queries are more common than they think, and they aren’t alone in having certain questions. It will also enable them to find answers themselves, from an authoritative central source.
Prioritise work/life balance
Some of us are parents, some are carers, and some wear other hats outside of our jobs that occasionally require our attention during the working day. Workplaces should embrace that and show their workers that being a human being with the odd distraction is okay. Helping employees to give due attention to their other commitments outside of work requires them to be able to disconnect from work at a reasonable time each day. It’s already illegal to send emails outside of working hours in France and this is a practice that can be rolled out anywhere, regardless of legislation.
Many people have dubbed it the ‘new normal’ when discussing the return to the office post Covid. The truth is, we’ll all have to work differently to get close to what we might deem ‘normal’. A crucial part of the new approach to hybrid work will be the way businesses adapt, evolve and support the wellbeing of their staff. The conversation around their health and productivity must be an ongoing one.