Why employee wellbeing is more critical in uncertain times

By Lesley Cooper, WorkingWell
With the impact of financial worries on employee engagement a concern for leaders, WorkingWell’s Lesley Cooper recommends a proactive wellbeing framework

The turbulent economic climate and the pressures associated with rising costs have uncovered new challenges for leaders, who are vital to supporting employees through challenging and uncertain times.

While mental health and wellbeing will already be high on most leaders’ agendas, the implications of financial struggles will further burden many employees, exacerbating existing wellbeing issues. 

The impact of financial worries on employee work and engagement is a concern for leaders with a recent study finding that one in four employees believed that money worries affected their ability to do their work. This included those on higher incomes.  

To make employees feel safe and to maintain a productive workplace, leaders must establish a proactive wellbeing framework with which they can guide employees. 

Here are five key things to consider: 

1 Identify employee needs

A well-thought-out wellbeing strategy must effectively address the needs of those it is designed for. Tailoring your wellbeing strategy based on employee feedback should be a fundamental step in its creation. 

Leaders must practice active listening and take on board what employees are saying with empathy. Surveying employee needs will help establish the most effective strategy possible that aligns with the needs that they have expressed to you. This serves a dual purpose of informing wellbeing frameworks, while also encouraging employees to open up, and help them in feeling seen and heard. 

2 Create a psychologically safe space

The creation of a psychologically safe space is key when addressing employee needs, as the process requires them to feel that they can be open and honest without judgement or negative consequences.

Personal discussions about mental health or financial struggles can be embarrassing and uncomfortable topics for employees to discuss with senior leadership. It should be approached with the utmost understanding and empathy. Remember that as a leader you do not need to have all the answers to solve the problems brought to you by employees. You just need to be available, present, and able to signpost appropriate support.

3 Build supportive communities 

Support should be available from the top but should also be encouraged throughout the organisation between colleagues. Meaningful relationships in the workplace can significantly impact an individual’s ability to cope through the support of those around them. Open communication between employees builds connections, challenges stigmas around mental health, and builds communities. 

Not everyone has the same natural levels of resilience or approaches to managing stress. For employees who are struggling, hearing from those around them can encourage the learning of healthy habits and coping mechanisms based on peer advice. Leaders should be vigilant that the processes circulating between employees are healthy and will not spread bad habits.

4 Promote healthy boundaries

Many people have developed unhealthy working habits over time, and so will not manage pressure and protect themselves from burnout. When faced with overwhelming responsibilities and stress, many employees will overwork and not know when to slow themselves down.

This can become particularly severe when people are experiencing exacerbated pressures in their personal lives, such as personal finances. To avoid energy and output depletion across the workforce and a potential decline in mental wellbeing, boundaries must be actively encouraged.

Healthy boundaries must be encouraged and maintained as an integral part of company culture. Leaders can set precedence for this through establishing their own boundaries and protecting them. Through setting a positive example, healthy working habits will flow throughout the organisation. If employees do begin to show signs of burnout, for example being obviously fatigued, detached, or cynical, it is important to act quickly and offer support. 

5 Offer accessible support services

Both internal and external support must be signposted to staff. While leaders and HR departments have a duty of care to staff, professionals such as counsellors and psychotherapists should also be accessible who can offer expert advice and toolkits for coping with wellbeing issues. For help specified to financial concerns, organisations such as the Money and Pensions Service offer free and impartial financial advice through MoneyHelper, and should be promoted to staff. 

As well as being heavily signposted, it is vital that support services are easily accessible. When organisations bury support services deep in bureaucracy, help is limited due to the lack of swift access when people need it most. 

A proactive wellbeing framework that encourages a safe and supportive company culture will help leaders take preventative measures rather than reactive. Addressing wellbeing issues before they become urgent is crucial in maintaining a safe and productive workforce. 

About Lesley Cooper

Lesley Cooper is a management consultant with over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing management programmes. In 1997 Lesley founded WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps companies to manage workplace pressure in a way that facilitates growth and development. WorkingWell was shortlisted for “Best Wellbeing Service Provider” at the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards 2021.

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