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Employee wellbeing during Covid-19

Whilst leaders are experienced in leading through change, those experiences can’t compare to the scale and uncertainty levels of the current pandemic, which is affecting the most important element of any organisation – it’s people. With the focus on keeping employees safe, the impact of Covid-19 on mental health is equally critical and the leadership team’s attention or lack of it will have a long-lasting impact on the organisation, as well as reputational consequences.

There is much more to employee wellbeing than physical wellness or happiness. According to a recent Gallup research high wellbeing equates to a life well-lived across five critical elements – career, social, physical, financial and community wellbeing. Employees who thrive in all five elements are twice as likely to adapt to change, 81 percent less likely to look for a new job and 41 percent less likely to miss work due to poor health. By focusing on the critical elements of employee wellbeing, leaders can improve their engagement, motivation and performance, both post-Covid and in the long term.

Addressing the anxiety

In uncertain times it’s only natural that employees feel anxious about the future of their jobs. They are seeking reassurance from their leaders that their organisations will put their people first whenever possible. Many employees are also feeling anxious about how safe their workplace will be, especially if they are at higher risk of Covid-19 or live with someone who is. If leaders don’t address this anxiety and assist employees in managing their mental health, bringing people back to work will do little to help organisations return to pre-Covid productivity and engagement levels.

Leaders will need to take greater responsibility for employees’ well-being, including getting to know the warning signs of emotional distress, helping them to understand what is and isn’t within their control, and learning how to triage real-time issues while including additional resources.

Anxiety is likely to be further reduced as employees reengage with their colleagues through informal and formal support networks. Social distancing has led to feelings of isolation for many, making it even more important for leaders to prioritise social interactions with their teams, because even digital connections can remind employees that their leaders care and have their back.

Employees’ financial wellbeing concerns should also be addressed, through sensitive yet direct and transparent communication about the organisation’s financial landscape. A consistent pace of communications from the leadership team is key to managing employee anxiety and having clear updates and expectations from the leadership team can ease the uncertainty and make employees feel valued. Open two-way communication is especially critical as employers take actions to deal with the pandemic’s economic impact.

Sleeping in the office

Remote working is about more than just giving everyone a laptop. The office environment can’t be fully recreated, but it’s important to keep some of the norms even when working remotely.

For working from home to be sustainable, leaders need to help create boundaries such as setting “office hours” for particular groups or making it no expectation for emails to be answered after a certain time.

In the office, networks and relationships form spontaneously and accountability happens in real time as leaders can keep an eye on their teams from across the room. In the new remote setting, recreating these informal interactions can be valuable in keeping up morale and productivity, and maintain the office culture virtually. For example, software company Zapier sets up random video pairings, so that people who can’t bump into each other in the office can still get to know each other and have an informal conversation.

Organisations must continue demonstrating commitment to their values during the re-entry phase. Leaders will shoulder much of the responsibility for ensuring a smooth return to the workplace, which will require additional training in areas such as leading hybrid teams, building resilience and dealing with ambiguity. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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