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Employee engagement and wellbeing in a Covid-19 world: Learn and Share event highlights

6 Jul 2020 - Covid-19, Events

Employee engagement and wellbeing in a Covid-19 world: Learn and Share event highlights

We were delighted to be joined by over 30 Universities and FE colleges for the first in our series of virtual Learn and Share events. 

HEIs have been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown with many having to transform their way of working overnightwhile balancing the  needs of both staff and students.  

Despite the challenges the pandemic continues to bring, HR representatives from the University of Bradford and London South Bank University sharethe inspiring ways they have engaged their teams and supported wellbeing throughout the crisis 

We were also thrilled to welcome Dr Rachel Lewis from Birkbeck University, who shared insights from her newly published guide, “Managing our wellbeing in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic filled with practical advice and exercises to help organisations support the wellbeing of colleagues and line managers.  

It was a wonderful session all roundwith so much content that we ran out of time to answer all questions submittedWe’ve rounded-up highlights from the event below and shared responses to your questions, to help adapt your employee experience for a Covid-19 world.  

Couldn’t make the event? Watch the recording here  

Responding to remote working  

Our speakers discussed how their Universities adapted to remote working with very little notice. Adnan Bajwa, Head of OD and Engagement at LSBU, shared how long-running plans for flexible working were realised overnightWithout knowing how long remote working would go on for, LSBU wanted to ensure that colleagues had the resources and access they needed and initially focused on how to recreate the ‘normal’ working experience virtually.   

Gill Moss, People and Organisational Development Business Partner, described how technology similarly enabled the University of Bradford to adapt to lockdownTheir recently introduced Bradford on Demand IT platform and a central SharePoint site with access to online modules and resources, meant their organisation was able to function remotely from Day 1 

Couldn’t make the event? Watch the recording here  

Taking a people-centric approach 

Our speakers recognised the importance of consulting employees during lockdown to understand how they were feeling and what they needed to work effectively.  

At the University of Bradford, Gill and the OD team set up an Advice Hotline as a way for people to get an immediate response to questions or concerns. While they didn’t have all the answers at first, the team soon developed a set of FAQs which could be updated (often hourly) as the pandemic evolved.  

Soon after lockdown started, LSBU engaged People Insight to run a series of monthly pulse surveys. They were keen to measure and understand their employees’ experience of remote working, and how this varied by circumstance.  

LSBU’s pulse results revealed some really interesting themes, including:  

  • Tech Poverty – While some colleagues had studies and technical resources such as laptops and unlimited broadband, others were sharing workspaces and using older or slower devices 
  • Digital Literacy – The switch to remote working required a familiarity with online systems like Microsoft Teams, with tech ability varying amongst employees. 
  • Social Isolation – This was particularly felt by those living alone, but across the organisation people were struggling with the lack of contact and connection. 

LSBU responded swiftly to their survey results, introducing virtual training courses, a comprehensive menu of engagement activities and regular communication from the VC updating and reassuring employees about the future. A virtual staff conference was delivered offering staff the opportunity to engage in a variety of sessions including wellbeing and social activities.  

LSBU’s engagement score has increased between pulses, a testament to the action they have taken. 

Learn more about LSBU’s employee engagement programme 

Leading with compassion  

Rachael Rowson, Senior HR Business Partner at the University of Bradford, shared how their executive team have been key to communicating changes and updates to staff. Exec briefings have become a daily fixture, with a weekly email from the VC providing an accessible way for staff across the organisation to stay connected. 

From Team Talks to Ask Me Anythings, new initiatives at the University of Bradford have helped show employees a more human and accessible side to their leaders. While this support from the top has been vital, managers have also been given the flexibility to introduce local engagement initiatives like Friday drinks and virtual birthday parties. 

At LSBU, early results of their pulse surveys revealed how the employee experience varied greatly by demographic. Recognising that employees with caring responsibilities were struggling to balance work and personal commitments, LSBU introduced an additional 2-weeks leave for carers which was granted without any paperwork/forms.  

As a London-based University, LSBU staff also felt keenly the impact of the Black Lives Matters Movement during lockdown and initiated a series of ‘Let’s Talk’ forums which the exec team joined as silent listeners to better understand the experience of colleagues. While tough listening at times, Adnan is confident that these discussions will help make LSBU a more inclusive place. 

Couldn’t make the event? Watch the recording here  

Mitigating wellbeing risks 

As questions submitted before the event showed, employee wellbeing is on the radar of every HEIAware of the potential risks that remote working brought, both LSBU and the University of Bradford swiftly introduced wellbeing initiatives to help reduce feelings of stress and isolation 

Ruth Young, Head of Employee Relations at the University of Bradford, told us that as mental wellbeing had already been identified as a business priority for the year, foundations for wellbeing initiatives were already in place. 

Line managers have played a key role in helping staff feel connected and settled even while physically separate from their team. Alongside shifting the way people were working, the University of Bradford adjusted expectations of staff to focus on output rather than hours. 

Designating their SharePoint site as a central hub for employees, the University of Bradford set up a Return to Campus Life area where staff could find support for wellbeing, including toolkits for managers and employees and financial wellbeing resources. While the return to campus may be a way off, the OD team have been proactive at preparing staff for this with Manager briefings, Health and Safety workbooks and a reorientation programme. 

Recognising that their employees were often working longer hours from home and struggling with the drain of Zoom fatigue, the University of Bradford introduced ‘No meeting Fridays’ to give colleagues the breathing room needed to catch up on admin and tasks. 

Employee and manager wellbeing in the context of the pandemic  

Echoing the inputs of our University speakers, Dr Rachel Lewis shared new insights from Birkbeck University designed to help organisations look after the wellbeing of employees working during the Covid-19 pandemic. As an academic and a practitioner, Rachel was well placed to discuss the challenges felt by HEIs during the pandemic.  

Alongside offering practical wellbeing solutions and exercises, Rachel also emphasised the importance of treating employees as individuals, whose experiences, anxieties and support needs during this time will vary. She reinforced that line managers are pivotal to supporting employees but warned that this expectation brings its own wellbeing struggle for managers 

When it comes to returning to campus, employees and students will be greeted by a very different experience. While preparing people to return, HEIs should consider the following principles: 

  • Talk and connect with people now 
  • Plan and prepare 
  • Take it one step at a time 
  • Monitor and review 
  • Be kind and patient 

Find additional insights and exercises from Birkbeck University to support employee wellbeing in ‘Managing our wellbeing in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic 

A huge thank you to Adnan from LSBU, Gill, Rachael and Ruth from the University of Bradford and Rachel from Bradford University for being part of our Learn and Share discussion. 

Please contact Jane Tidswell with any questions, comments or engagement challenges you would like to discuss.  

Employee engagement during Covid-19: More resources   

  1. Free question set: Employee engagement during COVID-19  
  2. Free question set: consult your employees about returning to work 
  3. COVID-19: How organisations are preparing for the end of lockdown 
  4. COVID-19: How organisations are adapting 
  5. Should you be surveying during COVID-19? 
  6. Line managers: Creating a new normal during COVID-19 
  7. Support for HR: Keeping employees engaged and motivated during COVID-19 
  8. Our favourite wellbeing content to get us through Covid-19 lockdown 
  9. Not alone but lonely: How to tackle workplace isolation and improve wellbeing at work 
  10. Survey results: How to manage working from home following Covid-19 lockdown 

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