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Advice from 8,000 staff on how to support wellbeing when working from home

7 Jul 2020 - Blog, Covid-19

Survey results: Advice from 8,000 staff on how to support wellbeing when working from home (WFH)

There’s been so much to learn from lockdown. As we emerge, we’re redesigning the work experience to balance safety and wellbeing with effectively powering up our organisations. Most organisations will see working from home (WFH) remain in their organisations for the foreseeable future, so wellbeing when working from home is a long term consideration.

During the last 3 months People Insight have used our range of Covid-19 pulse surveys to help clients understand their employees’ experience of working during the crisis. Following the initial results , we’ve delved into the open text comments of over 8,000 UK employees, to reveal what can make a positive WFH experience going forward.

Make sure we have achievable, realistic expectations for WFH

It’s clear that the employee experience has suffered the most in organisations where employers haven’t changed the input/output expectations of their people, despite the dramatic change in circumstances.  Working from home in lockdown has not been the same as working in the office, just in a different location, because of the vast array of challenges Covid has brought.

“Reduce expectations. It’s not business as usual. To say that ignores the difficulties people are facing.

Going forward, people will still have varied personal circumstances. True agile working and effective compassionate leadership takes this into account, with engagement and loyalty all the stronger for it.

“You’ve shown compassion by recognising everyone is under different pressures and reassuring that good work is still being done regardless.

People will continue to find it easier to concentrate on detailed tasks at home without interruptions. However, our research shows we can’t expect people to be able to get decisions made, coach and collaborate as efficiently from home without new approaches.

Have clear WFH behaviours & rules

Our research shows that over work is much more of a threat to organisations than underwork when WFH. There are fewer colleagues to take you for a coffee or pull you over for an opportune chat; we hear of video calls take up so much of the day, that subsequent actions and written work are being done in the evenings. The inbox buzzes from dawn til dusk – with early starters and late finishers emailing around the clock.

There are some fantastic ideas for managing the WFH day. Several organisations are banning online meetings between 12 and 1, to encourage a proper lunch break. Others are making 1:1s a walking phone call outside, to encourage exercise and a screen break.

One of our favourite examples comes from TSB, where they have a very agile culture. Employees personalise their auto signature to be clear about their schedules:

“My email signature states that between 8am and 11am, Tuesday to Thursday, I am busy with home-school commitments.”

This one in particular shows real respect for the recipient of the message:

“At TSB we work flexibly. While it suits me to email you just now, I don’t expect a reply outside of your working hours.”

Additionally, our survey results show that employees find having work-related equipment such as the laptop and papers sprawled across the dining table is detrimental to switching off. Its too easy to send another email when your desk is right there. Encouraging our people to put their work equipment out of sight when its home time makes a big difference in marking the end of the working day.

Leaders: Model your desired WFH behaviours

One of the biggest internal comms hits during lockdown, has been the quite often rough and ready videos shared by senior leaders. Working from home, without all the slick corporate props, scripting and editing, leaders have communicated about their organisations with empathy and real human-ness that has gone down incredibly well.

“The videos have given us a good view of the current situation and also makes the senior leaders more ‘human’ in ways you wouldn’t necessarily see in the formal office environment. We’ve seen our values being upheld…THANK YOU”

Leaders have modelled a set up that looks like their colleagues’ experience. They’ve shown the resilience, positivity and compassion expressed in their corporate values that they want everyone to demonstrate – and this mustn’t be lost post lockdown.

“The CEO is now the Chief Empathy Officer. And this is really happening. 63% of HR professionals believe their organisational culture has improved, 59% believe their employee wellbeing has improved, and 55% believe their employee experience has improved.”

Josh Bersin

Make gestures and rewards relevant to the current circumstances

Respondents to our surveys revealed some impactful ways employers have connected with their people during the pandemic. Thoughtful and relevant gestures such as supplying hand sanitiser or face masks to each employee have been gratefully received.  Saying thank you with a Deliveroo allowance has helped staff feel valued and supported. Working from home packs – simple things like pens, mice, notepads and mugs from the promotional store cupboard say that employees are considered. As employees come back to work, consider what items could demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to supporting your people in the next phase.

Annual leave – what’s fair?

Taking annual leave has been a real challenge for employers and employees alike. Employees have been on furlough or been reluctant to take the time off to sit at home. Our survey respondents were very negative about being asked to use their leave allowance in lockdown or to care for a child, relative or friend.

 “Being a parent, the comms hasn’t come across as supportive, saying you need to take paid or unpaid leave to care for your child rather than understanding it’s a temporary problem.”

“It’s been too hard. I have no child care, and am working from home with my baby. It’s been such a stressful time and I had to take off annual leave for childcare, which I was saving for a wedding.”

Others have been so busy leave has been cancelled and they are feeling the strain. Asking for leave now, in the working days left in 2020 is a challenge when employers are trying to establish operational catch up.

“You must reconsider the annual leave policy. How are we meant to use our AL when we are working flat out to continue to provide a good service?”

Regulations now allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 years, which helps solve the problem of excess leave in 2020, but we’ve heard of organisations not implementing this. Employees feel fairness acutely when it comes to leave – and handling it unfairly (across the organisation, or between teams) will have a big impact.

Be aware of a heightened sense of fairness

In fact, perceived fairness has been a theme in our survey findings. Lockdown and national rules have made people more attuned to the behaviour of others. We’ve seen this in the worried phone calls to police about others flouting the guidance. Beneath this action is a strong sense that everyone should be treated, and behave the same.  Employees in our surveys have reacted strongly to perceived unfairness in work distribution or breaks between teams, as it goes against the ‘we’re all in this together’ tone that rings truer at this time.

“We still haven’t had a change of furniture compared to (the other team) which isn’t fair.”

“How is it fair that (department x) gets to leave earlier on a Friday and we don’t?”

Make wellbeing when working from home about the individual – not just about ‘maintaining output’

We’ve done a lot as organisations during lockdown to maintain contact; leader communications, manager check ins, and online social events. Employers have helped people to work productively, with software, tools, and communication channels. This has all been brilliant, but there is a clear ask too in our research to focus explicitly on mental health and wellbeing when working from home.

What’s been surprising is whilst many organisations score highly for ‘I know where to go to for support regarding my health, safety and wellbeing’ (82% positive) we saw a fall in scores for the question ‘How would you rate your health & wellbeing right now’ with only 67% of respondents indicating excellent, good or fair. There’s a gap between us giving advice and information, and how our people actually feel. Perhaps providing live activities and discussions would be more helpful than sending out guidance to read.

Measure your wellbeing effectiveness

There’s never been a more important time to listen to staff. Understanding how well people are coping, and importantly – how your wellbeing interventions are helping, is critical given how changeable the environment is.

A wellbeing assessment acts as an early warning to identify departments or teams at risk of burnout. It also demonstrates to employees that you care to ask about their wellbeing, and helps you plan specific improvements. People Insight include a research-based wellbeing index and analysis in our pulse surveys, which has been really popular with clients like A2Dominion, Vinci, Brewin Dolphin and Southampton FC.

Want to find out more about People Insight’s wellbeing assessments and pulse surveys?  

Have a look at our wellbeing assessments and employee surveys. Thinking of launching an employee survey during these challenging times?

Employee engagement during Covid-19: More resources  

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

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