There is no doubt that the past year has been both disruptive and transformational, but when we consider how this will impact on our employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, it seems like the journey has just begun. If we fail to address this early, we will seriously increase the risk to their performance, behaviour, health and safety.
Mental health is set to dominate the wellbeing agenda for the foreseeable future, compounded by the consequential challenges of COVID. Lockdown loneliness, bereavement, the stresses of prolonged time at home and uncertainty about the future all play their part. Gen Z have become one of the more vulnerable groups with heavy job losses, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, older workers who previously had their sights on retirement may need to extend their working life due to financial constraints; others with long term conditions that have not been prioritised may be anxious or unable to return to their normal jobs. What is more worrying is the inability to really see what is going on behind closed doors for those working remotely. How can we truly understand how they have been affected and whether they are working in a safe and stress-free environment? Do managers have the right skills to have the candid conversations required and are they able to ensure compliance when signposting employees for help? Are we encouraging presenteeism if allowing staff to continue working with hidden illnesses and how will this impact long-term on their ability to work safely?
This is undoubtedly a whole new world of work. Employers will need to develop a culture of openness where staff feel less isolated and able to talk honestly about their health. We will need to develop strategies to create a culture that is health-promoting, built on positive psychological wellbeing and a strong sense of belonging and trust.
Ensuring there is a balance between protecting the health of people and sustainable economic growth moving forward will be a huge challenge for 2021. According to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s Nicola Neath, “If workplaces remain driven by economics without the appropriate value put on human beings, it will be very hard to focus on physical and mental health.” Health and Safety professionals are in prime position to use their influence to ensure that employee health and wellbeing moves up the corporate agenda.
If you would like to find solutions and examples of best practice in promoting workforce health and wellbeing, then be sure to register for Health and Wellbeing at Work Week, 15-19 March 2021.
Now in its 15th successful year, the virtual event provides 100+ CPD hours of practical ideas and examples of best practice, enabling you to embed a proactive health and wellbeing culture within your organisation. 20 conference sessions covering behaviour and safety, mental health, emotional resilience, healthy working environment, emerging risks and worker protection and sleep and fatigue. 200 speakers including HSE’s Sarah Newton, mental health champion Ruby Wax OBE, Professor Dame Carol Black DBE, Professor Neil Ferguson, IOSH’s Professor Andrew Sharman plus thought leaders from Rolls-Royce, HS2, Bank of England, DVLA and Brighton and Hove Albion FC.
Use the code ‘IOSH10’ for special reduced rates (valid for bookings made over the next two days).