The World Health Organisation recognized over 70 years ago that health and wellbeing is not merely the absence of disease, but rather a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. Workloads and working hours have increased exponentially in recent years, with developments in technology meaning that many people are working outside of traditional working hours, leading to a lack of work-life balance and reduced engagement and motivation in the work environment.
Recently, the mental and physical health of employees has been linked to productivity levels, with research showing that employees who are happy and healthy are also more productive. The effects of reduced emotional wellbeing of employees can manifest not only as physical ailments, leading to increased absenteeism, but also have psychological effects including anxiety, lack of concentration, and depression.
The ongoing pandemic and subsequent lockdown in South Africa has led to extensive job losses and the closure of many small businesses. This has led economists to predict a deep contraction in GDP for 2020, followed by a slow recovery. With employees increasingly worried about their jobs and their livelihoods, coupled with increased levels of remote working, organisations will need to fully understand the factors affecting their employees’ wellbeing, the impact of this on their business, and ensure that they implement best practices in the workplace to protect the physical, mental and social health of their employees.
Whilst organisational culture may sometimes seem invisible during the good times, during times of crisis and uncertainty, its presence can be clearly seen in the behaviours that are collectively displayed, either enabling people to pull together to achieve, or alternatively having the ability to create confusion, inertia and mistrust. Approached in the right way, a hybrid working model can enhance the performance culture. However, this will require leaders to interact with their employees in different ways, and possibly even embracing new observable behaviours to facilitiate social cohesion and trust within their teams.
Leadership may become less effective when teams are dispersed, and those leaders who were effective in an on-site environment may not prove to be so when having to adopt a hybrid approach to leadership. Additionally, the pandemic crisis has dramatically affected organisational goals, placing more emphasis on managing the motivation and performance of all employees, whether they be working on-site or remotely.
The employee experience becomes more critical as more people work remotely and the lines between work and home life become even more blurred. Fostering engagement and inclusion for all employees will be important considerations when establishing the new norms for business.
With many companies planning a new combination of remote and on-site working as the Covid-19 pandemic begins to ease, leadership and management will need to think carefully about how to create the interactions required for leaders and teams to remain connected in these new working arrangements.
Whilst this subject is highly topical at present due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the rapid move to remote working, there is little data on the longer-term affects to employees and business following the implementation a hybrid working model.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have forced employees to shut down their traditional operations, with employees having to adjust rapidly to new ways of working. This sudden and rapid shift of workers from on-site to remote working environments has challenged both organisations and employees alike, with companies adopting a “connectivity first” approach and employees experiencing major disruptions to both their home and work lives.
These blurring of lines between work and life within the remote working environment mean that the employee experience is becoming more critical. Employees working remotely do not have social work interactions to rely on, and daily video or telephone interaction is going to be key to establishing new norms for engagement and inclusion.
Remote working comes with additional challenges and barriers, both technical and cultural. Poor internet connection and high cost of data means that connectivity from home is out of reach to almost 90% of the South African population. Results from a survey in the US revealed that 41% of Americans do not have the equipment necessary to work from home effectively. In addition to this, many homes are not only doubling as workplaces, but also as the classroom. These factors, coupled with increased unemployment and reduced incomes, have increased the stress levels by some 23% amongst the US full-time working population, with South Africans experiencing similar woes.
Those organisations that have the ability to prioritise employee engagement through maintaining the relationship between motivation, wellbeing, and performance, will reap the benefits. Research via a poll shows that employees who feel valued and supported, and whom are healthy, motivated and focussed, are more committed and aligned to the organisational goals. 60% of respondents indicated that they would feel more motivated if their employer took a stance to support mental wellbeing. To ensure that employees remain motivated whilst working remotely, organisations will need to ensure that they have the right communciation channels and employee programs in place.
Alternate research suggests that not all employees are suited to working remotely, and that the individual virtual competence of an employee is integral to their performance. This relates to the employee possessing the abililty, skill, knowledge and motivation needed to perform, collaborate, and communicate effectively in a remote working environment.
Separate studies however, revealed that employees working remotely experienced better emotions, were less fatigued, and reported higher levels of satisfaction with life than those working on-site. Increased performance was also noted, with fewer sick days reported, reduced staff turnover, and reduced levels of burnout and stress related absenteeism. These findings suggest that there is a strong positive relationship between employee wellbeing and productivity, and utimately the performance of an organisation.
Much research has been conducted on the different individual concepts that have been put forward in the topic. However, possibly due to the relatively new phenomena of Covid-19, and the associated move to remote working, there appear to be gaps in the amount of consolidated information available. In addition, much of the research that has been done was conducted in the United States, and the relevance of it to a South African workplace could not be established. A continuation of research into the topic, further exploring the concepts and bringing qualitative and quantitative data into the research which is relevant and aligned to the South African workplace will assist companies in selecting and implementing a hybrid working model that provides the right outcomes to business.
By: Carla Jordan – Chief Financial Officer, Emerald Risk Transfer