Why wellbeing must remain a priority for employers, even as lockdown eases

With COVID-19 restrictions starting to ease, many small business owners will be hoping that the worst of lockdown is behind them.

Why wellbeing must remain a priority for employers

With COVID-19 restrictions starting to ease, many small business owners will be hoping that the worst of lockdown is behind them. However, as we ease into the ‘new normal’, it’s just as important as ever that small business owners continue to prioritise their responsibilities to their employees.  

Having successfully operated remotely for several months, some small businesses will be continuing this approach into the long-term. While some workers will relish the opportunity to continue avoiding commuting, others will find it challenging to realise that working from home is not just a temporary measure. Accepting more permanent changes  brings a fresh set of wellbeing concerns: a recent report from Nuffield Health for example found that 36% of those surveyed said not being in the workplace with colleagues makes them feel that they must be ‘always on’, and unable to leave their workstations for breaks.  

At the same time, those who are making the return to work may be experiencing fear or anxiety around the risk of increased exposure to the virus, as well as struggling to make the adjustment back to the workplace after weeks of lockdown. Both situations can significantly impact employees’ mental wellbeing. 

Given the current economic challenges, small business owners might baulk at the idea of investing in wellbeing strategies. But these initiatives don’t necessarily need to incur additional costs – there are a number of free strategies that can be employed to benefit both yourself and the wider business.  

Here are some of the ways small businesses can encourage their teams to consider their wellbeing as we move into the next phase of lockdown: 

Keeping Structure 

For those spending the majority of their working week at home, ensuring that as a team and a wider business some form of structure is maintained throughout the working week can pay dividends for wellbeing. Setting and keeping to mutually agreeable working hours ensures there is designated downtime and work will still be completed. This avoids any self-imposed crunch times throughout the week or letting productivity slip simply because your employees’ environment has changed from the office to home.  

It also ensures valuable periods of rest are maintained. It’s important to encourage employees to set regular breaks to keep refreshed and on task. In the office, the day is more likely to be broken up by small breaks speaking with colleagues or getting a cup of tea ‘ trying to recreate moments of respite like these at home will allow employees to approach activities with a fresh perspective, and can result in more creative responses to tasks. 

Staying Active  

Working from home doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the routine of morning or lunchtime exercise, or a post-work gym session. Incorporating outdoor exercise into your day while maintaining social distancing will prevent lethargy and keep you motivated. 

Exercise needn’t be a solo activity either. Why not boost team and business morale by taking part in it together? This could involve a member of the team leading an exercise class via Microsoft Teams or a Zoom conference or setting up a competitive running club through Strava. Small groups of employees who live locally could arrange socially distanced meet-ups that incorporate walking or some form of exercise (provided government guidelines are adhered to). These group efforts boost motivation, accountability and in turn are fantastic opportunities for some social interaction. 

Socialising while Social Distancing 

Many teams will have found maintaining social interaction throughout lockdown tough, but with the government now starting to lift some COVID-19 restrictions, groups of up to six can start to meet outside at a 2-metre distance. Business owners can begin organising small work outings for lunch on parks or commons, to boost morale and keep in touch more easily. 

For those who live too far away from friends and colleagues to meet easily, keeping engaged through virtual video calls can  help to keep morale high. While many of us are starting to experience ‘Zoom fatigue’ from a plethora of pub quizzes, a simple ten minute chat to check in with colleagues can do a world of good. This is particularly important if other colleagues are able to meet in person: otherwise those outside the local ‘circle’ could suddenly feel much more isolated.  

Organising daily or weekly catch-ups as a business or a team can help reinforce positive behaviours such as sharing ideas for the business, inspiration from the wider market, and simply enjoying a chat.  

Preparingto return to the workplace  

With COVID-19 restrictions starting to lift from 4 July, more small businesses such as shops, pubs and hotels are having to prepare to open back up again. However, with social distancing restrictions still in place, business will not be as usual.  

When planning the ‘back-to-work’ strategy there is a lot to consider, including the number of employees working in one location, the ability to ensure proper social distancing within the workplace, and whether your employees are reliant on public transportation. It will be vital to continue to follow government guidance, and remember to take employees’ feelings into account ‘ not everyone will be comfortable going back to work in the short term. 

To prepare, business owners should be implementing a phasing-in approach, being sure to consider their employees’ fears and reservations about returning to the office. The plan will need to be flexible so that as things continue to rapidly change, management teams can continue handling risks effectively. 

We have all had different experiences of lockdown, and the same is true as lockdown starts to ease. Some might feel anxious about returning to work, but then find their fears quickly fade as they get into a routine. Others might be initially raring to go but then find the experience overwhelming when it actually happens. The situation is very fluid, so maintaining constant dialogue with staff and regularly checking in on their wellbeing should be considered a long-term priority. Pay special attention to staff who have been furloughed, as they are arguably most likely to find a sudden return to work a shock to the system and have their mental and physical wellbeing impacted as a result.    

Small business owners hold a degree of responsibility for the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff, so it is important to communicate the importance of this and try to create a welcoming atmosphere so employees feel comfortable expressing any concerns around their wellbeing. However, it is also crucial that business leaders pay attention to their own wellbeing too. Seek support yourself if you need it, and remember ‘ we’re all in this together.  

Hayley Penn,
Hayley Penn,

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