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Home » Employee Wellbeing » Navigating new work culture and the case for wellbeing

Stacey Machesney

Head of Health and Wellbeing, Irish Life

David Collings

Professor of Human Resource Management, Dublin City University

With the importance of wellbeing coming into sharp focus, how can employers best place themselves to hire and retain people while ensuring physical and mental health and a good work-life balance? 

Organisations are facing a greater demand for people-centred policies and flexibility, as working practices are irreversibly changed by the pandemic and members of Generation Z and millennials start to make up the greater part of the workforce.

Human connection

“During Covid-19, we jumped into digital — weeks and months of advancements in technology turned into days and hours because we needed it,” says Stacey Machesney, Head of Health and Wellbeing Division across the Irish Life Group.

“It was a really positive step and broke down some of the inequalities to access. But as we come out of the pandemic, we’re definitely feeling people are fatigued and don’t want to be spending all their time online. Pre-Covid-19, we talked about mental and physical wellbeing, but now it’s mental, physical and social. We place new value on the importance of a human connection.”

With employees reporting struggles with isolation and missing out on the social elements of office life, there’s an opportunity to bring workers back to the office, but it remains a question of balance. “Employers need to work out what work should be done at home and what needs to be done in the office,” Machesney suggests. “Innovation usually happens when you’re workshopping, brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other.”

Genuine transition

The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly shifted employee expectations for the better, Machesney says. “Mental health, poor sleep and financial wellbeing have always been issues, and pre-pandemic workloads were already heavy,” she says. “We weren’t going to be able to carry on like that. The pandemic changed the way we work in a positive way.”

David Collings, Professor of Human Resource Management at Dublin City University, says organisations that previously paid lip service to address employee wellbeing must now take it seriously and make what he terms ‘event-based wellbeing’ a thing of the past.

“A lot of organisations in the past ticked the ‘wellbeing box’ with pop-up services, guest speakers or showcases. But real cultural change is needed — where people feel safe to have conversations about wellbeing and health and where managers design organisational structure to really support the wellbeing of their colleagues.”

Senior leaders are concerned about their ability to focus on wellbeing in the strong headwinds we’re facing.

David Collings

Proactive approach

To ensure wellbeing is improved in a post-Covid-19 landscape, Machesney recommends employers keep a close eye on employee feedback. She says: “For example, if you have high absenteeism rates, we know mental health and musculoskeletal issues are the top two explanations. You can get ahead of that by providing mental or physical health support if you’re proactively identifying the issue and targeting what your employees need. Companies must take a step back, look at the data, listen to the people on the ground and work out what they need to do and how.”

Investment challenge

With a recession, investment in wellbeing could face cuts. Professor Collings explains, “Research has shown, senior leaders are concerned about their ability to focus on wellbeing in the strong headwinds we’re facing. But maintaining the momentum we’ve gained is important — even when the pressure is on budgets.”

He adds that companies that appreciate the benefit of committing to staff wellbeing will profit in the long run. “A lot of organisations continue to see investment in things like wellbeing as a cost, as opposed to understanding the cost of doing nothing — whether that’s long-term absence, attrition or the significant human cost. There is such value created by ensuring health and wellbeing for employees.”

“We’re not suggesting it’s easy. It’s a journey for most organisations, and it could feel overwhelming. But with a steady approach, by looking at the data, speaking to the right experts and being cost-efficient, we have the chance to make a real impact on the wellbeing of our workforces.”

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