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Following COVID-19 employee wellbeing cannot be overstated, Gartner finds

Businesses around the globe are investing more into the health and wellbeing of their employees following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on workplace environments.

According to Gartner, 68% of organisations introduced at least one new wellness benefit by late March 2020 to aid employees during this time.

Even before the pandemic, Gartner research revealed that 45% of wellbeing budget increases were being allocated to mental and emotional wellbeing programmes, indicating organisations were prioritising employee needs in this area.

To further support employees' mental health and emotional well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak, HR leaders should consider incorporating different strategies that will help to reduce stress and anxiety.

This includes considering the employee's holistic health, leveraging existing policies and programmes and going beyond assistance programmes.

When it comes to having a holistic approach, Gartner states that although most employees report heightened threats to their emotional wellbeing, their social, physical, and financial wellbeing should not be overlooked.

Limited access to gyms and other self-care services, plus concerns around contracting the virus, are leading individuals to feel isolated.

Job insecurity, layoffs and furloughs, coupled with the effect the COVID-19 crisis has had on the economy, is also causing feelings of distress.  Supporting employees overall emotional and mental health requires HR leaders to provide holistic benefits packages, Gartner states.

As organisations determine how to best support their employees mental and emotional health, HR leaders must leverage and maximise existing wellbeing offerings, Gartner states.

This includes ensuring employees are aware and can access existing benefits, and expanding benefits to virtual channels. In addition, HR leaders can identify areas that might require additional support, for instance increasing PTO days for employees impacted by COVID-19.

With these activities, organisations should take an employee-centric approach, Gartner states. This means surveying employees to understand how their needs have changed during the pandemic and where current offerings may be lacking.

Progressive organisations are crowdsourcing ideas and guidance on how to support the emotional well-being of their employees, according to the analysts.

Organisations should also secure leaders buy-in and communicate to the workforce. Leaders are a crucial element of wellbeing programmes, as they steer the emotional and mental health of employees and can lead by example with simple actions.

For instance, leaders can share weekly testimonials, explain how they are coping with the effects the COVID-19 crisis has on them and their loved ones, or announce when they are about to go for a walk to stay ahead in company fitness challenges.

As for communication, HR leaders can use virtual events and message boards to communicate new messages to reinforce the current benefits available and help employees navigate them.

It is important that companies refocus their communications strategies to create and produce messages that can have an impact during this crisis and support employees, Gartner states.

According to the analysts, it is also crucial for organisations to look beyond employee assistance programmes.

A 2019 Gartner Well-Being Benchmarking survey showed that of the organisations that offer mental and emotional well-being programs, all provide employee assistance programs (EAPs), while 48% of those organisations offer counselling services and 21% supply mental health assessments.

Gartner finds that HR leaders can help their organisation look beyond EAPs and into less common but more successful offers to create efficient mental and emotional well-being programs.

A 2019 Gartner Total Rewards Survey showed although support groups are the least common mental and emotional well-being offering, they are the most effective benefit that organisations can offer as they can increase employee engagement 5.5%.

Gartner research also found that employee engagement improved 3.1% when organisations offered mental health assessments to employees.

Gartner HR practice director Carolina Valencia says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has led more employees worldwide to seek assistance with their emotional and mental health. Organisations that are able to meet these new needs will become employers of choice for prospective job seekers.”

Valencia says, “Organisations are working to provide the support that employees need, whether that be emotional, mental or even financial.

“Investing in employee well-being will enable organisations to have a more productive and engaged workforce and to better retain and attract talent now and as the pandemic subsides and employees return to the workplace.”