image by Kat Yukawa

In March, as the coronavirus crisis sent shockwaves through industries and economies, I shelved this article. Several months on we have seen this crisis enforce one of the most rapid transformations of the workplace. In today’s world, the case for the bigger picture approach to workplace wellness – one that supports the human element –  has never been so important across so many sectors.

Wellness applies to everyone. It extends beyond physical health and encompasses several mutually interdependent components : physical, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, intellectual, financial, and environmental. These components can fluctuate and influence our overall wellness as we journey through life. The pandemic was a dramatic example of this for individuals and employers alike. The uncertainty, closures, lockdowns, health concerns and restrictions had an impact across all our wellness needs and are likely to do so for sometime. 

Improving our wellbeing has now taken on new meaning and is more attractive to everyone. This can only fuel what the younger generations were already beginning to ask for from employers – to be part of something better –  to feel employers care about every aspect of their wellbeing including how their employer is socially responsible. 

As we move forward companies with a culture that supports employees across the range of wellness needs, may hold an advantage. They already recognise their people as a whole person and that healthier, happier more engaged employees are at the core of their success. Companies, with the traditional corporate wellness programme in place – one with a specific focus on “risk” and physical health – may not fair so well. That narrow lens of focus doesn’t address those wider challenges we continue to face. More than ever employees want employers to be partners in their total wellbeing. Adopting a holistic approach may be essential, to stay relevant, competitive and thriving. 

Interestingly, the enforced rapid transformation of the workplace has brought about changes which may be the beginnings of a shift in the evolution of workplace wellness. .Working from home – a significant change for many companies  – appears, in general, to be working for both employees and employers. A recent CIPD survey found 44% of employers said that they are putting in place additional measures or spend to support home working.

Surprisingly WFH has promoted and supported diversity in the workplace . It has  opened the door of opportunity for employment to people with disabilities. In addition, the introduction of flexible home working is something disabled employees have been requesting for years with varying degrees of success. The demand for flexible working hours and work- life balance is likely to increase as they are now seen as a priority for many employees

Prior to the mass transition to WFH, loneliness and isolation was a reported concern amongst remote workers. For them the recent changes resulted in concerted efforts to put methods in place for effective communication and collaboration. Suddenly this and the positive side of social connection in the workplace was acknowledged and prioritised by employers. Online group chats and other forms of employee social engagement have been encouraged and supported, building that “ belonging to something” remote workers had been seeking.

Covid 19 also shone a light on the delicate nature of mental health. During the last few months we all faced challenges to our emotional wellbeing. The importance of employees’ mental wellbeing at work is not a new concern. However, the scale of today’s looming mental health crisis has created a call to action for employers to prioritise the mental health of their staff. 

There are heartening signs that employers are stepping up their support for employees.  Parts of the retail sector, for example, played a valuable role in supporting the nation throughout lockdown and beyond. Mindful of the effect on the emotional wellbeing of their employees, many areas of retail are now actively seeking ways to commit to prioritising the mental wellbeing of their staff.

One of the silver linings the switch to working from home and lockdowns brought about was a reduction of toxic emissions and pollution. The monumental effects across the globe raising awareness on environmental protection. For the first time in 30 years, the Himalayan mountain range could be seen in Punjab and other Northern cities in India. In Venice, the absence of tourism and decreased canal traffic vastly improved the clarity of the canals and marine life subsequently returned. Closer to home., Oxford Street, championed in 2016 as the ‘Most Polluted Street in the World’, saw a reduction of 47% in the daily average of nitrogen dioxide levels. In a recent survey half of the respondents viewed protecting the environment as a personal priority. Overall, people feel a strong responsibility to ensure their generation does not destroy the planet for the next generation. How their company’s footprint impacts the environment may now hold even greater importance to employees.

This pandemic has been the catalyst for everyone to understand we all have a role to play in actively participating in our own wellness journey and to ensure the move to that bigger picture approach – not just in the workplace but in a wider context. Those elements of our wellness are intertwined with how we live our day to day lives and that also has an impact on the world around us.  As individuals, employees or employer we have a social responsibility to improve public health, and protect our environment. In the 25+ years I have been in the wellness sector there has never been a time like this – a time when we can all be part of making things better than they were.