Need to know:
- Flexibility is key to building resilience when employees work remotely, especially where they have to juggle other responsibilities such as childcare and looking after an elderly relative.
- Organisations should encourage employees to take time to focus on their wellbeing when working remotely, including regular breaks and time for activity and relaxation.
- Listening to employees and taking their concerns into account will help to build resilience during periods of uncertainty and change.
A resilient workforce is key to creating a business that can respond effectively to any setback, or opportunity, that comes its way. But, with employees facing many different challenges during the pandemic, it’s forced organisations to rethink their approach to building resilience.
As well as forcing everyone to adopt new ways of working, the pandemic has also shown employers that there’s more to resilience than sending employees on a training course. Francoise Woolley, head of mental health and wellbeing at Acas, says: “Resilience training is great and can teach employees some valuable skills but employers must look at resilience more holistically. It’s about having a culture where employees feel supported and valued.”
Understanding what constitutes resilience highlights why this holistic approach is important. Brendan Street, professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health, says it is built on a handful of key health and wellbeing pillars. “Physical and mental wellbeing, connections and purpose are all needed to create resilience,” he explains. “This hasn’t changed during the pandemic but all of these pillars have come under massive pressure.”
Home working and schooling, health and financial anxieties, loneliness and bereavement have all tested employee resilience, with Street saying that purpose has probably faced the biggest challenge. “Some people will have forgotten what gives them a sense of value and purpose, with others concerned that they will have to give up the things that give them this as the world starts to open up again,” he adds.
While some employees struggled during the pandemic, for others, the experience has helped to bolster their resilience. “Some employees have had a very positive experience of home working,” says Woolley. “Flexibility and the absence of a daily commute has enabled them to enjoy their work-life balance more and helped them realise what’s important to them. This will have improved their resilience.”
Factors such as a good home environment and supportive relationships with friends and family helped to create this resilience during the pandemic but employers also had a key role to play. By appreciating the anxieties employees were facing, employers have seen resilience improve, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic.
Remote resilience building
Many employers recognised that a different approach was necessary to nurture resilience when employees were working from home. Regular check-ins with employees to see how they were doing; flexibility around working times and workloads; and virtual social get-togethers were among the good working practices on display.
Gethin Nadin, director of employee wellbeing at Benefex, says that, ultimately, it came down to listening to employees. “Taking time to listen to employees and really understand their needs was key to maintaining and building resilience. Home working really helped to highlight diversity and made it easier for employers to treat everyone as an individual,” he explains.
Recognising the needs of individual employees also meant that flexibility was essential. By allowing employees to shift their working patterns around other responsibilities, whether that be caring for an elderly relative or getting the kids stuck into their schoolwork, meant they had more autonomy, which also helps to build resilience.
Line managers are key to delivering this and many organisations rolled out training to help them manage more effectively in a remote environment. “Managers need to be like a maître d’,” adds Nadin. “Rather than controlling what’s going on, they need to make sure that everyone has what they need to be successful.”
With physical and mental wellbeing two of the pillars of resilience, ensuring these were supported during the pandemic was essential. “Wellbeing has to be a priority,” says Eugene Farrell, chairperson at the UK Employee Assistance Programme Association (EAPA). “Organisations must promote good habits when employees are working from home. An employee might feel they can’t take a break, especially when there’s no one else there to show them it’s ok, so employers must encourage them to make time in the day for wellbeing.”
To support employees working from home, many employers launched or revamped health and wellbeing campaigns during the pandemic, with lockdown programmes delivering everything from exercise and nutrition videos to mindfulness and meditation apps. Often this was supplemented by line manager training to help them identify the signs of mental health issues among employees.
As well as helping employees build resilience by looking after their health, putting wellbeing front and centre also helps to create a culture where employees feel able to raise their concerns. Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, explains: “Mental wellbeing used to be perceived as taboo in some organisations but, as a result of the pandemic, it’s a safe topic now. People feel much more comfortable talking about how they’re feeling, which is really important when building resilience.”
Ensuring many of these practices continue as the pandemic is brought under control and more normality returns to the world of work is important, especially as there’s so much uncertainty around this next phase. This uncertainty, plus the fact that some employees will be anxious about a return to the workplace, has the potential to dent resilience.
In particular, Farrell recommends retaining the flexibility that was introduced for home working. “Good employers are embracing hybrid working, which gives employees more control and flexibility around the work-life balance. It’s a gift for employees, but one that also builds resilience.”
Similarly, many are keen to retain the more personalised approach that came to the fore during the pandemic. Woolley recommends taking employees’ individual needs into consideration when discussing future work plans. “Avoid a blanket approach and ask employees what they would like to do. Employers can help to address anxieties and build resilience if they show they are interested in their employees’ views,” she says. “The pandemic has been a challenge, but there is a real chance to learn from it too.”