The Challenges of Long-Term Employee Well-Being in Large Teams

 The coronavirus pandemic has caused a monumental shift in the ways large businesses and enterprises operate on both a day-to-day and strategic level.

The sudden and compulsory lockdowns have been the catalyst for a rapid digitisation across the economy, hastened by the necessity of remote teams. Juliane Sterzl, VP of UK&I at CoachHub, analyses what this means for larger teams.

With departments and teams suddenly decentralised and individual employees operating in physical isolation, corporates have been forced to embrace technological solutions for almost every business process. From maintaining large-scale IT security through to hosting all meetings, even up to the boardroom level, businesses have jumped at short-term answers to solve what they hope are short-term problems. However, the efforts of building a productive and motivated team deserve more than a short-term fix.

Team meetings currently taking place over video calls will return to in-person conversations once staff return to the office; the volume of instant messages will likewise fall as colleagues are able to converse face-to-face. But corporations planning for a return to the status quo risk missing a huge opportunity to solve a long-standing challenge facing all large enterprises: the long-term well-being and happiness of their staff.

Isolation priorities

The effects of lockdown have caused significant damage to the population’s mental health and well-being. A third of women and a quarter of men in the UK have admitted to experiencing loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic – and with entire workforces isolated, this presents a serious threat to the health of employees across the country.

The effects of lockdown have caused significant damage to the population’s mental health and well-being.

Furthermore, the impact of mental well-being on productivity has been well documented – humans are social by nature, and thrive in communities. Collaborative and engaged teams produce happier individuals as well as higher productivity and creativity: the Global Happiness Council estimates that a meaningful increase in workforce well-being can cause as much as a 10% increase in productivity.

Workforce well-being has become a priority for some businesses in isolation, since it’s now more difficult than ever to assess how employees are feeling. The larger the business and the more employees to consider, the larger the challenge. In reality, for these initiatives to ever be successful, they need a far more permanent focus.

Long-term problems need long-term solutions

Short-term mental health provisions to counter the isolating effects of lockdown are an incredibly myopic approach to such a significant and severe problem. Approximately one in four people in Europe suffer from a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, each year. This is a systemic issue that cannot be effectively tackled at any level with short-term solutions; businesses should take this opportunity to implement a long-term and strategic approach to caring for their employees and protecting their mental well-being.

First, building a strong and authentic company culture is central to ensuring employee well-being. Committing to a set of core values should form the foundation of any employee well-being strategy. Company values should cultivate a sense of shared purpose as well as set a precedent for how employees should communicate with one another, since strong inter-team dynamics can have a huge impact on well-being. This is especially important among large teams and large companies, where the risk of feeling like ‘a cog in the machine’ is far greater, and the overall business mission can feel far removed from daily life.

Beyond this, companies should set firm boundaries on work-life balance and should require each team leader to keep a close eye on individuals to make sure no one is too stretched or experiencing burn-out.

Secondly, while there is plenty of research to suggest that increased exposure to technology, and the Internet in particular, is one of the drivers behind the proliferation of mental health problems globally, technology can also help provide the answers. With workforces operating remotely, many large businesses have turned to technological solutions, such as digital coaching, to help their staff connect with and access the support they need, whether that’s tackling stress or managing work-life balance.

Coaching, for example, is proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and when offered digitally, can be accessed regardless of the participant’s location, time zone, or even language. Operating across a number of offices and countries is no longer a barrier to a codified and standardised provision. But despite digital coaching being an ideal solution for remote employees during lockdown, consistency is key for promoting real change, and if you view these solutions as stop-gap fixes, you’ll be missing their true potential.

The future of work

Employee well-being is not a new issue for large businesses to tackle, and it isn’t an issue that can be solved overnight simply by purchasing a new tool. But the isolation forced upon us all by the coronavirus pandemic has given every company the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate their provision of support for their employees at every level of seniority.

Once teams and departments begin to return to their offices, it would be counterproductive and wasteful to reverse such measures – employers still have a duty to closely care for their staff’s well-being, so should continue or expand any programmes as economic conditions begin to improve. The companies that will emerge from this pandemic with an advantage will be those that take the opportunity to invest in their people in a long-term and meaningful way.

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