Work-life, wellbeing and the future of work


By Matthew Langin

The blending of personal and work life became something of a novelty at the start of 2020: Homes Under The Hammer, lunchtime walks and 7.5 hours of snacking quickly gave way to the pressures of home schooling, endless Zoom meetings and attempting to work from your ironing board.

2020 (and the rest) has challenged employers to think beyond simply namechecking ‘work-life balance’ on a career’s site. It has now become necessary to support their people in their homelives too.

This isn’t a new topic. It’s been rising up the agenda with employers for years, and gone beyond a reactive approach to absence management, to a more proactive approach to employee engagement and preventative initiatives. The pandemic has merely expedited this shift.

Employers now know more about their employees now than they ever did before. Seeing children, elderly relatives or even pets in the background of Zoom calls brought the complexities of the pandemic to light and highlighted the need for greater flexibility in the employer/employee relationship.

The Workforce Institute found, in a 2020 study with US employees, that 43% were concerned about burnout. And supporting this, a LinkedIn study in 2020 found a 33% jump in burnout risk since 2019. So, the risks for those who don’t sit up and take notice are clear.

There have been so many great studies on this subject in the past year, and these have really illustrated the importance of taking this subject seriously.

Gartner’s 2020 ‘ReimagineHR Employee Survey’ found that employers that support employees with their life experience see a tangible increase (more than 20%) in the number of employees reporting better mental and physical health.

And when you consider the fact that around 13% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions (Mental Health Foundation), costing an average of £1,035 per employee, per year (Time to Change campaign) then the benefits here are clear.

According to Aviva’s Age of Ambiguity study (2020), 43% of employees would class their mental health as fair or worse. And it seems to be having a particular impact on younger workers for whom 48% would describe themselves as anxious compared to 3% of the population at large.

It’s also impacting employees’ physical wellbeing with 84% of employees saying that they would continue working even if they were ill.

There are some great examples of organisations who simply get this right and were doing long before the pandemic hit. Most have initiatives or benefits that promote physical health as well as mental wellbeing.

Freak’n Genius, a tech company that pioneered video messaging in the early 2010’s, began their team meetings by encouraging employees to share what they’d learnt in the past 24 hours, and to quickly share their emotional status at that moment. According to CEO Kyle Kesterson, “Caring about the people who make up the organization and finding ways to empower them to grow and find what they are driven by or helping them solve real issues that keep them up at night can strengthen relationships and make it really difficult to just walk away from, even if the business has hard times,”.

Innocent offer yoga clubs, free gym membership, and flexible working as well as working with mental health charity, Mind, to support initiatives for employees.

Sweaty Betty, and Stylist Magazine, collaborated on the Reclaim Your Lunchbreak campaign to ensure people are taking proper breaks in their working days.

According to Aviva, one of the things that employers need to do is to understand their employees better and create a bespoke approach to employee wellbeing. This needs to be done through deeper, more personalised conversations with employees and the outcome, is a bespoke support package that is best suited to individual mindsets and behavioural patterns.

It is clear that employers need to focus on creating a culture that supports positive mental wellbeing. A 2017 Deloitte study, ‘At a tipping point?’, recommended organisations employ wellbeing leads to champion this as part of their culture. They also recommended using data from employee engagement to track and measure wellbeing over time and use this to generate greater buy in from stakeholders.

In a world where it is highly likely many will continue to work as part of a hybrid workforce, there is a greater responsibility on employers to ensure their people feel connected and cared for, but also given the tools by which they can cope with the new pressures this new way of working might bring.