COVID-19: Navigating the challenges of employee wellbeing

20 April 2020

COVID-19: Navigating the challenges of employee wellbeing

As Kiwis settle into the new (albeit temporary) norm of working from home, many HR managers and business leaders now face the fresh challenge of how best to support employee health and wellbeing from afar.

With many traditional workplace wellbeing initiatives now on hold – like social sports teams, running groups, or walking meetings for example – it’s important for businesses to shift their focus towards a more agile wellbeing strategy.

The fact that you’re no longer physically operating out of the same space doesn’t mean you can’t actively support your employees’ wellbeing. There are many ways to adjust current practices - or begin to implement new strategies.

Here are some of the best ways you can help your employees to stay healthy during Level 3 and 4:

Access healthcare digitally

Where possible, it’s currently recommended that Kiwis do not seek face-to-face health consultation s. Thankfully, there are a range of options available for those who need to access professional medical assistance – which don’t require a trip to the doctor or pharmacy.

If your employee is unwell, remind them to call their GP first to see if they offer tele-consultations – and if not, they can find a health provider that does via Whitecoat’s dedicated telehealth directory.

If your employee requires a prescription and they or someone in their bubble is part of the “at-risk” category (pregnant, over 65 or has a compromised immune system), there are selected pharmacies which offer free prescription deliveries for this group. Alternatively, they can get prescriptions delivered directly to their door via ZOOM Pharmacy. ZOOM prescription delivery is currently free for all nib Health Insurance members.

Encourage physical activity

Even with Level 3 and 4 restrictions in place, it’s important to get regular exercise – and many Kiwis are turning to technology for inspiration.

From workout apps to YouTube or Instagram tutorials, there are a number of ways your employees can get active from their own living room, bedroom or garage. Around the world, many fitness, yoga and dance instructors are also live streaming classes for free.

Help keep your employees connected by “taking a class together”, or start a group chat where everyone can share an exercise tutorial they’ve followed that week.

To encourage employees to get active and go for walks around their local neighbourhood, we’ve launched nibSTEP, an eight-week wellness challenge. Available to all organisations with nib Group health insurance, nibSTEP encourages employees to use their wearable device or smartphone to track steps and have fun with some friendly competition and prize incentives.

The endless range of options means that all of your employees should be able to find something that works for them, no matter their fitness level.

Keep connected

A major challenge created by the COVID-19 restrictive measures in place is the lack of personal interaction we’d usually get during a day at the office.

Fortunately, technology allows us to bridge this gap – and platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger have a range of free video calling capabilities which can connect you to your employees throughout the work-day.

Encourage your employees to regularly check-in with their fellow colleagues – and use these platforms to celebrate members of your team and their achievements, where appropriate.

Dedicating regular time for socialising can also help maintain connection among your team, creating a sense of normality, and improve employee wellbeing.

Prioritise mental health

Mental health is an incredibly important part of wellbeing, and one that can be challenging to maintain when socially isolated - particularly for anyone unfamiliar with working from home.

It’s normal for stress and anxiety levels to rise during uncertain situations, like a pandemic, so it’s important that employees have strategies in place to cope with the impact self-isolation has on their mental health.

Different coping strategies have varied results depending on the person, but a great start is to have employees prioritise time in their day to practice mindfulness – even if it means scheduling a session where everyone does it together. For some, mindfulness could be spending time in nature, and others may find meditation apps or breathing exercises useful. This will build resilience among your team, helping them to better manage and strengthen their emotional wellbeing .

If your employees are struggling, and in need of professional help, remind them that it’s okay to seek additional support, and direct them to the number of free helplines and services available in New Zealand:

  • National mental health and addictions helpline - Free call or text 1737
  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666
  • Anxiety NZ – 0800 ANXIETY / 0800 269 4389

Have an open-door policy

As a business leader, being mindful of your employees’ personal situations and how they might affect work is important.

For employees caring for dependent or vulnerable family members, making time for a workout each day can be unrealistic. If they’re overly stressed due to financial hardship, finding the motivation to take part in proactive health initiatives at all might fall off the priority list.

To ensure you understand the different needs of your staff and their unique situations, it’s imperative that you facilitate communication. Implement an open-door policy so employees feel comfortable and supported to discuss their challenges – which then allows you to adjust your wellbeing strategies accordingly.

Get help from the experts

One way to tackle the challenge of managing employee health and wellness remotely is via wellbeing technology, such as nib’s wellness portal, myhealthHQ - a plug and play online platform which helps employers connect with their employees, wherever they are.

myhealthHQ is fully equipped with healthy living initiatives, nutrition guides, an NHS provided encyclopaedia of medical conditions and a health risk assessment.

This portal (accessible to organisations with nib health insurance, as part of their group health insurance) helps employers identify areas of focus relating to the health and wellbeing of their workforce, teams and individuals - and offers practical solutions to tackle these needs.

Continuing to nurture the wellbeing and health of your employees over this uncertain time, will mean staff are likely to feel more supported and better able to navigate the new ways of living – building an even more resilient workforce when we go back to the office.