By Matthew Reed
The coronavirus has clearly changed how we live and work, as individuals and businesses try to navigate their way through lockdown. But while we’re longing to get back to normal, the truth is things won’t go back to how they were for some time – if ever. We’ll all have to get used to a new ‘normal’ – and that might not be all bad…
Here are six ways coronavirus will change staff health and wellbeing for the long term, and for the better.
1. Sick staff will be congratulated for staying home
Struggling into work under the weather and powering on through used to be a sign of your selfless dedication to your job. In fact, many organisations have standard policies where too many sick days trigger disciplinary action.
That sort of attitude to sick leave will have to change, and permanently.
For the TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady it comes down to safety. In a recent press release, she said: “With coronavirus infections increasing, employers must do all they can to keep their workers safe. No one should have to endanger their own health and put their families and the wider community at risk. Government must introduce strong new rules to keep workers safe. And those employers who flout the rules should be forced to close.”
Boris Johnson introduced changes to statutory sick pay early in March, saying “people should not be penalised for doing the right thing” – and we predict that’s going to become a cultural shift across all sectors. Going forward, people will be actively discouraged from coming into the office sick - and won’t be considered ‘skivers’ for keeping their germs to themselves.
2. People will get used to phone or video consultations
NHS GP surgeries across the UK are now conducting consultations by phone and video link, many for the first time.
Dr Chris Morris, a GP who conducts video consultations with Equipsme partner HealthHero, says: “NHS GPs are overcoming their initial reluctance and starting to realise [remote consultations] present a great opportunity to provide a more efficient service. Clinicians now understand that 70%-80% of their care can be delivered without seeing someone face-to-face and that this is not only an acceptable way of consulting with people but offers many benefits.”
Patients who have tried this will similarly realise the convenience of talking to a doctor from home. Having tried it, they may well like it and seek it out in the future.
3. Employers will start to support health in new ways
Good employers will support employees’ health - and employees will value health and other benefits more highly.
According to a Covid-19 Barometer survey from Kantar, concern about health is growing among Brits as the virus progresses - with up to 52% now reporting it amongst their worries.
But where we’re looking for solutions to our health concerns is also changing. Kantar’s research looking at changing consumer behaviours in China shows that spending on health insurance and health supplements actually increased during the pandemic - and are predicted to grow further as the economy rebounds.
The UK’s interest in health insurance is already there. In February, according to Finder UK, around 13% of Brits had private medical insurance. But more than half - 53% - said it was something they would pay for.
Add to this that the Kantar Covid-19 survey also found that employees think their employers should now prioritise protecting employee health, and there’s a building picture that more individuals are likely to consider health benefits something worth sacrificing salary for - and that employers will accordingly be looking at healthcare cover as part of future employment packages.
4. Occupational health will extend into homes
More employers will see more homeworking after the pandemic becoming the norm. There is likely to be a phased reduction of social distancing measures, and non-essential office workers will continue to work from home full or part-time, with updates to the systems and equipment organisations scrambled to provide before lockdown.
However, home working is not without issues. In the recent Homeworker Wellbeing Survey from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), 58% of new home workers were already suffering pains and aches in their neck from their makeshift home office set-ups, 56% pain in their shoulders, and 55% reported eye strain or headaches. Only a quarter had had time to get a health and safety risk assessment of their homeworking arrangements before lockdown.
Longer term, employers will have to take on the responsibility for looking after their employees’ physical health, wherever their place of work ends up being.
5. Mental health support will become mainstream
The impact of coronavirus on mental health has been profound and will reverberate for months and even years to come. In a statement from Mind, Chief Executive Paul Farmer explains: “We are facing one of the toughest ever times for our mental wellbeing as a nation. It is absolutely vital that people pull together and do all they can to look after themselves and their loved ones. We are all going to need extra help to deal with the consequences of this unprecedented set of circumstances.”
People pulling together will also mean companies looking after their employees’ mental health.
Organisations reeling under the financial and operational impacts of coronavirus will already be feeling the impact of the stress staff are under. According to YouGov’s mood tracker, 48% of Brits are stressed right now, 42% are frustrated, and 34% are downright scared - up 22% from average.
IES, meanwhile, found that of those newly working at home, 60% reported they’d been fatigued, 64% had lost sleep through worry, and 20% said they felt isolated and lonely.
When productivity is already severely affected, organisations will ignore staff mental wellbeing at their peril. As they step-up to support their people through what really are unprecedented times, it’s unlikely the role they play now in listening, relationship building, stress support, sign-posting - and offering practical relief - will end with the virus.
6. Caring companies will come out on top - and become the norm
For the organisations adapting to coronavirus there will be longer term benefits. Caring companies will, eventually, come out on top.
The businesses doing well during the crisis are already those showing their caring side externally - and in the Kantar report people are clear they want businesses to reassure (69%), inform (69%), and show how they can be helpful (66%).
Internally, caring for employees has become one of the core principles identified by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) for coronavirus recovery. In another recent article, Deputy Director General Josh Hardie wrote: “The way Britain’s businesses help the country through the pandemic will shape their relationship with society for a generation.
“Firms across the country are innovating for safety in ways we never imagined. Protective infrastructure in shops and factories. Transforming working from home. Mental health mentors. Generosity, when affordable, on pay and leave. The widespread determination to keep people safe physically, mentally and financially is right, and impressive. Treat people as you would like to be treated, and they will stick with you to rebuild our economy together.”
Take a look at our plans and how they can give your employees the support they deserve.