The speed and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed businesses overnight and left the global economy reeling. In the last week of March, according to the Department of Labor, a record 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment, a 3,000 percent increase in first-time benefits claims since early March. The majority of those who remain employed are either furloughed, or working remotely, meaning a serious disruption to the day-to-day operations of the majority of businesses.
Agility is the key strength for organizations at the moment. Companies need to act quickly to ensure that all employees have the necessary resources, skill sets, and learnings to ensure productivity remains high. That may mean steps as simple as switching existing training from instructor-led workshops to digital training modules, to more intricate policy and strategic changes, to successfully pivot direction during the lockdown.
COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on workers. Eighty eight percent of those surveyed by Pew Research said that their lives had been changed by the virus. In addition to health and financial concerns, 48 percent of those surveyed felt depressed, 63 percent felt nervous or on edge, and 60 percent had trouble sleeping.
Employee Well-Being Is Critical During a Crisis
Mental health has a substantial cost to industry. The Center for Workplace Mental Health estimates that the impact of lost productivity due to depression and anxiety costs U.S. employers approximately $44 billion each year. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America cites that anxiety disorder affects 40 million people in the U.S. 18 years and older, with more than 60 percent of those suffering never seeking treatment.
Remote workers are especially vulnerable to isolation, which can contribute to mental health issues. Those organizations with existing comprehensive well-being programs can support their workers more effectively. Healthy, happy individuals are better able to handle disruption and manage change.
Employee and management training can be the most effective way of increasing workplace well-being, providing individuals with the fundamental skill sets and communication tools to identify and tackle mental health issues in the workplace. The pandemic has implemented a new set of operational requirements. Now, more than ever, it’s vital to encourage well-being and provide support for managers to proficiently motivate and manage teams so they are able remain industrious and healthy during this period—and beyond.
According to the World Health Organization, workplaces that encourage well-being and support mental health have reduced absenteeism, less staff turnover, and more productive workers, meaning better business results. Leaders are aware of this. A recent qualitative study by Morneau Shepell, The LifeWorks Workplace Well-Being Priorities – CEO Perspectives study, found there has been a substantial shift in how CEOs and leaders view investing in health and well-being programs. The survey included interviews with 20 U.S.-based CEOs and presidents that manage companies with more than 1,000 global employees. The majority of leaders felt that employee well-being support is crucial to their organization’s success, and that further employee well-being initiatives were needed.
Furthermore, Morneau Shepell’s mental health survey of 8,000 individuals found that 60 percent of respondents would take a pay cut to transfer to a business that had better well-being care. The World Health Organization cites that for every $1 put into treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in terms of improved productivity.
Why Training Is Essential
Training is a key element of workplace well-being. Effective training can help managers spot mental health issues in the team. It can educate managers to sensitively steer vulnerable individuals to the support available, meaning fewer workers absent or in crisis. Empathetic managers often make the best leaders, but for many, it’s not a natural skill set.
Training ensures companies clearly communicate expectations, encourage cross-team collaboration, and promote positive workplace culture. Healthy company culture can transform businesses, and it’s a key factor for retaining and recruiting talent. While many organizations task the Human Resources or Learning and Development department with training, the most successful transformations are cross-enterprise initiatives. Senior executives, even the CEO, should be directly involved to champion well-being programs and associated training elements, with marketing and communication working hand-in-glove with HR to communicate its significance and benefits.
Not sure where to get started? Here are six key steps that companies should consider when implementing well-being training initiatives.
- Define the objectives. As with any business strategy, it’s vital to identify what issues need to be addressed in a particular organization, and establish appropriate metrics to determine the success of the training. Employee well-being is the driver of workplace productivity, and, therefore, business success. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to ensure that the people in your organization have the appropriate well-being support to thrive in this new world of work.
- Broaden the definition of well-being. Progressive organizations understand they need to broaden their definition of training to ensure it includes workplace well-being initiatives, giving managers and employees the tools they need to encourage well-being. They also know they need to take a holistic approach to well-being, meaning supporting the physical, mental, social, and financial health of employees.
- Focus on the whole workforce. Training is vital for all members of an organization—but senior executives have different training needs from summer interns. Layer the training to ensure it is appropriate for all members of the team.
- Provide flexible training options. While instructor-led workshops are often most suitable for groups, it’s valuable to include one-on-one sessions and mentorship options for a more in-depth approach. Digital training is essential, offering accessibility from home or office, and the ability for employees to fit education around their busy schedules.
- Understand it is not a one-sized fits all solution. Workplace well-being and training are intricately linked. Effective training has the power to transform businesses, increasing productivity and encouraging collaboration. But it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For training to be valuable, it needs to be tailored to the organization and its employees.
- Review and adjust. The best training initiatives have clear key performance indicators (KPIs), a clear means of measuring results, and a defined timeframe. It’s vital to review results often and adjust programs as needed.
Paula Allen is the senior vice president of Research, Analytics, and Innovation for Morneau Shepell. In this role, she manages the continuum of integrated analytics, predictive modeling, and data-centric products and services that support the organization and its clients. Her focus is on the current, emerging, and most complex issues that have the greatest impact on workplace health, cost, and productivity. She is also a recognized expert in workplace mental health, disability management, and drug plan management.