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Staff welfare during a crisis

By Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity Global Alliance

Employee welfare has taken on new meaning during the pandemic as health and safety and mental wellbeing take precedence.

The way organisations respond will make a huge difference to their employees’ wellbeing, motivation and long-term commitment.

To help staff cope as best they can during this difficult time, companies that demonstrate they truly understand what their people are going through, and show compassion, empathy and support, are more likely to keep motivation and performance levels high.

“You have the same duty of care to your staff during this Covid-19 pandemic as you do at any other time. It will, of course, be more challenging to meet that duty. Of particular concern will be protecting their wellbeing,” according to the Health & Care Professions Council in the UK.

The Council’s advice is directed at health and care professionals, who have been working in extraordinary circumstances and under immense pressure during the pandemic, but the duty of care message is just as relevant for other sectors.

The challenges

Coronavirus is indiscriminate. The impact of Covid-19 has varied from mildly disruptive to totally devastating, from country to country and person to person.

This has created new pressures and strains on employees and managers, many of whom are unaccustomed to working from home, with minimal face-to-face contact, if any.

  • Globally, hundreds of thousands of people have been directly affected by Covid-19 and some have faced social stigma, especially in the early days of the virus;
  • Many white-collar workers are working at home, often in makeshift offices on kitchen or dining tables while at the same time looking after children and caring for loved ones;
  • Other employees are adapting to redesigned offices, factories and other work places, with new ways of interacting with colleagues, suppliers and clients.
  • Some have lost their jobs while others have been furloughed for months on end, worried about when they will be able to work again or how they will pay the bills;
  • Many people have faced some form of confinement and isolation, and the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that this can cause;

This has forced organisations to rethink how they look after their staff, with greater emphasis on motivation and wellbeing.

The response

In the accounting and consulting field, firms have been focused on helping employees deal with the impact of Covid-19 and do their job to their best ability while at the same time helping clients overcome their own business challenges.

Within Praxity Global Alliance, many firms have developed and implemented comprehensive support programmes to help employees deal with issues such as health, wellbeing and finance.

These programmes are constantly evolving as the impact of the pandemic shifts.

One of the most comprehensive responses has come from US accounting firm DHG which was already well down the path of flexible working before Covid-19.

The firm developed an extensive programme of initiatives aimed at supporting employees and retaining staff long-term.

“…to help cope with our new virtual reality, manage stress and anxiety, and support the health and wellbeing of our employees.”

A task force, originally set up to plan for an economic downturn, switched focus to the implications of the pandemic. The cross-functional team created tools and resources to “help cope with our new virtual reality, manage stress and anxiety, and support the health and wellbeing of our employees”.

Initiatives include:

  • An online resources hub
  • Remote work assistance and tech support
  • Sessions with a former Principal and clinical psychologist
  • An open forum for working parents and emerging leaders
  • Free coaching and counselling
  • Enhanced communications including frequent and transparent CEO updates
  • Technical, industry and professional training, with virtual, virtual-live and self-study options

DHG provided assistance to furloughed employees, including paying 100% of the costs for employees and dependents’ benefits, webinars offering comfort and guidance, and support to help furloughed employees stay connected to each other.

A furloughed manager in DHG’s Assurance Practice commented: “When I think about what keeps me at DHG, my answer is always the people. Rather than simply saying you are furloughed, DHG hosted webinars to walk us through unemployment and did everything possible to help make the transition as smooth as possible. These are the things I’ll remember when I look back on Covid-19.”

More recently, DHG has developed a Life-Work Solutions Suite “to benefit and care for all employees, especially our working parents” during the pandemic. This includes help for tutoring children, virtual self-care sessions, extra support for mental and emotional health, and stipends for care and home equipment purchases.

Another example of welfare being stepped up during Covid-19 is the support offered to employees of UK accounting firm Rouse Partners.

“…a more personable approach”

Caroline Keers, HR Manager at UK accounting firm Rouse Partners says: “We have an ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ for all team members which has recently been updated to provide relevant support services in view of changing working practices. This update includes support for mental health, finance, wellbeing, health and counselling.

“We have provided regular updates to our team on this service and how it can be accessed. To support our wider wellbeing programme, we also put provisions in place to allow team members who were unable to work at home during the lockdowns for whatever reason, to come into the office in keeping with government working guidelines.”

Bindi Palmer, Head of Audit & Assurance at Rouse Partners, adds: “Our usual monthly team social events have been replaced by online team quiz’s and virtual social meetings which have proved popular with the team. We have also created video birthday cards for those celebrating milestone birthdays, with messages from the team.

“We also refreshed our intranet site to make it easier for team members to store and access information whilst working remotely. This included developing an area where our team can find information relating to our wellbeing programme and all our latest updates and communications. We have actively encouraged the regular use of Teams video meetings across our team, in place of emails, to promote a more personable approach whilst we are working remotely.”

This personable, employee-centric response typifies the way organisations are responding, not just to Covid-19, but changing work patterns that began before the pandemic.

In 2021 and beyond, being able to understand and respond quickly to employee needs – whatever they maybe – will be fundamental to personal wellbeing, employee motivation and commitment, and business resilience.