Crises often bring out the best in people and organizations. Our perspectives and priorities shift, and we learn to be more flexible, collaborative, and supportive. The challenge now is how to sustain this approach as the crisis ebbs.
Employee well-being in the spotlight
"I think through this pandemic we've really understood how valuable our employees are and that their well-being is paramount," says Stephen Shaw, WSPS' Senior Director of Integrated Operations. "It's brought home that what's best for employees is also what's best for the organization."
- 90% of respondents said the pandemic has drawn more attention to health and safety beyond biosafety/infection control considerations
- 86% said the pandemic greatly raised the importance of health and safety in their organization
- 85% indicated that going forward health and safety will be more important than it was before the pandemic.
Stephen believes this greater appreciation for health and safety exists in all workplace parties, not just the organization’s leadership. "For example," he says, "I think supervisors have a better understanding of how critical their health and safety roles are, and employees are more engaged."
Could this have a lasting effect on an organization's health and safety culture?
"That would depend in part on how the organization moves out of the pandemic," says Stephen. "There's been a lot of psychological damage over the last two and a half years. Masks, sanitizing, social distancing, some people may be okay with that. But with infection rates increasing again many people may be hesitant to return to the workplace. I think organizations that pace their transition out of the pandemic will be farther ahead than workplaces that say, 'Okay, we're good to go. Everybody, back to the office.'
"For most workplaces the pandemic has confirmed that mental health is a very real workplace concern and that everyone's mental health and well-being is different. This means that employee mental health will remain a priority, and organizations demonstrating more flexibility in dealing with mental health concerns will be more successful in getting people back to whatever our new normal looks like."
How to sustain the momentum
Stephen offers five ways to integrate what we've learned into our ongoing operations.
- Turn your workplace's response to the pandemic into a blueprint for the future. Back in 2003, we thought SARS was a one-time event. Now, with today’s ever-evolving pandemic, we know better. This time, document what's worked well and what you would do differently. Could you apply what you've learned to other aspects of the operation? Could you prepare more effectively for future threats?
- Review your HR policies. Many workplaces introduced pandemic-related changes to sick time, flex time and teleworking. Is it time to make these changes permanent? Are there other policies that could be updated to improve employee satisfaction and organizational success?
- Continue investing in employee mental health and well-being. Months of pandemic uncertainty, isolation and hardship have taken a toll on everyone. Incorporate wellness and mental health practices into ongoing policies and initiatives, such as addressing the 13 recognized factors of psychological health and safety in the workplace, providing greater access to resources, and enhancing employee benefits.
- Sustain the spirit of innovation and collaboration that has helped your organization protect employees and customers through the pandemic. Many organizations have survived and even thrived by assembling rapid-response teams able to devise cross-functional solutions. Apply this process to new challenges, pandemic or otherwise.
- Maintain regular communications with employees. Keeping up with changing pandemic requirements, business disruptions and new ways of working has required senior leaders, managers and supervisors to communicate with employees more often and in different ways. These communications helped employees understand and buy into changes, reduced the effects of pandemic isolation, and promoted openness and inclusivity.
How WSPS can help
Take your commitment to building a healthy workplace to the next level with WSPS' healthy workplaces and workplace mental health consulting.
- Workplace Mental Health: How Managers Should Respond (3.5 hour virtual or public classroom training)
- Breaking Down Mental Health Barriers – Stress (1.5-hour eCourse)
- Mental Health: eCourse Package, a series of five eCourses available as a package or individually:
- Mental Harm Prevention: 13+ Workplace Factors Toolkits
- Psychological Safety Resources for Leaders During COVID-19 (info sheet)
- 5 ways to create a safe and inclusive workplace during the pandemic (article)
- Welcoming employees back to work? Don't forget mental health in your plans (article)
- COVID-19 and Mental Health (poster)
- Mental Health in the Workplace (poster)
* The survey was completed by 805 respondents representing a cross-section of industries and organizations of all sizes from across Canada; 65% of respondents classified themselves as managers; 14% as senior leaders. Read a white paper on the survey results.
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.