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Workplace wellbeing in a changed world of work

Due to Covid-19 this year’s National Workplace Wellbeing Day will celebrate resilience

This year’s National Workplace Wellbeing Day will be very different to its forerunners. The very concept of the workplace has been fundamentally altered due to the need for restrictions in movement, social distancing and the enforced closure of tens of thousands of businesses not deemed essential.

"Over recent weeks we have witnessed and experienced the truly remarkable responses of people in Ireland to the enormous public health and economic challenges that Covid-19 has presented," says Ibec director of member services Sharon Higgins. "We see this in the dedication of our frontline workers in healthcare, supply chains and security. We see it in businesses who all but overnight have had to reconfigure the way we work together remotely."

“It is in this same spirit that we would ask employers and employees to come together in common cause for National Workplace Wellbeing Day on May 1st, 2020, and celebrate the resilience and goodwill that is manifest in workplaces across the country,” she adds.

Organised by Ibec since its launch in 2015, the wellbeing day is believed to be the only national day in the EU specifically dedicated by business to shining a spotlight on employee health and wellbeing. “Companies across Ireland celebrate the occasion on the day with a range of health and wellbeing activities in the workplace,” says Higgins. “Up to 1,000 companies participated last year and we are hoping for even more this year.”


‘Global emergency’

The need for this focus on employee wellbeing has been heightened by the current crisis, according to Higgins. “The global emergency occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic has created the greatest disruption and uncertainty we have experienced in our lifetimes. Now more than ever, it is imperative that employers and business owners send the message that the health and wellbeing of employees and staff is paramount in this time of adversity.”

She is keen to stress that the initiative is about much more than a single day. “One day’s activity won’t do anything to support a healthier workforce or bring about a change in behaviours. It needs to be all year round and baked into corporate strategy. Ibec established National Workplace Wellbeing Day with the purpose of encouraging businesses across Ireland to not only to mark on a given day the importance of wellness across organisations, but to develop continuous multiannual programmes to achieve these outcomes. We want businesses to use the day to launch a calendar of events for the year.”

I think I've done more Pilates and mindfulness sessions in the last few weeks than I have done in years

The day is also designed to showcase the work already being done by companies around the country. “It’s amazing to see what they are doing already”, says Higgins. “They are doing a tremendous amount to support the health and wellbeing and mental health of their employees, particularly now that people find themselves working in very different settings. Employers have put in practical support such as equipment to help people work at home, put flexible hours in place to accommodate the needs of employees adjusting to home working, and HR teams are working very hard to remain engaged with the workforce.”

That work has including some very interesting health and wellbeing initiatives. “I think I’ve done more Pilates and mindfulness sessions in the last few weeks than I have done in years,” she says. “Companies are also running things like quizzes, bingo nights and so on – all online.”

Team lunches

Other activities include virtual connect sessions including team lunches, water cooler moments; online briefings and live Q&A sessions with wellbeing practitioners; team building activities such as baking, cooking and fitness classes; and online access to medical, counselling and nutrition advice.

“You can have an even greater reach online for these activities as you are not constrained by capacity issues in the workplace,” she says.

It is also important to provide the supports employees required to engage with these activities, however. That could include sending out packages of ingredients or food to employees taking part in online cookery or nutrition classes. “Employers can also make sure to give employees the time to take part,” Higgins adds.

“There is also a huge amount of work being done on site in essential service workplaces. They have put in place additional health and safety measures - screens, social distancing measures, and so on and there has been huge buy in from staff and customers. They are employing lots of good practices that can be replicated by other businesses as they move out of the lockdown. They have shown that it is possible to conduct normal life and business while social distancing in a safe way.”

There are proven business benefits as well, she notes. “We did a survey of Ibec KeepWell programme members and 76 per cent of them said they saw a link between improved workplace wellbeing and increased productivity.”

In response to the changed workplace arrangements, this year’s day will employ an additional hashtag #TogetherApart to operate alongside #WorkWell20. “There are lots of great ideas out there worth sharing and we are asking businesses to sign up on the website and get on social media to tell people what they are doing.”