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Article | EX Insights

Supporting a healthy and productive workforce in 2021

What have we learned from 2020 and how can you support employees further in 2021?

Wellbeing|Employee Engagement |Future of Work|Talent

By Nicole Albutt , Alisha Jethwa and Tom Wooldridge | February 22, 2021

In this part of our 12-part series, we will be exploring the 'Support' element of employee experience.

Last year a global pandemic forced organisations around the world to instantly adapt and, in some cases, to move to full virtual operation; these changes have led to entire workforces suffering huge disruption and high levels of stress. On a personal level, illness, loss, uncertainty and anxiety have all been having an undeniable impact. The barriers between our private and professional lives have fallen away and the resilience and health of employees is being tested.

As a result, supporting employee wellbeing has moved up the agenda for organisations. Having a culture that fosters good physical, financial, emotional and social wellbeing is now a competitive advantage in engaging and retaining talent. There is clear evidence which demonstrates the link between employee wellbeing and employee productivity.

This article focuses on the 'Support' element of the High-Performance Employee Experience (HPEX) model. As mentioned in our opening article, 'Support' is a key area of employee experience which preserves value through a focus on efficiency and productivity; having strong support in place through managers and teams is therefore critical to enable this.

In this article, we explore some ways in which organisations can support employees, through social wellbeing and connectivity, empathetic leadership, and agility. You can also listen to our recent Talking Heads podcast, which was recorded in the early stages of the most recent UK lockdown.

What we learned from the initial phases of the pandemic

Social wellbeing can be overlooked, but connectivity is now a key driver of engagement and productivity. Social wellbeing is about being connected, inclusive and supportive; it is about successfully resolving conflicts and adapting to change. For every one of us, being connected is a concept that applies across a vast network, from our family and friends to our workplace colleagues and the wider community.

Social wellbeing is about being connected, inclusive, supportive, successfully resolving conflicts and adapting to change.

Initially, many employers focused on adapting their systems and processes so that they could continue to operate effectively in the new environment. Now, though, leading organisations are concentrating more on connectivity. One way to do this is through listening to your employees.

Last year we worked with Colt Technology Services to fine-tune their employee listening strategy in response to COVID-19 to understand their employees' views and concerns. Most notably, we supported Colt in designing and implementing a specific COVID-19 Pulse Survey, using the Willis Towers Watson survey tool, to understand their employees' needs and concerns on business operations, employee support and wellbeing.

By using different employee listening strategies and a tailored COVID-19 pulse survey, Colt's employees' voices could be heard loud and clear. This connectivity helped them to evaluate their people strategy, launch a series of mental health webinars, accelerate the launch of a global employee assistance programme and increase general support for employee wellbeing efforts. To read this success story in more detail click here.

As part of employee listening and connectivity strategies, leading companies are also concentrating on:

Maintaining virtual support networks that enable their employees to feel connected. For example, regular manager check-ins (maybe try and turn this into a 'walk and talk' check-in rather than at a desk), quick pulse checks, 'ask the leaders' sessions or brief 15-minute ad-hoc catch ups

Equipping managers to connect with their reports on a regular basis to discuss and navigate challenges to their wellbeing, and to ensure that they understand what is available from their organisation to support them. Have you thought about running a series of brief but interactive wellbeing sessions around managing boundaries or around adult and children's mental health?

Creating other wellbeing opportunities such as volunteering (some examples include tutoring a colleague's child in a topic or area that they're interested in for an hour a week or connecting with organisations who support those who are lonely or isolated). Ideal for those colleagues who are looking to build regular social connections with a purpose

Providing personal development guidance, access and funds to colleagues who are then free to spend this money as suits their personal goals, from hackathons and social learning to yoga classes to encourage people to go beyond their organisational boundaries and bring external thinking in

Empathetic leadership is a core competency for our current environment. We have all been transported into each others' living rooms – even our most senior leaders broadcast from their own personal space. The ability to do this with authentic empathy is crucial to boost employee morale and create the human connections that employees need.

Authentic empathy is crucial to boost employee morale and create the human connections that employees need.

The need for strong leadership skills also extends to the manager community. How managers communicate, respond and listen is critical. Our insights from 2020 showed that empathy and emotional intelligence are key critical skills needed by managers through the pandemic.

The required skills for this type of leadership don't always come naturally to managers, but they can be learned. Organisations can help managers achieve the best possible results by:

Equipping them with the knowledge and information to help them signpost their reports to the right resources (e.g. mental health first aiders, employee assistance programmes, company-wide wellbeing seminars)

Providing training and advice on how to best support their reports (e.g. automated real-time advice and mentors available to discuss any situation and provide advice and support for the manager)

Dedicating resources and energy into developing people managers – now and beyond the pandemic – through development programmes, cohort learning and individualised coaching. Have you thought about developing talent with Saville Assessment's Coaching Report?

Agility is a core component of work, going forward. We have all built stronger relationships with each other simply by displaying our vulnerabilities or exchanging shared experiences of significant challenges. We have worked in new environments, shifted our work patterns and established different processes to ensure that work is done effectively. The following trends have been accelerated as a result of the near-overnight shift to agile and flexible working:

Where work gets done

Organisations which maintain this agility and flexibility in the future will have access to more diverse talent pools

How and by whom work gets done

Organisations are more likely to succeed in the years ahead if they are able to achieve the optimal combinations of employees, machines and talent to deliver work efficiently

Resilience to adapt to change

Change has been forced upon companies during this pandemic, with ongoing change and uncertainty set to be the new normal for the future. Having employees who are comfortable with complexity and who possess the emotional resilience to adapt to change is therefore becoming increasingly important to the success of organisations. Powered by Saville Assessment's Wave©, Resilient Agility can help organisations identify and develop individuals who are more likely to be effective during times of change.

We provide approaches and tools that help you tackle critical challenges related to the future of work. For more information, contact us or check out Future of Work solutions.

Our next article will focus on the employee experience area of 'Security'.

Here at Willis Towers Watson we help organisations shape their employee listening strategies, wellbeing strategies, build core leadership competencies, and provide approaches and resources to plan for the future of work. If you'd like to learn more, please get in touch with your usual Willis Towers Watson contact or reach out to one of the authors listed below.


Consultant – Talent and Rewards

Nicole Albutt works with global organizations across sectors on leadership capability and development.

Alisha Jethwa
Analyst – Change Management and Communication

Tom Wooldridge
Associate Director – Change Management and Communication

I support clients to deliver effective engagement strategies that improve employee wellbeing, raise awareness of benefits and improve understanding of pensions.

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