Friendships at work have long been a debated topic pre-COVID: arguments either side claim these to be both conducive or a hindrance to productivity and creativity.
But, according to new research by employee experience platform Perkbox, 45% of 1,296 respondents say that maintaining emotional wellbeing still remains one of the biggest remote working challenges facing businesses. In addition, 65% believe that workplace friendships – now even more critical in the ‘new working world’ – are suffering because of remote working.
Colleague camaraderie in the age of COVID
The benchmarking study saw that 54% of employees now believe that maintaining ‘social wellbeing’ (how connected we feel with our colleagues and the wider world) presents one of the biggest wellbeing challenges in light of remote working – an increase of 18% from Perkbox’s study of the same sample set the previous month.
Yet there is a clear disconnect between what employees feel and what their employers believe: only 12% of business leaders recognise their employees’ social wellbeing as a significant challenge in the age of remote working, and only 20% of bosses (compared with 45% of employees) believe that maintaining ‘emotional wellbeing’ (how we feel about stress, anxiety and our overall mental health) is a significant challenge that must be addressed.
Some employers, however, confess that they are struggling with the pressures of keeping their employees happy, safe and productive during this ‘new normal’, with 35% saying that this has been at the cost of looking after their own personal wellbeing.
Mona Akiki, VP of People at Perkbox, commented: “Many organisations pre-COVID either didn’t pay much attention to friendships at work or focused on it as a way to ensure that it didn’t create any conflicts within the organisation. Today, we’re realising that strong colleague interactions seem to matter to an employee’s social and emotional wellbeing.
“Remote working appears to have created nervousness around our sense of connectivity and camaraderie with our colleagues. Forward thinking organisations are quickly realising that this should matter to them as well.
“Although organisations didn’t necessarily cause the current climate, the increased sense of anxiety and burnout amongst their employees who are now living and working in silo at home will not only impact the individual’s health but also the wellbeing of the team and the business. Both employees and employers must work together to combat this challenge and achieve wellbeing before it becomes an even bigger issue.”
Sedentary and sad
The third instalment of Perkbox’s benchmarking study also showed, for the first time, how physical health due to less movement has risen to be one of the top three wellbeing challenges for employees (after social and emotional wellbeing). With the removal of the daily commute and longer hours spent at the computer in order to appear more productive and thus more indispensable, 37% of employees believe that their physical wellbeing has suffered – with lack of exercise fuelling the emotional crutch of unhealthy comforts such as takeaways, binge watching and excessive drinking. The government’s recent guidance to “work from home, if you can” could exacerbate the problem further.
Tackling the problem
Before and during the earlier months of COVID-19, workspace wellbeing (how the safety of our work environment and / or ability to work well from home is affecting us) was the most implemented initiative by 79% of businesses, with initiatives around social wellbeing coming a close second (75%). Yet – perhaps because of the economic uncertainty brought about by COVID compounded by the lack of acknowledgement by bosses that emotional and social wellbeing is a problem felt by employees – 16% of small business say they have no plans to implement initiatives to tackle these challenges; a figure which has doubled from the previous Perkbox study.
Furthermore, 30% of smaller business have no plans to implement financial wellbeing support during this critical period (compared to 9% in the last study); 23% have no plans to implement physical wellbeing initiatives (an increase from 9% previously), and 13% have no plans to implement emotional wellbeing initiatives to support employees’ mental health (compared to 5% previously).
Akiki added: “There is a concerning trend – especially among smaller businesses – about disinvesting in overall employee wellbeing initiatives at a time where support is needed the most.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding that these initiatives need not be expensive but considered, human-centric and empathetic to the emotional, social, physical and financial challenges that beset us every day, hindering us from our ability to perform optimally. A team whose wellbeing has been adequately attended to has the resilience, energy and creativity to weather business challenges more effectively than a team whose members are emotionally, physically and socially run ragged. Our research acts as a barometer for how pressing these concerns are to both employees and employers. These challenges, at least for the medium term, are here to stay. It’s time that businesses invest in employee wellbeing as part of a wider essential strategy to ‘keep the lights on’ where others are floundering.”
As part of Perkbox’s New Working World series, a number of surveys and reports are being produced to track employee sentiment towards wellbeing as we exit a post-Covid world. This is being run alongside a survey of UK employers to see the business perspective on wellbeing impact in light of 2020’s events. For more information and full report on the studies findings, visit: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/new-working-world