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Lockdown in winter - working from home creates new challenges for employers and employees 

December 3 2020 - Matt Stephens, founder and CEO of Inpulse, the employee engagement and wellbeing survey experts, advises employers to communicate even more with staff about the risks of not building their physical and emotional resilience into their daily lives.

With daylight hours at a minimum and lockdown continuing across the UK, everyone will be feeling some form of pressure. It's at times like these that employers need to step up communications with their staff to help them fully understand the risks of not building physical and emotional resilience into their daily lives.

Indeed, in one of our recent surveys, 38% of employees said they are struggling with their physical health. The survey also showed that self-awareness and resilience is an issue for employees with 42% concerned. Being self-aware of strengths and limitations helps resilience and the ability to have empathy for others.

We also note that younger employees living in shared properties are likely to be most hard hit by this year's winter challenges. Research by the School of Economics and affordable housing developer Pocket Living found that young Londoners living in shared properties have on average 9.3 square metres of personal space to themselves during lockdown and 37 per cent of Londoners in house shares have been working and sleeping in their bedroom. Indeed, according to the Department of Work and Pensions, over 25% of private single renters are still sharing accommodation by the age of 35.

The Government also outlines the issue in one of their policy papers, 'staying mentally well this winter'. It says that 'darker winter months and the measures in place to control the spread of the virus may put strain on people's resilience, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities and neighbourhoods. These feelings are completely understandable when life unexpectedly alters in a way which is sudden, dramatic, and out of our control'.

In our view, until vaccinations start having an impact, helping employees to be resilient emotionally and physically this winter couldn't be more crucial.

Not only are people more likely to feel the intensity of the pandemic with dark nights and sometimes perpetual grey clouds, but more will find it difficult and less appealing to get the physical activity they need. Even a simple walk for fresh air and getting a new perspective isn't so likely to happen in cold and wet weather. And younger people are particularly at risk, if you consider that many are working from bedrooms, in crowded, potentially overpriced homes that are shared with people they may not know well.

Research from Aon in its Rising Resilient report which surveyed employers and employees across Europe found that just 15% of employees are resilient within organisations that don't offer health and wellbeing initiatives, 29% are resilient if a partial health and wellbeing initiative is offered and 45% of employees are resilient if they work for an employer that offers a broad health and wellbeing programme.

The danger to employees not getting employer support is that they can become burnt out, lose focus and ultimately struggle with productivity and undertaking their role. Worryingly, the latest statistics from the Government's Health & Safety Executive, show an enormous increase in workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. It's up an enormous 38% on the year before - and that data was from before the first lockdown so it's essential for employers to support their people in this dark time of year.

The key to employers helping is educating, facilitating and evaluating.

The first step is to educate employees about the importance of physical activity and the impact it has on their mental or emotional wellbeing. Helping them understand that they aren't alone in their feelings is helpful, while enabling them to share their situation with others also helps.

We'd also recommend facilitating opportunities for teams. Physical challenges of 10k steps a day, group virtual yoga classes, local walks or catching up with each other on calls while walking - we've heard these being called 'walkie-talkies' - are all positive and help people help each other too.

It's also important that employers evaluate their unique situation. Every company will have their own pressures and dynamics. And every employee will have their good and bad days, but by measuring wellbeing and physical health through regular pulse surveys and team conversations, it's possible to be one step closer to understanding the actual support people may need. Getting to the heart of the matter, so how people actually feel and why is critical to employee wellbeing and engagement. It could be about their working and home environment or their mental, physical, financial or social health.

On top of this, employers who understand their peoples' self-awareness are able to discuss issues in relevant ways. For example, if someone has low self-awareness, they'll need softer and more empathetic communications, whereas those with high self-awareness can take stronger feedback and messages.

And finally, it's about two-way communication. Understanding how employees feel helps employers to communicate more precisely - and be heard. Employees need to be heard as much as they need to hear from their employers, so the importance of helping them understand that leaders and colleagues care about their wellbeing and are taking positive action cannot be underestimated.


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