How to support employee wellbeing in 2023

By Lesley Cooper, above, founder of WorkingWell

Leaders have persevered through many various complex challenges over the last year. Supporting employee wellbeing throughout these hardships has not been straightforward. The enduring impact of the pandemic, the complexities of hybrid and remote work, the cost of living crisis, all combined with the typical HR focus points such as DEI and employee retention will have weighed heavily on leadership teams.

Returning to work in 2023 may seem daunting. The initial motivation we all have after we recharge over Christmas usually begins to decline as January progresses. The additional pressures many employees will be under due to the economic and political climate will likely result in many employees experiencing additional wellbeing issues both in and out of work.

It is vital that leaders create a robust and proactive wellbeing framework to prepare them for offering appropriate support to employees. 

  • Identify employee needs

The past two years have taught us not to assume anybody’s struggles or individual circumstances. It can be difficult to provide support when you are unsure of the individual needs. Surveying employee needs and wants will help establish an effective strategy that is tailored to your workforce. This is also a key way to help employees in feeling both seen and heard through leaders actively listening to them and taking on board their thoughts and suggestions.

  • Maintain a psychologically safe culture at work

Employee support begins in the day-to-day culture of an organisation. Employees who feel safe to discuss their personal worries or address professional concerns with their teams and management are far more likely to feel positive in their jobs. Whether obvious or underlying, uncertainty about the future is likely to be a concern among the workforce across the coming months.

Leaders are responsible for setting the precedent that it is ok to speak openly and honestly without fear of negative consequence through engaging in an open dialogue themselves. Employees will likely follow suit. Through establishing open conversation as standard practice within organisations, leaders will much more easily be able to identify who is struggling and who may require more extensive support. 

  • Ensure support is accessible 

Leaders are accustomed to signposting available support to those in their organisations, however this support must be easily available to avoid employees reaching a crisis point. Too often support is stifled by the layers of bureaucracy which make it difficult to access quickly when an individual is in need. 

In addition to internal support offered by management, external professionals should be easily available for employees to access. The coming months are likely to compromise many people’s financial wellbeing, which will likely have a knock on effect on emotional wellbeing. In addition to the standard use of counsellors and coaches, in the current economic climate financial advice should be promoted to employees. For example, Moneyhelper offers free and impartial financial advice. 

  • Recognise signs someone is struggling

In the last year, many leaders will have managed the challenges of hybrid and remote work, and witnessed the impact this can have both on engagement, but also wellbeing. Remote working can promote unhealthy habits like overworking and also creates challenges through lack of human interaction and connection. It can be difficult to assess how an employee is really coping. Leaders must be vigilant in noticing if an employee is working outside of hours, not taking breaks or not taking holiday time, as these are all unhealthy habits that can lead to burnout. 

Establishing regular office hours (whether in person or virtual) is another key way to demonstrate your consistent availability and also check in with employees to see how they are coping at work. This will help identify individuals who may need additional support. 

  • Consider the relationship between recovery and focus

Intentional recovery periods are vital to enhancing focus and performance. The human brain can focus effectively for 90-120 minute intervals when working on one task. If we push ourselves beyond this, it is likely that the quality of our focus will deplete along with the quality of work produced in this period. 

Periods of intentional recovery must be built into the working day as standard practice in order to maintain the quality of processing skills that can be compromised when employees do not have a chance to recharge. For every period of intense focus that we complete, we must have a deliberate period of recovery where we can rehydrate, move our bodies, and take a moment to not think about work. This will maximise cognitive focus throughout the day. 

  • Encourage clear boundaries

Many employees will not feel confident enough to set and protect clear boundaries, or may not know how to slow themselves down before they burn out. To combat this, leaders need to create a clear culture in which setting self protecting boundaries is the norm, where all employees are encouraged to respect the boundaries of others. Clear tips should be offered to demonstrate how to effectively set boundaries, and responses should be suggested for when people feel a colleague is overstepping these.

Asking colleagues when they may have capacity to discuss a particular task or project should be normalised, rather than dumping information or demanding immediate  answers without considering the value of someone’s time. This should help maximise everyone’s productivity and mental wellbeing. 

Considering these tips to create a robust wellbeing framework will help leaders prepare themselves for the challenges of 2023 and protect employee wellbeing. 

Lesley Cooper is a management consultant with over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing management programmes. In 1997 Lesley founded WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps companies to manage workplace pressure in a way that facilitates growth and development. WorkingWell was shortlisted for “Best Wellbeing Service Provider” at the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards 2021