March 24, 2021
For businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the importance of a resilient workforce.
As the pandemic has challenged businesses, it’s also challenged the wellbeing of their employees, not just in terms of their physical health but their mental and financial wellness as well. Businesses are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee resilience. Their view isn’t just a short-term perspective as they navigate the pandemic and bring workers back to the workplace. More and more, they are recognizing that employee resilience is a critical element of long-term business success.
“For employers, this is no longer about merely getting through the next six months. They know COVID will be around for a while, given the uneven global progress with vaccine rollout and unknown long-term effects of the disease,” says Geoffrey Kuhn, chief actuary, Health Solutions, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Aon. “Leaders are looking at the need to be more prepared and ready for future disruptions and the need for flexibility going forward.”
However, there is work to be done. According to Aon’s The Rising Resilient report, while employee wellbeing programs are becoming increasingly widespread, just 30 percent of employees are resilient. The report found that 42 percent of employees don’t feel secure in their jobs, 52 percent don’t feel a sense of belonging, and 55 percent don’t feel they can reach their potential.
Building employee resilience is a complex process. For it to be successful, employers must recognize what the report identifies as the 10 key factors of resilience. For this list to have the maximum impact, employers need to understand that the importance of each of these factors might vary among employees as times and circumstances change.
“Of these 10 resilience factors, at any point in time we may be relying on a few of them,” says Dr. Avneet Kaur, wellbeing solutions leader, Health Solutions, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Aon. “Before the pandemic, for example, there might have been a focus on physical health. Now there’s been a shift to supporting mental health, financial and social wellbeing.”
Resilience requires a culture of support, self-awareness and responsibility in which the employer provides employees with the environment and tools needed to help manage their health and wellbeing, Kaur says. The Rising Resilient report found that 88 percent of resilient employees agree that their employer enables them to take care of their personal needs, compared with only 37 percent of nonresilient employees. While those tools can address a variety of employees’ wellbeing issues, resilience puts workers in charge of their own wellbeing.
An employer’s wellbeing program should address all the aspects of wellbeing: physical, social, emotional, professional and financial. And taking this further to build a resilient workforce, Aon has found that it comes down to focusing on 10 factors, outlined in its Rising Resilient report.
The 10 Factors Behind A Resilient Workforce
- Encouraging health-positive behaviors Data show that positive attitudes and behaviors formed in the workplace carry over outside the office. Aon found that 81 percent of resilient employees agree: Workplace health-positive initiatives help them lead healthier lives, and 83 percent said workplace initiatives have helped them better manage stress at work.
- Protecting physical health The pandemic has forced employers to assess whether they’re doing enough to support employees’ health, as those with chronic conditions have had to face more serious impacts from COVID-19. Businesses must respond to the immediate needs of their workers in helping them manage health conditions regardless of the crisis if those employees are to thrive in the workplace.
- Delivering clarity and purpose Clear leadership, vision and connection to organizational purpose help employees build a sense of belonging to the organization, enabling them to contribute to business success. Offering transparency and clarity on how employees’ work contributes to the bigger organizational purpose fosters resilience.
- Operating with compassion and engaging community Employees are understandably scared in times of crisis. Compassion, flexibility and support from employers can help employees feel safe, motivated and loyal, allowing the business to better manage challenging circumstances. Companies’ partnerships with their surrounding communities offer employees an opportunity to give back to society, boosting their feelings of social wellbeing and building stronger employee-employer relationships.
- Supporting mental health in the modern day Addressing employees’ mental health means seeking to understand sources of stress in workers’ personal lives, such as family, financial or social issues, and offering flexible, supportive resources.
- Fostering adaptable skills As many businesses shifted on the fly to a remote working model, the pandemic demonstrated the need to adjust quickly to deal with a crisis. Future crises will likely require their own adjustments. Helping employees develop skills that will make it easier for them to adapt as needed will contribute to their resilience.
- Sharing responsibility and control A business needs healthy people to survive. While employees have the onus to manage their health, employers have a significant role to play in providing employees the required support, tools and education so they can make the right choices.
- Developing financial security The pandemic has introduced new financial strains for many employees, but even before COVID-19 financial stress was an issue for many workers. In addition to the immediate stress, financial burdens can contribute to inadequate retirement planning. Employers can assist with financial planning and educational programs that can help employees budget better today and be better prepared for tomorrow.
- Embracing inclusivity Businesses need to address wellbeing issues on a group level, but also in a more individual manner. Companies should ensure that the ways they support employees are true to the values they claim to hold and should monitor and measure their resilience efforts to make sure their commitments meet brand values.
- Understanding and managing employee expectations As the pandemic ends, employers will need to address shifts in employees’ expectations about work and wellbeing. Ongoing dialogue with employees to understand how their needs are evolving is important for employers to keep their support relevant.
Results of Aon’s ongoing employer self-assessment show areas of opportunity. With over 400 responses to date, employers say the resilience factors they’re struggling with most are: supporting mental health in the modern day (71 percent) and developing financial security (67 percent).
Addressing Individuals’ Needs To Help Build a Resilient Workforce
As employers work to help employees gain resilience, it’s important to note that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the task. Each employee is unique, a fact that wellbeing offerings must address, Kaur says.
“It’s about understanding that every person is different: how they’re raised, their preferences, how they like to work,” Kaur says. “Not everyone was impacted in the same way by the COVID-19 pandemic, just as any kind of stress doesn’t impact everyone in the same manner. That’s something very important for organizations to understand.”
It’s also essential that employers monitor and measure their resilience efforts to make sure they’re getting the desired results.
“Once you put a wellbeing strategy in place, how are you measuring the impact?” asks Kaur. “Get data to help you make decisions about what’s working and what’s not. It’s an ongoing effort to make sure your employees are getting what they actually need.”