Coronavirus has changed the way we live… and work.
Like many things, the future of employee benefits is uncertain. Could digital health innovations be a solution?
A dry persistent cough. High temperature. Loss of taste and smell. By now, we’re all too aware of the physical symptoms of Covid-19.
But the far-reaching side-effects of Coronavirus on the whole population could also include anxiety, agoraphobia, loneliness and isolation. And, for employers and employees specifically, absenteeism, presenteeism, unemployment and financial insecurity.
As businesses come to terms with the fallout from this pandemic, traditional wellbeing schemes that have been relied on for decades are suddenly being exposed as unfit for purpose.
Office culture is no longer defined by Friday team drinks and an epic Christmas party. Workplace wellbeing no longer centres around cycle to work and discounted gym membership. In a world of local lockdowns, working from home and furlough schemes, these traditional schemes have been made futile.
“Covid-19 has held up a magnifying glass to the deficiencies of traditional workplace wellness initiatives and employee benefit packages,” says Sarah Mortimer, Peppy’s Corporate Engagement Manager and former Head of Employee Engagement at a global retailer.
“Although positive changes have been coming for several years, now is the time for employers to really step up to support employees through the pandemic and long into the future.”
How? Here we outline five ways traditional workplace wellness schemes must change to better support employees – especially those contending with fertility concerns, parenthood and menopause – in the post Covid-19 era.
1. Remote working demands digital solutions.
Working remotely is taking its toll on employees’ social connections at work.
In June, the CIPD found that 44% of survey respondents said their social connections had worsened, rising to 50% for those not attending their normal workplace, compared with just 29% for those who are.
While 45% of workers in June felt anxious about returning to the workplace, around half of those working remotely were looking forward to it. “This may be due to struggles with social isolation or a difficult remote working set up,” the CIPD noted.
Solutions to address employee isolation right now – and as staff get reintegrated into the workplace – will need to be impactful, discreet, trusted, certified, credible and, given how fragmented organisations have become, digital.
“This is what Peppy does brilliantly,” says Kathy Abernethy, former Chair of the British Menopause Society and now Peppy’s Director of Menopause Services.
“It’s available any time, anywhere, at home or at work. You can chat to your expert practitioner on the phone or on a video call, then access a whole host of resources on demand.
“All you need is a phone and five minutes, and Peppy is accessible to you.”
Pilot studies and anecdotal feedback have also shown the current workforce to be far more tech-savvy and receptive to digital solutions than they are perhaps given credit for.
Traditional Employee Assistance Programmes typically score <2%. Whereas with Peppy we’ve recorded between 60% and 90% across the board in all our pilot studies and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“Being available out of hours is a big benefit. I can run issues through support without stressing about it all night or all weekend” – Peppy user feedback
“Having someone there to chat through practical measures is amazing” – Peppy user feedback
2. Employers can become a healthcare safety net for their staff.
Since the outbreak, far fewer people have been visiting their local doctor.
GP appointments in England were down 27% in April. Visits to A&E departments in the same month plummeted by 57%. And there’s evidence people are still staying away now, compromising their health further.
“Most GPs do a great job yet they have been completely overwhelmed during Covid,” says specialist nurse Kathy, highlighting how it has impacted menopause treatment in particular.
“Lots of people going through the menopause or requiring hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescriptions have been told their situation just isn’t a priority right now.”
For some, this may mean more time off work as they can’t access the help they need. For others, especially those struggling with their mental wellbeing, it means they don’t know where to turn or who to ask for help.
That’s where providing a holistic support network, such as that offered by Peppy’s clinical practitioners, can help an employer plug the public healthcare gap and reduce employee absenteeism.
“If staff can access support via their employer, it saves time and pressure on the NHS,” Kathy says.
“Peppy practitioners are able to offer support that GPs are unable to – to listen in-depth, explore feelings towards the changes that are happening to them, and provide detailed information about all aspects of their health, not just management of symptoms.
“Through Peppy, women can access evidence-based, accurate information and work in partnership with their GP to get the best possible outcome.”
“Peppy provided me with practical help which I couldn’t get from internet searches or my GP. It helped me so much” – Peppy user feedback
“I can ask anything. Having the time to compose my thoughts without feeling on the spot in front of someone is a very good option” – Peppy user feedback
Watch a recording of Peppy’s World Menopause Day event: Transforming Menopause Support; the faces transforming menopause support in the workplace.
3. Benefits should address diverse, changing and often urgent needs.
In May, the CIPD reported that UK employees’ mental and physical health had worsened dramatically since the coronavirus outbreak, by 43% and 38% respectively.
The strains on people’s physical, emotional and financial health triggered by the pandemic has pushed up demand for solutions to address immediate everyday concerns.
“Employees are now looking for benefits with real, immediate substance that will address their urgent needs,” says Sarah. “Instead of pension contributions or retail discounts, there’s been an explosion in the use of stress-relieving and mental health-supporting programmes.”
But while these tools are effective, there is still a need for benefits to address the underlying health issues that are causing people’s mental wellbeing to suffer.
For example, fertility, pregnancy, parenthood and menopause – major life transitions, at least one of which will impact most people at a certain point in their working lives.
The link between poor mental health and infertility can be especially stark.
Recent research by Middlesex University found that IVF treatment typically leads to 8.7 days absence per cycle for the woman, with 13% of respondents in the study reducing their hours and 6% leaving their job due to treatment.
Worse still, only half of participants felt supported by their employer.
Nevertheless, poor mental health and consequent absenteeism is possible to remedy with the right support.
While complications with Covid will have left many couples in the dark as they embark on starting a family, we discovered that, by providing the right guidance and advice via Peppy’s clinical practitioners, we could reduce absenteeism by two days per year and half attrition rates.
“Louise, my support practitioner,was extremely professional, friendly, empathetic and proactive in giving me a lot of valuable information. I’m very grateful for her” – Peppy user feedback
“Having reassurance that symptoms are normal makes them easier to deal with” – Peppy user feedback
4. Budgets need to be redistributed to cultivate culture and community.
Ironically, given the government’s strict social distancing measures, the virus has highlighted the need for togetherness and community among staff.
But how do you keep people feeling a part of something when they’re so far apart, asks Sarah.
“Traditional engagement tricks aren’t viable anymore. Breakfast meetings and Friday drinks in the office simply aren’t possible,” she says.
While this has freed up budget from events like the summer and Christmas party, to fund the delivery of wellness hampers or to cover the cost of mindfulness tools for employees, this only underlines how dispersed workforces have become.
Instead, Sarah believes tools that can create a sense of togetherness, even if only in the digital space, will become invaluable.
“Co-workers need to keep a dialogue open and keep talking through non-work issues that are impacting their home lives,” says Sarah.
It helps colleagues get to know each other and boosts morale across the company – something that is especially crucial in this fragile post-Covid economic landscape.
Sarah continues: “Offering a new kind of employee benefit not only makes people feel like their employer cares, it also sparks new conversations that can be carried out on intranet forums like Yammer or Slack.
Peppy’s group chat features, where users can discuss their situation with peers, have also proven especially popular.
“We’ve found it has helped foster a sense of togetherness among colleagues that, given how dispersed our working lives have become, has never been more important,” adds Kathy.
“I appreciate my company so much more now as this has shown they really take their employee wellbeing seriously. Thank you” – Peppy user feedback
5. Solutions must be tailored to people’s individual needs.
Employer confidence in the economy plunged by 22% in March (IBIS World, June 2020), and with it corporate budgets tightened while demand for employee wellness services in the short term nosedived.
Post Covid, future workplace wellness initiatives will now have to be laser focused to deliver reliable ROI for the bottom line.
“Budgets for corporate wellness have always been tight,” explains Sarah. “They have to prove their value.” As a result businesses have traditionally opted for a one-size-fits-all approach with private medical insurance, pension contributions, cycle to work schemes and extra holiday allowances
“But over the past five to ten years, companies are realising that this blanket approach doesn’t fit today’s organisations or today’s people. They need to be more tailored. More diverse.”
Sarah adds: “We are finding that LGBTQ+ communities are becoming increasingly adversely disadvantaged or overlooked by traditional benefits, but Peppy can be a fantastic resource to support them in and outside the workplace.”
“Having access to Peppy came at the right time as I was really struggling. I feel so much more positive now” – Peppy user feedback
In her previous role, Sarah admits that having to take a blanket approach meant that efforts were focused on supporting staff through parenthood, whereas issues such as fertility and menopause were completely overlooked.
“I’m ashamed to say, as an HR leader, that menopause just wasn’t on my radar,” says Sarah.
Sarah now recognises that due to her previous company’s demographic makeup, almost one in three women or partners of women have been contending with the menopause, concerned about its symptoms or supporting a loved one going through it.
“Menopause is that last taboo in the boardroom. Although this is changing, the boardroom is all too often still a male domain and menopause is scary to men. It’s icky. There’s so much shame and stigma around it, but thankfully that’s finally starting to change.”
At Peppy, we hope to be part of that change.
“In five years time I hope talking about the menopause, or fertility issues, or difficulties with parenthood, become as normalised in the workplace as talking about what you did at the weekend or feeling down in the dumps,” says Sarah.
With the changes outlined above, we’re confident this will become a reality, with a new breed of workplace wellness initiatives helping drive all industries forward to better support their people – all people – in the post Covid-19 era.
Learn more about how Peppy is promoting workplace wellness here.