Thought Leadership

Covid - 19 in the Workplace -Survival of the fittest

April 2022

Traditionally, the home was known as a place of rest by most and not for work activities, but everything we know to be the "norm" has been completely upended in the last two years due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The immediate transition to remote working setups came unexpectedly, and the reality is that the pandemic forced us to redefine our entire being while further pushing us to redefine what productivity in the workplace is. The month of March 2022 has recently passed, marking two years since the beginning of workplace shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic that swooped in and took the world by storm. The disruptions it caused and the many changes that took place will have long-term effects on the workplace environment and how personal lives are sustained.

The pandemic outbreak was a painful spotlight for many employers around the globe. Although a few positive aspects emerged, through the sheer endurance of companies, employees, and society as a whole, the pandemic highlighted many gaps, underlying issues, and flaws, not only in governance but also in organizations and communities. COVID-19 lockdowns saw the heroic efforts of workers on the front line and those behind closed doors and high walls, navigating unchartered waters to carry out their jobs as best they could. It is an extraordinary time to think back on a global “coming together” of humankind where people supported one another selflessly and assisted one another to survive through the worst stages of an intense global crisis.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 brought uncertainty to human interaction activities such as employment and educational engagement, social connection, daily routines, and access to physical exercise. The lack of these activities had an adverse impact on global communities, bringing about insecurities about what tomorrow may bring, catastrophic job losses, and a fear of the unknown, contributing to an increase in societal mental health problems, driving many to depression, alcoholism and worse, gender-based violence (GBV). A saving grace has been the various Workplace Wellness Programs that have been developed and incorporated into company policies around the globe, which are aimed at aligning corporates to an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework that drives a holistic view of conducting business.

These Wellness programs, which are designed and implemented deliberately by employers, are meant to support employees as they adopt behaviors that reduce health risks and enhance their quality of life. However, employers are not bound by law to incorporate any such programs. Still, the drive to sustainability requires that all aspects of an employer's business, including the social aspect, which is directly employee-facing, are given attention with an expectation to be more compliant and aligned to the United Nations (UNs) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While implementing such programs is not required, the guidelines and implementation build a future-ready organization.

The variety of strategies used in wellness programs is limitless, and employers have a choice as to the frequency of programs, from one-off events to ongoing schedules. With the hybrid approach, employers face the harsh reality that the crisis is far from over. Employees are exhausted, some even burnt out, and expecting them to continue meeting harsh deadlines pushes mental health limits. This may, in turn, cause a hostile environment as employees live in the moment of the "survival of the hardest worker."

When choosing a wellness program best suited to your company or developing a wellness program for your company, the program must aim to enrich the company's culture and improve employees' overall wellness in and out of the workplace.

It is by incorporating onsite fitness accommodations, such as those of Zenzele Fitness's Wellness Program, a Barloworld Fitness provider, which includes smoking cessation programs, financial education, and critical thinking workshops, that empower decision-making in the workplace, and probably most important of all, creating a strategy that engages all employees. Participation encourages healthy behavior, reduces elevated health risks, and improves productivity. With this in mind, management and employers are responsible for assisting employees with the transition from remote working setups to either the hybrid approach or the office setup. There are many benefits to physically returning to the office, including team reconnection to ensure productivity and alignment within the workforce.

COVID-19 has changed the face of workplace environments, and as we adjust to the "new norm," these few guidelines can assist with the transition:

  • Transparency from both employer and employee.
  • Time for adjustment.
  • Employee choices in what would work best for them.
  • Sharing hard data.
  • Engaging in conversation and listening to employee inputs.
  • Working on gaining alignment across the company.
  • Having a flexible transition plan.

As many organizations prepare to return to the workplace, it will be imperative for all employers to ensure that consideration is given to each and every person's mental health as everyone has been through a very traumatic period.

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