Three COVID-era lessons to help support employee wellbeing in times of crisis

The workplace challenges encountered during COVID lockdowns seem like a distant memory. People have since moved on to focus on more immediate crises such as the rising cost of living and the war in Ukraine. But organisations can learn a lot from how they acted during COVID to help protect employee wellbeing.

This article was published by the Conversation.

This could help employers deal with future crises such as other viral pandemics, which are expected to occur more often in the future. Companies may even be able to support employee wellbeing better than they did during COVID.

We have conducted research in this area in collaboration with Shaun Pichler of California State University, Wendy Casper of the University of Texas and Pawan Budhwar of Aston University. We have conducted a number of studies of worker wellbeing in the UK, US and India during the first wave of the pandemic.

In one study, we found that employees who trusted their senior leadership team’s initial response to the pandemic, and felt their line manager prioritised their needs, reported higher wellbeing later on in the pandemic. This is because they were more likely to feel they had psychological resources, such as optimism, hope and resilience, to cope during the pandemic.

Importantly, our research shows that feeling confident in, and supported by, your leaders helps you feel more psychologically able. This, in turn, helps you maintain positive wellbeing during a crisis.

In a related study, we showed how social support can help you to effectively adapt to changing circumstances, which also protects your wellbeing. Employees who felt supported by their organisation, as well as by their family, were better able to adapt to pandemic-related changes in their work and home life. Adapting to changes included learning new skills, developing new ways to cope, and being open to doing things differently. All of this links to better wellbeing.

Our research into these COVID-era strategies can help guide companies on how to support workers during other crises. We found there are three key ways to protect employee wellbeing during such times.

1. Build trust

Senior leaders in organisations can show that they are trustworthy in a number of ways. They can demonstrate they are competent and capable in making good decisions during critical times. They can also show they care about employees and are keeping their best interests at heart, as well as being sincere and acting with integrity.

When communicating difficult decisions, leaders should be transparent and keep lines of communication open with employees. It is also crucial to translate words into actions. So if an employer commits to avoiding job cuts during a crisis, they should make sure to act accordingly. If things change and management has to make difficult decisions, they should communicate openly about this and consult with employees.

Line managers also have a role in reinforcing and helping to facilitate trust. They can do this by focusing on employee wellbeing and development, and by helping their teams adapt to change.

2. Harness the protective effects of social support

Having a range of both formal and informal support systems within an organisation can be helpful. Formal examples include employee assistance programmesflexible working policies, and wellbeing resources such as mental health apps...

The article - co-authored by Dr Nishat Babu, a Lecturer in Work and Organisation in the Loughborough University Business School, and Luke Fletcher, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management at University of Bath - continues on The Conversation website

Notes for editors

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