Businesses worldwide have seen unprecedented challenges over the last 18 months and Asian enterprises were not spared from these difficulties. The COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses hard, and it is still forcing many to shut down or significantly restrict operations. Others had to pivot and restructure how they responded to the rapidly changing market demands. In Singapore, the Government has recently announced various measures aimed at re-opening the economy, enabling everyone to better deal with, and live, with Covid-19 as an endemic. This new approach will no doubt set even more new challenges for the way businesses need to respond.
Regardless of the products produced or services delivered, initially companies were quick to realize the need to protect and keep employees safe from virus infection. For some businesses, this meant extraordinary cleaning and sanitizing initiatives, the use of personal protective equipment, and the enactment of social distance guidelines at the workplace. For many financial services employees, this translated into quickly setting up work-from-home capabilities to meet customer obligations.
While intuitive, one of the most prominent revelations to emerge was the underlying importance of employees as the underpinnings of organizational success. The need to care for employee health and well-being has never reached a higher pitch than in recent months.
Businesses have a unique opportunity to educate and promote employee health and well-being due to the time and energy people devote to their careers. The resulting dividends in terms of improved productivity, lower healthcare costs, and higher employee satisfaction are well worth the investment. In creating a strong culture, companies are advised to incorporate strategies aimed at elevating both physical health and mental well-being.
Physical health is a mutual goal shared by employers and employees. A healthy employee is a productive employee. They tend to recover from injuries and illnesses more quickly and often return to work sooner. Maintaining a safe work environment is one of the best ways employers can contribute to an employee’s physical health. This includes providing the proper training and education on safe work practices and eliminating or minimizing workplace hazards. Training on proper lifting techniques, cleaning up floor spills, and using machinery properly are examples of effective safety measures designed to protect physical safety.
Precautionary measures aimed at preventing exposure to COVID-19 have also now been added to the mix. Alongside the cleaning and sanitization enhancements, workstations and workflow have also been reconfigured to allow for appropriate social distancing. Temperature screenings, scanning QR codes, web enabled tracing apps, and health questionnaires have all now been used in a business environment. For businesses that shut down for an extended period, conditioning programs may have been offered to ensure employees were physically fit to return to the job.
For those working remotely, many are contemplating such arrangements on a more permanent basis. In these instances, proper equipment must be used, and workstations set up to avoid unnecessary back strains, repetitive motion injuries, or eye strain. Some business have adopted hybrid models which juggle work from home and office working. And now many businesses are encouraging their employees to return to office with the gradual re-opening of the economy of those countries with high vaccination rates,
Businesses should continue to increase awareness and educate employees on steps they can take to maintain their own physical health. Healthy lifestyle choices are essential. This includes a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients, daily exercise and movement, and adequate sleep. Preventative health screenings and appropriate healthcare are also important. Deficiencies in any of these areas can lead to increased risk of injury or illness.
Fostering and maintaining strong mental health habits are equally important. The past year and a half has been particularly unsettling. Even those who have not tested positive for COVID-19 have been impacted by the virus. Many workers fear becoming infected or exposing their family and loved ones to a highly contagious disease. Others faced financial woes as businesses shut down and staff numbers were reduced. Some felt overwhelmed by the disruption caused by moving workstations from an office setting to homes and apartments. School shutdowns and home schooling fueled the situation for many families. The resulting stress, depression, and anxiety caused some individuals to isolate and withdraw from daily activities. COVID-19 has magnified many existing mental health conditions and created sources of strife for others.
Similarly to physical health, businesses have an excellent opportunity to encourage employee mental health and well-being. Some companies now offer mindfulness, meditation, and yoga classes in an office environment or virtual setting as a way to stave off everyday pressures. Other employers are making a concerted effort to include positive messages in their internal communications. Still others have strengthened their employee assistance programs and increased communications touting the availability of these resources. Telemedicine is being used to treat mental and behavioral health issues, and its popularity surged in the COVID-19 environment. Overall, businesses are working hard to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health disorders and encouraging proactive treatment.
The bottom line is businesses have an excellent opportunity to promote and support employee health and well-being. Both physical health and mental well-being are essential to maintaining a high quality of life. More often than not, protecting and caring for individuals as human beings pays unequivocal dividends in business productivity and performance. Successful companies practice these tenets every day and know employee health and well-being are simply a reflection of organizational culture.
Now the challenge is once again one of adaptation. As we gradually move from a pandemic to an endemic, we must all learn to live with the virus. A total eradication policy worked at the outset but more countries are facing challenges sustaining this policy as evidenced by more severe 3rd and 4th wave infections caused by the extremely contagious Delta strain of the virus.
The shift towards treating the virus as an endemic will affect many businesses but in a slightly different way than the preceding pandemic. More emphasis is therefore required in relation to frequent testing for employees, voluntary self-isolation and increased vaccination rates. Employers will necessarily have to adapt to these changes and act as enablers encouraging all their employees to go for vaccinations. They need to remodel their working environment adapting again to accommodate increasing rates of return to offices.
At Sedgwick our ethos is caring counts. Nothing concerns us more than the overall well-being and safety of our colleagues during these challenging times. We believe that if we look after our colleagues, they will look after our clients. Our next challenge is to ensure that as a company, we are prepared for the future. Our work environment has changed, our clients have changed, but what has not changed is the way we look after our colleagues, be it in a pandemic, endemic or neither of the above.