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Flexible working and wellbeing

One of the collateral benefits of the pandemic has been the increase in open discussion of mental health issues. This has been true nowhere more than in the workplace. Employers now appear to accept the wealth of evidence which suggests that looking after the mental health needs of their workers makes sense not just morally, but from a business perspective too.

A wellbeing strategy is essential to attract and retain staff

According to a poll conducted in March by Business Matters magazine, more than two in five companies consider mental health to be the biggest HR challenge currently facing their business, significantly outranking concerns regarding recruitment, Covid-related absence, bridging the skills gap and setting up and operating a hybrid working model.

With a burgeoning mental health crisis, and a competitive jobs market, responsible employers have come to accept that a coherent wellbeing strategy needs to be part of their benefits package, in order to attract new talent, hold on to existing employees, and ensure a workforce that is performing to its potential.

Adapting for hybrid workers

Wellbeing in the workplace, then, is on the up. But there is a problem. A lot of us aren’t in the workplace. Indeed, thanks to the advent of hybrid working, most office workers are in the workplace less than ever before.

And hybrid working carries with it a whole new raft of challenges. A recent study found 20% of UK workers reported difficulties switching off from work and feeling ‘always on’, with many struggling to adapt to hybrid working, and the permeable boundaries between home and work all factors causing additional stress.

“Moving to hybrid has the potential to disrupt someone’s home-working routine,” explains Gail Kinman, a chartered psychologist and fellow of the British Psychological Society. “Hybrid practices haven’t become second nature yet, so it takes greater energy, organisation and planning. You have to form new strategies – hot desking, planning commutes – that you wouldn’t need if you were fully remote or in-person.”

As such, any workplace wellbeing strategy needs to be sufficiently flexible to be able to reach out to those working at home as well.

Additional challenges for shift workers

But it’s not just hybrid workers who we need to be thinking about. A huge proportion of the workforce works shifts, rather than the traditional 9-5 in the workplace. Figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2017, suggest that the number of night-workers had increased by 260,000 since 2012, with around 3.2 million people working nights. That is a massive one in eight people.

And shift working comes with its own wealth of implications for physical and mental health. Irregular eating habits, poor diet and a lack of exercise are all by-products of shift work, and shift workers have a higher prevalence of heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems and obesity.

Meanwhile, disruption to the circadian system (which regulates the release of different chemicals in the body) and poor sleep quality can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This is exacerbated by the social cost of working nights, including limited social interaction with family and friends.

An article on Psychiatry Advisor states that nearly half of shift workers are not satisfied with their wellbeing and 58.2% of shift workers are displeased with their sleep, with 28.3% being unhappy with their physical and mental health. “There is no question that shift work increases burnout, and workers become less able to tolerate shift work over time,” concludes Dr Emerson Wickwire, a professor of psychiatry and medicine and insomnia expert.

Faced with such a plethora of shift-related health issues, it is difficult to argue with the FT’s analysis that we “owe a duty of care to those who have no choice but to work against natural cycles, to help their bodies and minds survive the stresses this will impose.”

A flexible wellbeing programme

So, in a world filled with employees working either remotely or on shifts, a decent wellbeing programme needs to contain the flexibility to work anywhere, and to bring people together. This is where a wellbeing tool like BuddyBoost has a role to play. Because the programme is designed to be used anywhere – in the office, at home, or on a work trip – and has proven success for many businesses who have hybrid or shift working patterns.

To find out more about how BuddyBoost can help improve wellbeing in your company, please get in touch.


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