Our Feature in the May/June Edition of Ambition Magazine 2021

Covid and the Changed World of Work 

Health and wellbeing in the workplace have been emerging themes in recent times, so much so, many companies believe they have those boxes ticked. A few apples here, a wellbeing session there and, hey presto, employee welfare ticked. However, the reality is far different. Now, my aim here is not to negate the work companies have done to look after their staff. The change in attitudes over recent years has been welcome, but it has merely scratched the surface. However, I recently hosted an event with the Chamber and the engagement by businesses showed clearly that there is a desire to get this right. 

It might seem a strange comparison to make, yet less time and attention is given to health and wellbeing than it is to profit and loss, logistics, or even learning and development. If we’re going to be frank about it, most people wouldn’t even think to compare the two and if they did, I know which would be Goliath. To me, that’s always been a bit of anathema but also counterintuitive to the longer-term commercial interests of a business. 

In the UK, the services economy is predominant, something that is mirrored in Ireland. The quality of economic output of the country is therefore dependent on the quality of the work by employees. Logically, retaining and securing business is then built upon maintaining that high level of quality over a period of time. Reliable business partners producing quality on time and to standard time after time are the people we want to work with. How do you get there? Your employees. 

To put that another way, in the aviation sector, immense amounts of time and care are devoted to maintaining aircraft. Sure, there is a safety obligation and I don’t think even Mr O’Leary is seeking to make headlines here anytime soon. Yet, if a plane is identified as unfit to fly, there will be a knock-on effect. That impact will include damages to potential profits and an increase in costs while the plane in question is grounded and repaired. To prevent such occurrences, airlines invest heavily in maintaining aircraft to avoid the increased costs and losses in the event one is unable to fly. If thinking in that kind of mindset, investing in employee wellbeing ahead of time to secure maintained performance makes it easier to understand the value of health and wellbeing, then it is time to think in those terms. The benefit to employers is that staff can work to a higher standard over a longer period and in a more reliable fashion. Of course, just like aircraft, the support structure must be maintained.

Of course, to avoid the Covid-19 pandemic would be to avoid the herd of elephants sheltering in the corner. Undoubtedly, the effects of the pandemic have thrown a new perspective onto working practices. Although, far from ease the pressure on greater attention to health and wellbeing, it increases it. In Northern Ireland, the Civil Service is considering proposals for remote working, whiles Hughes Insurance and other financial businesses in the UK have already taken that step. Revolut, for example, a global player, is even considering plans to let staff work abroad for 2 months of the year. Times are changing and greater remote working brings new challenges that need to be accounted for. Stress, bullying, overwork and, believe it or not, underworking, are damaging the health of employees to the point that people die. Now that more and more people are working from home, tracking those symptoms becomes even harder. Gone are those obvious cues when you’re working next to someone, replaced instead with a video call and an instant messaging app. Employees might be commuting less and find it easier and cheaper to get lunch. Although, at the same time, they lost that personal contact with colleagues, are more isolated and potentially feeling obliged to work longer, unhealthier and less efficient hours. 

So, yes, we need to move away from the workplace cultures that have recently made headlines at the likes of Davy and Goldman Sachs. Yes, remote working does offer benefits, but it’s not a panacea. Employers need to be more engaged and more aware of what their workforce think and feel. As importantly, they also need to know how they can improve that. Breakfast apples and yoga at lunch is great, but there is more to do. My experience has typically been that most businesses are surprised that with the right data driven approach, it is easier to identify the issue and then resolve it. They are even more surprised that it really can be a small investment compared with the potential payoffs in terms of fewer sick days, increased efficiencies and lower employee turnover to name but a few benefits. Employees are what drive profits. It’s time we understood that healthier workers can equal a healthier bottom line.

– John Ryan, CEO, Healthy Place to Work

Read the article in Ambition magazine online here: https://issuu.com/nichamber/docs/latest_ambition