By Rina Pandya, Head of HR, Asset Management & Corporate at NHS Property Services.
At the beginning of last year, we could never have imagined how different our ‘normal’ way of working would be just a year on. Many of us had to swiftly adapt to a new way of working, with the workplace transforming itself into our dining room tables, or in fact any space available in our home! This transition has been challenging, however as we begin a new year with a third lockdown, it is safe to say that we are entering 2021 knowing that remote working is here to stay.
When lockdown restrictions were initially imposed last March, we at NHS Property Services quickly adopted a remote working policy. This policy ensured the safety of our colleagues, but we also wanted to ensure their mental wellbeing too. As such, we implemented a new Health and Wellbeing programme set to ensure workplace wellness, mental health and physical health for all of our colleagues. This programme has proven to be successful, and we hope to continue our efforts as we work throughout these tough times.
When creating a programme for employees, it is important to ensure the services provided are accessible, true to their needs and can be adapted to the quickly changing landscape we are currently seeing. The needs of your employees during the last lockdown will not be the same as they are now, or even from one month to the next, so continued conversations are essential. A great way to do this is by taking input from your employees during the formation of any programme. We created ‘Wellbeing Webinars’, which focused on topics that aligned with widespread problems facing our staff – and workers across the UK. From how to avoid burnout and handling your workload while home-schooling, to managing anxiety, our colleagues have found the sessions ‘extremely useful,’ and ‘really interesting and helpful to cope during lockdown’. It is important to understand what colleagues need from you, which really is as simple as asking them. Make sure to reach out to your colleagues over the coming weeks and months and ensure you are meeting their needs. It is fundamental to listen to your employees and take time to consider how the external environment may be affecting us all to ensure your workforce feel supported and motivated.
Discussions around mental health have risen both within the news and within our organisation. Doctors expect the third lockdown to have a significant impact on the already deteriorating mental health of the nation, due to the darker days and concerns over the more contractable strain of the virus. If I had one recommendation for employers on ensuring colleagues wellbeing as we begin the new year’s lockdown, it is to get these conversations started and to keep them going. We want to destigmatise conversations around mental health and encourage open and honest conversations. As such, we are rolling out Mental Health Awareness training for managers to help them spot the signs and symptoms of those who may be struggling and to equip them with the knowledge on how to have the important conversations that should follow. This is just one of the ways that we are upskilling our managers through our wellbeing strategy, creating a more open culture to align with our values.
While we have recently had the festive break, for many this may not have felt like a relaxing time. It is important that everyone is given time to rest and recuperate; nothing is more important than your health. Many may have also spent this time with few or no family members due to the restrictions across the country. As we enter this third lockdown, we are establishing some colleague networks where our people can support one another, share tips, stories & listen on areas such as parenting & home schooling, or for those who are struggling to cope with isolation. To help with these feelings, our team has also created toolkits on how to manage your day, and podcasts that can be listened to on the go, at a desk or while cleaning a hospital.
Another important consideration when lifting team spirits is inclusion. Everyone should feel supported, which can be done by ensuring that none of your colleagues are left out from communications and additional activities. With around 80 per-cent of our colleagues working on the frontline, we understand the importance of having several channels of communication to reach every member of staff. For example, we know our frontline colleagues are unable to join webinars during the working day due to the nature of their work. What we also know is that many of these employees read our magazine, People First. So, we adapted the content around health and wellbeing from our podcast episodes for this channel as well, to ensure they could also access and benefit from this.
We have taken strides towards providing outlets for our employees to maintain their physical health as well, with personal training sessions running twice weekly on teams. The personal trainers have been recommended by our employees and include a variety of exercises for all activity levels, from yoga to fitness classes.
Our programme aims to help our colleagues get into healthier habits, achieve work-life balance, and feel supported by their organisation. We want our team to feel comfortable in telling us when they are having a bad day and to know that they will be met with continued support through these hard times. Whether it be through internal communication platforms, webinars, personal catch ups, or simply providing colleagues with time to relax; making sure that you are genuinely providing colleagues with what they need to be as supported and healthy as possible is imperative to a happy and motivated workforce.
This is of course, just the beginning. As we hopefully return to a new normal throughout the course of this year, we are committed to continuing to develop our programme alongside our employees and maintaining this level of care whether it be through our laptops or in person.