Employees are starting to report an increase in stress as a result of flexible working, and financial stress is also on the rise - however, employers are also investing more into staff wellbeing than ever before, and an increasing number of businesses are gathering more non-work data to try and provide a “coordinated approach” to wellbeing.
Southern Cross Health Insurance and BusinessNZ recently released the Workplace Wellness Report 2021, which is undertaken every two years and aims to provide a “snapshot” of New Zealand’s workplace wellbeing. The challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic were, unsurprisingly, the dominant theme of the research this year, with half of the surveyed organisations believing that their role in employee health and wellbeing has increased.
Commenting on the results of this year’s study, CEO Nick Astwick said that there were two key themes in the research - the impact of increased flexible working, and an increase in stress due to various factors. However, he said that employers have also stepped up their support frameworks, which had been “pleasing” to see given the challenges faced by everyone over the past two years.
“This was the fifth edition of the research, and we’ve conducted it every two years since its inception,” Astwick said.
“It reaches out to about 116 businesses representing close to 100,000 employees, and that is about 5% of New Zealand’s employee base. It’s a really good snapshot of the health and wellbeing of businesses and employees.”
“This latest edition was done for the 2020 year, and it probably comes as no surprise that the recent lockdown has likely amplified some of these trends,” he explained.
“The first real trend we saw was obviously the rise of the flexi-worker, and that was forced on a lot of businesses last year.”
“Of the 60% of businesses that now have flexi working, about 60% think that this has been a good thing,” Astwick continued.
“However, there is also a downside - 22% of businesses said that it’s actually been too successful, and it’s now hard to get workers back. Isolation in employees is also a problem, and that impacts on collaboration and health and wellbeing. So, while overall it has been seen as a good thing and it’s here to stay, businesses are still figuring out where the optimal position is.”
Astwick noted that the results also showed a marked increase in stress among employees, both for personal and professional reasons. He said that workload still remains the biggest stressor for staff, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added a host of increased pressures - not least, financial difficulties due to stalling businesses and pay cuts.
However, he noted that businesses have also invested significantly into employee wellness, and the majority have recognised that taking a “coordinated approach” to wellbeing pays off in the long term.
“The second thing that has come out of the research is that work and home life has completely and utterly blended, and this has resulted in an increase in stress levels, because employees can’t compartmentalise those two things any more,” Astwick said.
“Two thirds of businesses said that stress levels in employees were increasing, and 91% said that this was exclusively COVID-related. But looking beyond that big number, the number one workplace stressor is still workload, and the second biggest is around personal relationships outside of work. The big thing that has changed from previous years is that there has been a significant lift in financial stress, with 54% of businesses identifying this as a problem - up from 41% in 2018.”
“Under Levels 4 and 3, I imagine all of these things would have amplified even more,” he added.
“But what we’ve seen since 2018 is that businesses have moved from looking at what they can do for the employee, to looking at what they can do for the human.”
“Businesses really are leaning into it, and that’s positive news,” Astwick concluded.
“They’re doing a lot around flexi-working, investing in support for employees, and they’re looking beneath the symptoms to see what’s driving some of the wellbeing challenges, and they’re trying harder to connect people to the organisation. So there has been a big shift in that sense, and businesses do see that investing into their employees has been paying dividends.”