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Boundaries HR should establish for employee wellbeing in a post-COVID-19 world

We started working from home but seven months later, it feels like we are sleeping at work, says Myrna Sachs, head of Health Management Solutions at Alexander Forbes Health.

Sachs says Human Resources has a role to play in balancing the businesses’ requirement with the support needed by staff in the changed workplace in our “future normal” after Covid-19.

“There is a great need to establish boundaries for both the business and its employees, in an environment where these are increasingly blurred. Line managers must assist with this by not calling or setting up meetings after hours. We need to look after our employees to ensure we have staff to take new company strategy forward and haven’t all burnt out.”

Sachs said health and wellness strategies should create a more productive workplace. “Well-being of employees is about the physical, emotional, financial and social pillars.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has reported that calls to their helpline almost doubled since the start of lockdown, with up to 1 400 calls for help a day. And while GP visits have dropped, Discovery reported that claims from members seeking psychiatric help increased 14%.

“Employees are under stress; some are the only breadwinners in their families after job losses caused by the Covid-19 lockdown. Others are lonely, craving social interaction. There is a high incidence of mental fatigue,” Sachs said. “Covid-19 has changed ways of working globally into the future and successful organisations will be quick to turn their strategies around.”

She recommends that cameras are turned on during virtual meetings. “You need to see each other, and read body language. Rather over communicate than under. Practice empathy and understanding, and really listen to your employees.”

“HR needs to assist line managers, who are ideally placed to pick up the challenges employees are facing, by monitoring changes in attitude, absenteeism or presenteeism. But we are dealing with a new way of handling teams and supporting business, so how is it done without actively being in the workplace?” Despite some people suffering Zoom fatigue from one meeting rolling into another, she recommended line managers continue their monthly or weekly meetings, including a meeting where no business discussions took place. “Connect on a Wednesday morning and ask staff what they are working on and what they need help with. Hold one-on-one sessions with teams where feasible as a temperature gauge on their state of mind. Keep checking in with staff to support those struggling with loneliness, anxiety, domestic violence or even suicidal thoughts.”

Sachs said HR executives should be using existing structures like Employee Assistance Programmes to reach out to their employees.

“Provide a helpline or email address for employees to raise concerns; share official information from government and health authorities; provide links to assistance for information on concerns such as childcare, food security, unemployment and support groups such as SADAG; Ensure flexible return-to-work policies; Maintain healthy operations, look at policies to see they work; Implement flexible sick leave and remote working policies; Monitor absenteeism and create a roster of trained back up staff; Designate a person responsible for Covid-19 concerns and communicate who this person is to staff; Create and test communication systems for self-reporting and notification of exposures and closures; and promote resilience skills as a wellness initiative.”

Sachs said companies who looked after their staff would reap rewards. “When lockdown ends, you will not be able to implement your new company strategy if you do not have healthy, energised staff.”


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