Oct 2020

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Shaping post-pandemic workplaces with research, innovation and compassion

Source: Middle East Insurance Review | Aug 2020

For employees worldwide to come back stronger and more resilient post-COVID-19, resourceful leaders will need to make employee wellness as much of a priority as they do business continuity.
Jerome Droesch, CEO, Cigna MEA
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the realities of the world in which we operate, compelling us to think and function in new ways. The growing uncertainties of this new normal have instilled fear and stress in people regarding their physical, emotional and financial health. In such times, people look to their leaders for hope and direction, testing the skills and ability of these leaders to deliver – even during crises. While this situation may pose challenges for organisations and their leaders, it also opens up a world of opportunities.
We are gradually returning to the office, but our world has transformed irrevocably. Employers are now tasked with managing workplace health and wellness, including the mental well-being of employees, while dispelling any fear they may have – from sanitisation to distancing measures. In addition, they need to handle a roster of work-from-home employees and tackle evolving business continuity challenges proactively and firmly.
 A good starting point for employers today is to understand employee concerns about the pandemic and its aftermath, and address them with empathy. The lockdown period has had a considerable impact on physical and mental health. These learnings are crucial for employers to understand how to manage the next phase of business operations and take charge in shaping the new workplace. 
Prioritising health and well-being
Our COVID-19 impact study reveals that the UAE’s health index has remained strong during this time, a testament to the efficiency of the nation’s leaders in managing the crisis with empathy.
Taking their lead, organisations must prioritise the health, well-being and peace of mind of their employees. Cigna’s study has revealed that there was significant impact on mental health of employees during the lockdown phase, with a staggering 95% of those surveyed attributing their stress to working in an always-on culture. 
Chronic stress is known to have an adverse impact not just on mental and physical health, but also on work and professional relationships. In fact, stress has serious financial implications for the UAE’s healthcare system and the cost of select stress-related illnesses was estimated at $698m per annum, revealed an Asia Care Group study. We need to identify what triggers stress and aim to mitigate it from workplaces.
While realigning strategies to ensure business continuity, reintegrating employees into the evolving workplaces is equally a priority. COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue of stress – already articulated as a core concern by employees prior to the pandemic. A good solution is for senior management to set examples and limit the number of working hours so that their teams feel comfortable following suit.
Stepping up communication within the team through conducting regular check-ins with employees is crucial to helping them cope with stress and to enhancing their well-being and demonstrates the empathy that senior leaders have in addressing their concerns. Putting in place teams that help mediate between employees and management, hosting CEO office hours and issuing weekly newsletters can go a long way in creating a stronger employee connect and sense of ownership. 
Clearly, research, innovation and compassion are critical drivers in shaping today’s workplaces. Providing accessible and holistic healthcare is a top priority for employees and can be achieved through instilling an office-wide culture of empathy, transparency and wellness. 
The recovery in our brave new world begins now. For employees worldwide to come back stronger and more resilient post-COVID-19, resourceful leaders will need to make employee wellness as much of a priority as they do business continuity. Because only strong teams can ensure robust organisations. M 
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