Employers need to look at the bigger picture when deciding how best to support employees as the pandemic rages on. Arjan Toor discusses the concept of ‘whole health’ and what it includes.
Covid-19 has turned the world upside-down and with the UK’s third lockdown well underway, there’s no indication of normality returning anytime soon for employers and employees.
Everything that makes up our whole health – family, financial health, work life, and our physical and mental wellbeing – will have been impacted and in turn, left us feeling lost and needing to take control of our whole health once again.
The family, financial and work-life story
Family relationships, our financial health and our work-life – the key components that make up our ‘world’ – have changed dramatically and often a change in one of these areas has knock-on consequences for the others. Take, for example, working parents with school-aged children who said their work had been impacted by Covid-19: 20% said this disruption was due to having to work around childcare responsibilities, according to the Office for National Statistics, often leaving them feeling stressed, exhausted and feeling close to burnout.
Parents readjusted their work schedule to fit around caring for their children, leading to them logging on early in the morning and working later in the evening. Latest results from health service provider Cigna indicate that 68% of working Brits work in an always-on environment with 54% working after hours. Despite all the time spent at home, caring for children and home schooling, only 32% of people actually spend quality time with their family.
While some of the UK workforce has had to contend with a challenging home-work-life set-up, 9.9 million workers have been furloughed, receiving only a percentage of their full earning potential. And unfortunately, as a result of the global pandemic, there are 825,000 fewer people on company payrolls. A third of Brits are experiencing financial stress and only 25% are satisfied with their current financial situation, according to Cigna’s Covid-19 Pulse Survey.
This disruption to our daily lives has had a knock-on effect on our physical and mental health too.
The physical story
Working from home, or not working at all, has resulted in a sedentary lifestyle for many, with no regular commute or lunchtime walk with colleagues. National lockdowns and intermittent local lockdowns have caused disruption to our overall physical wellbeing. Gyms have been closed, so too have the parks and outdoor exercise was limited to once per day – blocking us from enjoying some well-earned down time and letting off some steam in our usual way. As a result, physical activity amongst adults has fallen by a quarter and a third of adults have gained weight during lockdown.
According to Cigna, only 27% of people are getting sufficient sleep at night, 30% are a healthy weight and only 30% exercise on regular basis. These figures are troubling especially since it is important to maintain a reasonable level of physical health to lower the risk of infection from Covid-19.
The mental health story
Regular exercise doesn’t just benefit us physically, it’s also good for our mental wellbeing. At a time where feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety are on the rise, it’s never been more important to focus on our mental health.
The change we’re experiencing as a result of the pandemic has led to 76% of the UK population being stressed, with the biggest cause of stress being uncertainty for the future, according to Cigna’s research.
When we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally – a vicious cycle which can be difficult to break especially while living in the extreme circumstances we’ve been enduring for the last year.
Facts like these exemplify why it’s crucial to consider both mental and physical wellbeing in tandem when focusing on improving whole health.
With Covid-19 looking likely to stick around for 2021, remaining resilient won’t be easy. How one person copes with change and disruption will be different from another.”
An employer’s role
With Covid-19 looking likely to stick around for 2021, remaining resilient won’t be easy. How one person copes with change and disruption will be different from another.
Some 62% of people turn to their family and friends for support whereas 30% look to their employer for support. In particular, employees would like flexible working hours (38%), enhanced insurance cover (37%) and mental health support (32%) from their employer and for their employer to understand and care about them (32%).
Employers need to look at the bigger picture when it comes to their employees’ whole health – our lives aren’t two-dimensional. They need to acknowledge that their employees’ lives are complex, their plates are full, and their health and wellbeing are made up of many moving parts that change from moment to moment.
Their personal health, their family wellbeing, their finance concerns, their work-life balance and their access to care all impact their whole health and their ability to work effectively. Employers need to offer a comprehensive employee wellness programme which covers everything from medical assistance, mental health support and life and protection services to ensure they feel supported in every sense – when they are in good health and when they’re not.
Employees who are supported, resilient and in good health will be fighting fight as we continue to navigate through Covid-19, the nation’s third lockdown and beyond.