Strategic Insights | Happiness in a Covid World
We do not yet know exactly what the mental health impacts of COVID-19 will be. There are many factors to consider, including the impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions such as social distancing and self-isolation. Some employees are worried about contracting the virus, others are experiencing anxiety in relation to their family and friends. Many will have suffered bereavements over the last few months. There will also be fears about job security, returning to the workplace (including using public transport for commuting) and financial concerns. Some employees are working longer or more irregular hours and many are combining work with home-schooling and other family responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance.
Nothing is set in stone, nothing lasts forever, and history is strewn with events, calamities, disasters, accomplishments and triumphs that have transformed and revolutionised lifestyles, practices and our ways of doing things, challenging received wisdom and upending our societal models.
Over the last few weeks and months, we have grown fond of saying that coronavirus is a game-changer – not just for the economy, but for society as we know it. But the truth is, ever since Henry Ford introduced his eight-hour working day back in the 1920s – from which the “9-to-5” regime was born –, it has been on its way out, dying a very slow death. Various innovations over the years, such as the Xerox machine and the microcomputer, have accelerated the pace of change, and COVID-19 is really just one more catalyst in the continuum of change.
9-to-5 is dead
It is very likely that today’s Generation Z will never work a 9-to-5 job. They have at their disposal an array of technology and gadgetry that will mean they need never be physically tied to one location. They now live, work, learn and relax in virtual and augmented reality worlds, so they can do their jobs where they want and when they want.
Ford once proclaimed that it was “high time we rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege”, and people entering the job market today are simply taking that assertion a few steps further: working smarter means no longer having to put their jobs first – their professional and personal lives can be interwoven exactly in the way they want them to be, and their pursuit of wealth need no longer be at the expense of their physical and mental well-being, the environment or indeed the welfare of wider society.
A job for life? Not on your life!
Something else that has changed over the past hundred years or so is the degree to which people are willing to dedicate their lives to just one company. Online training on tap and numerous other opportunities for personal and professional development mean that the idea of a “job for life” is now pretty much dead. Gone are the days when graduates would spend their entire professional lives loyal to the same company as the one for which their parents and their parents before them had toiled. People entering today’s labour market can expect to train, retrain and then retrain again, using whatever technology they have at their disposal to constantly reskill and re-equip themselves to keep pace with an ever-changing world.
The pursuit of happiness
So the employee experience really has come on in leaps and bounds. All well and good. But what about the employer experience? The average company currently spends around £2000 per person on enhancing the employee experience. But is it worth it? Are there really any objective returns to spending scarce resources on ensuring and enhancing well-being in the workplace? Many companies go to huge efforts to maximise staff retention and satisfaction in this increasingly fluid and volatile world, but does doing so really lead to higher levels of productivity?
All evidence taken together suggests that the answer to the overarching question is “yes” – there is indeed a very strong business case for keeping staff happy. Moreover, the recently published Global Happiness and Well-Being Policy report found a positive correlation between employee well-being and productivity, suggesting that a “meaningful increase in well-being yields, on average, an increase in productivity of about 10%”.
There’s more good news: employee satisfaction has a substantial positive correlation with customer loyalty and a substantial negative correlation with staff turnover, both of which are also reflected in higher profitability.
But the picture is nuanced. It is indeed true that today’s graduates are better equipped to leverage all the potential of this increasingly connected world than the baby boomers and even Gen X before them. The proliferation of technology has only served to further emphasise the generation gap. But it is also true that Gen Z has had more of its fair share of calamities, geopolitical upheaval and – recently added to the mix – pandemics.
What all this means is that keeping staff happy means more than just taking them away for team building weekends or providing them with feng shui work desks and fresh fruit on demand. It means monitoring their mental health.
What should employers do?
It is well known that many employees do not feel comfortable in speaking up about poor mental health; this is unlikely to change following the pandemic.
Employers will need to adopt a range of measures to support employees experiencing poor mental health as a result of COVID-19. Measures will need to range from supporting employees to regain an effective work-life balance and addressing fears about return to work, right through to support for severe mental health conditions.
What remains important is that people experiencing poor mental health are not labelled by focusing on a diagnosis. Instead, discussions and support should focus on the impact it has on them at work.
Partnering with PAPYRUS
IQ has recently started supporting PAPYRUS (the Parents’ Association for the Prevention of Young Suicide), a charity that was set up by a mother in 1997 following her son’s tragic suicide.
The work that it does involves providing support and advice for young people and delivering training programmes to communities and volunteers. It even helps to shape social policy, implementing national suicide prevention strategies wherever it can.
Next Thursday (10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day. In these unprecedented circumstances, we are excited about our partnership with this charity and the opportunity it provides to help raise people’s awareness of this crucially important issue – as well as contributing to its fundraising initiatives.
If you feel that you would like to help us to support this worthwhile charity, simply click here.
Petronella West is the Chief Executive Officer at Investment Quorum, and is focused on providing personalised financial planning and investment solutions.
This article does not constitute specific advice and investors should bear in mind that capital invested is not guaranteed. Investment Quorum is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
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