The future of work is employee wellbeing

Research shows that four in five managers in the GCC do not feel fully equipped to have meaningful conversations with their teams on well-being, especially on mental health


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Thu 23 Jun 2022, 4:50 PM

Data from new research undertaken by The Talent Enterprise, a global tech human capital company headquartered in Dubai since 2012, has revealed that while the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) workforce is reporting improved overall well-being since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is still much to be done.

Altogether, 68 per cent of employees reported increased levels of stress at work, while 48 per cent stated that their workload increased significantly in the past 12 months.

Seemingly contradictory findings emerged where one-third of the region’s employees are feeling increased stress, fatigue and burnout, while simultaneously reporting an overall improvement in well-being since the start of the pandemic. These findings highlight the complexities of employee well-being in the post-Covid-19 era where a sense of euphoria, as well as persistent exhaustion and ongoing stress go together.

The findings are revealed within a dedicated whitepaper co-written by the founders of The Talent Enterprise, David Jones and Radhika Punshi, titled Understanding the Science of Wellbeing: Beyond the Hype, which calls for improved methods of managing employee well-being in the post-pandemic world.

Jones weighed in on how the employee well-being increased since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. “Our data reveals that today most people are enjoying the release from physical and mental confinement, a trend that is reflected in an increase of 32 per cent in overall well-being. However, the research also found that digital well-being continues to fall and is the lowest average element of overall wellness. Around 78 per cent of employees believe that their digital habits and overall digital health deteriorated during the pandemic, leading to an increased sense of digital fatigue and an inability to ‘switch off’. Financial well-being is also falling since the onset of the pandemic,” he says.

Three years ago, it was cited that carving out time from work for domestic or personal priorities was the biggest challenge. Now that situation has flipped, many respondents are striving to find meaning in their work and to separate the impact of their personal situation on their workplace behaviour.

“We see a greater likelihood of emotional outbursts in the workplace as a result, whether amongst colleagues or between teams and their customers and clients.

Furthermore, we see that working relationships are an important element of workplace wellbeing. Experienced employees with significant professional experience pre-pandemic, were able to maintain and leverage their existing relationships more easily with colleagues, customers and clients. For those who started work during and after the pandemic, relying on remote working during lockdowns and hybrid/remote working, building new relationships with colleagues, customers and clients has been more challenging. This has many practical implications for positivity and productivity in the workplace — for instance, effective induction, compliance with corporate policy and cultural guidelines, sales growth, customer satisfaction and more,” he adds.

Punshi talks about the emerging trends of digital habits in a post-pandemic world. “Lockdowns and remote or hybrid working practices have increased the digital divide. Those workers with fewer digital resources, fewer personal devices, older devices, weaker connectivity, and less private space in their domestic living have disproportionately faced difficulties in maintaining their productivity and positivity whilst working. In general, the element of digital wellbeing is the lowest single aspect of workplace well-being, with most people struggling to “switch-off” when they don’t physically depart from a workplace in the same way as they used to before. With fewer opportunities to transition from “work” time to “home” time, combined with the fact that most of the personal hardware and software that people use on their devices has been actively designed to be addictive and manipulative, it is little wonder that more and more people are reporting difficulties with digital depletion. Online isolation is a big challenge,” she says.

Jones elaborates on how mental health is a topic of conversation in the UAE and the GCC. “Well-being at work is becoming increasingly important to support the sustainability of our economy and the effective operation of our organisations. Monitoring well-being at work in a sensitive and supportive manner is becoming more of a priority amongst our clients. Whilst it is becoming a more pervasive and practical discussion in the region’s workplaces, with many initiatives already underway, it is important to take an integrated approach. This involves training leaders to be able to provide first level coaching and support where necessary. Our research demonstrated that four in five managers in the GCC do not feel fully equipped to have meaningful conversations with their teams on wellbeing, especially on mental health,” he says.

Punshi explains how the UAE employers are dealing with increased stress at workplaces. “There is a widespread recognition that workplace well-being is becoming a bigger area of focus and concern amongst the UAE and regional employers, as well as their managers and team members. We have seen a growing recognition for the need to do ‘something’ and a plethora of actions and initiatives, ranging from workplace yoga, meditation sessions, gym memberships, sponsored coaching and counselling. The limitation of individual, isolated initiatives can be that whilst they satisfy the need to do something, they can increase stress amongst those who feel social pressure to participate. We need to understand and respect that the path to understanding and building wellbeing is unique and can vary amongst individuals. Isolated initiatives need to be integrated into a broader strategy where there is a clear understanding of where the individual and organisation are starting from. From this, it can be decided what the priority actions with the greatest impact will be,” she says.

“In addition, we are seeing many organisations link with their medical insurance providers to explore how such initiatives can affect their premiums. Though there is a great opportunity to reward those individuals and organisations who undertake more sensitive and sustainable approaches to promoting their performance in the long-term, data protection in this area is critical. At the heart of workplace well-being is the trust to reveal, review and act on conversations around wellbeing — if confidentiality and personal data protection are not respected absolutely without compromise, such initiatives are more likely to be perceived as inappropriately inauthentic, psycho-washing and mere virtue -signalling in an area which deserves genuine leadership attention for all our benefits,” she adds.

Jones believes that mental well-being must become a workplace conversation in the region. “Using objective and standardised measures of workplace wellbeing can greatly increase the analysis and awareness of what aspects should be prioritised. For many, because of isolation during the lockdown and the digital atomisation that followed, particularly amongst younger workers, there is already a greater focus and comfort on discussing feelings, emotions and well-being today. Organisations and their leaders need to be prepared and have access to rigorous, objective and practical tools to deal with this tsunami of focus on workplace wellbeing. Workplace well-being remains a sensitive issue for many individuals and within many corporate cultures — using robust and scientifically valid tools is critical to gain objective insights on what really matters and what steps can be taken to address the issues which matter to your team,” he adds.

The findings have been carried out because June is observed as employees’ well-being month every year.

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