Survey finds productivity gains came at a cost during the pandemic – with employee wellbeing taking a big hit

As we take a look back on the past two years, organizations should not underestimate the personal and collective challenges the pandemic has placed on their people.

Adjusting to the post-pandemic way of life will be essential for resuming healthy and positive workplace relationships with colleagues and co-workers, according to Forbes. Showing compassion and understanding, “can help people handle their concerns and help promote positive mental health for all employees.” 

In other words, the wellbeing of employees will be a key driver of organizational success in the post-pandemic world — and essential for a healthy and productive workplace. But how much focus did organizations put on employee wellbeing since the pandemic and lockdown started in March 2020? 

It’s a good question, but it is also important to remember that business leaders and human resource professionals everywhere have faced unprecedented challenges in the COVID-19 era. As technology CEO Marylene Delbourg-Delphis told the Workology Podcast, chief people officers had one of the most critical jobs during the pandemic — perhaps even more important than that of many chief financial officers. 

Some of the big challenges HR faced included: 

  • Remote working — a dramatic shift from employees working in the office to working remotely.
  • Digital leadership — managers had to drive engagement, organizational culture and connection to the larger business remotely as well. 
  • Increased uncertainty — there was massive widespread uncertainty for organizations and the workforce, but particularly financially, economically and health and wellness-wise. 
  • Reduced employee interaction and connection — employees lost opportunities to interact personally with their leaders, business units, fellow employees and the larger organization.

HR tech company Fuel50 asked HR leaders and employees from more than 200 organizations across the globe a series of questions about the impact of the global pandemic and lockdown on people practices in their organizations. The first part of the “Global Talent Mobility” report digs into just how talent management and employee wellbeing fared during the 18-month global lockdown. 

The state of employee wellbeing 

From a business perspective, it’s good to know that during the global pandemic and lockdown, many organizations saw increased employee productivity with no noticeable impact on work quality. 

Despite the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and the challenges of remote working, Fuel50 research found that 90 percent of HR respondents either saw productivity remain the same or increase, with nearly 40 percent seeing productivity gains. A quarter of respondents even said they saw an increase in the quality of work over the 2020 – 2021 period. 

However, the research also suggests that these productivity gains came at a price. Almost half (47 percent) of all respondents said their employee wellbeing decreased during the pandemic. This is hardly surprising when you consider the stressful environmental factors faced by employees all over the world, including uncertainty around job security, health concerns, social isolation and economic instability.

Fuel50’s findings mirrored a global Harvard Business Review study where 89 percent of employees said their work life was getting worse and 85 percent said their wellbeing declined as a result. 

All of this made one thing clear: Employee wellbeing is becoming a critical concern for organizations everywhere. An article published by Stat News states that we should be “anticipating a long- term impact on people’s mental health… Experts have also highlighted increases in sleeping problems and alcohol and other substance misuse and point to clear causes: Uncertainty and fear about the coronavirus itself; job loss and housing and food insecurity; juggling working from home while dealing with cooped-up kids; grief and a loss of social cohesion as a result of restrictions.” 

This raises an important question: Just how can organizations increase the wellbeing of their workforce? 

Boosting workplace wellness  

Research by Deloitte highlights the benefits of organizations creating a wellness-driven environment that “puts sleep first.” With our “always on” culture, people’s ability to learn, concentrate and retain information is compromised because so many people are not well-rested at work. Organizations that devote resources to coaching their employees on the benefits of sleep are reporting increased employee wellbeing, productivity, creativity and innovation. 

In addition, the Fuel50 Capability Trends Report™ identified 15 of the latest globally trending capabilities associated with driving a wellness culture. The report notes: 

“The global pandemic has elevated [wellness] to a critical strategic priority for organizations globally. Governments, communities, and workplaces all need to do their bit to ensure people have support and resources to safeguard their wellness … research has shown that those organizations that invest in wellness have healthy employees who are more productive and less likely to be absent. In return, organizations gain on their health and wellness investments and keep healthcare costs to a minimum. 

Offering a range of wellness programs is one tactic for lifting levels of employee wellbeing in an organization. However, we know that to create a culture with employee wellness at its heart, you need to consider and elevate specific employee capabilities and skills.”