The pandemic has shown us wellbeing has to be a priority, not just an add-on

Hyde is a housing association. We began our wellbeing journey around five years ago, so our strategy was already well-established before Covid-19.

The pandemic has shown us wellbeing has to be a priority, not just an add-on

A key part of our strategy has been to take a holistic approach. For instance, we were an early adopter of financial wellbeing and introduced this support to everyone at a time when other organisations weren’t really talking about it. It was particularly important we offered that help to our lower-paid workers, especially as we became more aware of the link between financial wellbeing and mental health.

Taking this approach stood us in good stead when Covid-19 hit. We didn’t need to change our strategy although we did have to adapt the focus and delivery of wellbeing services.

The pandemic has made us look more closely at resilience and mental wellbeing. We launched the Headspace app last year and an online GP service. I’m not sure these are initiatives we would have considered introducing pre-pandemic.

We also put in place a buddying scheme. When we surveyed our staff about how they were feeling during lockdown it became clear that while some were coping, others were feeling very isolated. Another group, generally our younger workforce, was struggling as they were in shared accommodation or still at home and had no dedicated area to work in. The buddying scheme helps people feel more connected and supported.

We knew we had to look again at the way we promoted our wellbeing benefits. There are now daily updates from my reward team reminding staff about what we offer. We’re not really seeing any increase in usage of benefits, such as our employee assistance programme (EAP), but we are conscious that people might be struggling, so we want to make sure they know support is there if needed.

The other aspect we reviewed was the wellbeing support we provided on site. We used to offer massages that proved popular but which we obviously couldn’t continue with during a pandemic. We replaced services such as these with online support and now run yoga sessions via Zoom as well as hold a ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ webinar every fortnight.

It’s important we consider how we will adapt post-pandemic. One project is exploring future ways of working and how we use our offices. We may not ever return to the arrangements we had in place before so, from a wellbeing perspective, I think we need to continue with online provision.

Mental health will continue to be a priority so we’re keen to introduce mental health first aiders. We are also looking to bring in targeted support for quite specific issues such as around the menopause and for people going through IVF treatment. These will widen the pool of benefits we have available to help employees.

Wellbeing will be front and centre in the new way of working. It may have been an add-on before, but as we look to the future, it has to come first.

The author is Sarah Bissell, HR director at Hyde Housing.

This article is also featured in our Employee Wellbeing Research 2021. Download your copy of the report.

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