However, research carried out by multinational technology company Microsoft among its international staff suggests that the high productivity seen during the pandemic’s first year masks an exhausted workforce.

Should this be the case more generally, it emphasises the need for targeted wellbeing support, especially around resilience, mental health, mindfulness and self-care.

Health insurance agency Westfield Health recently published its Coping after Covid report, which looked at the pandemic’s impact on morale, wellbeing and productivity.

Its headline message was that businesses needed to maximise their investment in wellbeing interventions, adding that the increased productivity that would result from this spend could add £61b to the English economy by 2025.

Increased interest in introducing EAPs

Everyone interviewed for this article agreed that there is no one-size-fits all approach to safeguarding employee wellbeing. Rather, it is about accommodating each individual’s unique circumstances and making allowances for different needs.

The HSE emphasises the importance of stress management and resilience and advises employers to provide staff with access to Employee Assistance Schemes (EAPs).

According to Steph Barnett, managing director of Pure Human Resources, the HR consultancy’s clients have shown an increased interest in introducing EAPs as another means of supporting their team. For her staff, respecting individuals’ feelings about the pandemic has been critical.

“Some people have struggled with isolation, some thrive on the quiet that it brings, but most seem to oscillate between the two,” she confides.

When the first lockdown happened, KPMG took prompt action, including the introduction of a buddying scheme to help employees remain connected with colleagues.

‘The business has also set up confidential support lines offering 24/7 assistance for those struggling with mental health issues, as well as specialist support for employees who are victims of domestic violence’

32 MAY/JUNE 2021

David Thomas, occupier advisory partner at Reading- based property consultants Vail Williams LLP, said the business has regular check-ins to pick up on any staffing concerns. The business won an Investors in People gold award last year and has rolled-out a suite of measures, including training mental health first aiders.

But psychosocial issues such as depression, anxiety and loneliness are only part of the picture.

As the HSE’s latest research reveals, musculoskeletal disorders are one of the leading causes of workplace ill health. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are required to carry out risk assessments on all work activities carried out by employees, including homeworkers.

Assessing the risks and needs of home working

Although the pandemic makes it impracticable for employers to carry out a full risk assessment in the home environment, employers must ensure that work stations are set up correctly and provide suitable office equipment, together with guidance, to minimise the risk of musculoskeletal issues developing.

Adrian Powell, director for Active Work Solutions, a workspace specialist, said that one of the benefits of being a small business is that it has been able to help its employees undertake self-assessments over a Zoom call. The business, which fits out offices for SME clients through to large blue-chip companies, has supplied all its employees with office equipment suitable for home use.

“We do have employees who don’t have their own office and sit at a kitchen table,” he said.

‘We’ve been supplying them with an exam- desk that they can fold down and put away together with an adjustable office chair’

“You have to consider different people’s work environment. Many don’t have the space for a proper office desk and chair”

The latest lockdown has been particularly tough on home-based workers who can spend long hours sitting at a desk in front of a screen.

Thomas believes that “Zoom fatigue had really set in by the end of 2020”. He also feels that remote working has stifled innovation. “Humans are a social species and we are not geared to collaborating over technology,” he said.

Gray concurred. “Working remotely, people have experienced what it’s like to miss the personal connection and collaboration you get in an office,” he said. “Working with teams in an office environment is beneficial, particularly from a wellbeing perspective.”

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