Focus on Employees’ Wellbeing and Flexibility Needs During COVID-19

Social distancing has led to lay-offs and furloughs, but when business begins to return to normal, employers will once again compete for skilled talent. Focusing on employee wellbeing now can help.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to upend global business operations, employee wellness is at the forefront of business strategic planning. Ensuring that employees’ needs are met quite often focuses on compensation and benefits. But going beyond these needs and ensuring wellbeing is a key step in overall employee engagement in a time of great uncertainty. Maslow’s classic “hierarchy of needs” can help.

You may have learned about it in your first-year Psychology class. It’s a means of understanding human needs. The base of the pyramid is our physiological needs. Moving up leads to safety needs, love and belonging, and self-esteem. The top of the pyramid is where self-actualization lies. A Manpower Group report based on data from surveyed U.S. employees likens employee needs to the human needs pyramid. Each step of the pyramid leads to greater employee purpose, with flexibility and wellbeing a much-needed focus.

Compensation and Career Coaching are Still Crucial

In the hierarchy of worker needs, the base of the pyramid is compensation and benefits. Building on the base of employee needs pyramid is insight gained from coaching, career management and self-assessment. This comes from “assignments that test [employees’] abilities, projects that demand the best from them and recommendations on the next role.” Assessment leads neatly into the next pyramid level: education, experience, and exposure. Building a diverse portfolio of experiences and skills is important to employees, and it starts with learning and development. CEO and manager involvement is crucial here, as it demonstrates the value a company puts on the development of its employees. As more businesses move to online remote work, these steps may look more virtual.

Flexibility and Well-Being Needed Globally

Just below the top of the worker pyramid is the need for flexibility and wellbeing, which has never been more important than now. While this often refers to work/life balance, there’s a renewed focus on the ability to work from home as more businesses shift to online remote work to keep employees safe. Even without a global pandemic, however, employers need to incorporate wellness into benefits packages. A global benefits trends report from Willis Towers Watson shows that wellbeing is now a critical part of an employer’s benefits package in North America, with 79% of employers broadening or enhancing their benefits portfolios to include wellbeing.

Flexibility is equally crucial, as many employees need the flexibility to help them adapt to a rapidly changing pandemic landscape. Even prior to the pandemic, the same Willis Towers Watson report revealed that few employers outside of North America believe they are appropriately delivering flexibility and choice to their employees, with less than half of employers in EMEA and Asia Pacific reporting that their benefits package is tailored to the specific needs of their workforce. Additionally, only a minority of companies think their benefits are truly effective. To meet the needs of the workforce and offer an effective benefits package, offering flexibility that takes wellbeing into consideration builds upon the critical steps within the worker’s pyramid of needs.

All of this leads to the top of the pyramid -- purpose. Across generations, from baby boomers to Gen Z, workers want to have a “why,” and to demonstrate it too. Eighty-three percent of employees surveyed by PwC desire meaning in their day-to-day work. But if we’ve learned anything of the hierarchy of needs, employees can’t get there without building upon the preceding levels of the pyramid. During the COVID-19 crisis, flexibility and wellbeing during COVID-19 constitute a particularly relevant layer in the pyramid of employee needs.

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