Why risk managers and HR need to collaborate to ensure employees are supported in a post-pandemic world - Mercer

Covid-19 has turned our workplaces upside down, thrown out old certainties and brought about huge changes in the way we work, where we work and how we collaborate. As a result it’s critical that risk managers and HR collaborate to provide “new leadership” that ensures employees are supported to improve health, productivity – and morale – in the post-pandemic world.

“Uncertainty needs leadership,” says Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Mercer Workplace Health Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits. “We are talking about line management training.”

The new post-pandemic circumstances mean that the need to upskill is urgent and yet the available data clearly demonstrates that even before the pandemic most managers felt unprepared to address employee health and wellbeing.

Speaking at a webinar Managing People Risk and Motivating Employees Post COVID-19 Dr Seidl said that while 84% of managers agree that their behaviour affects the behaviour of their reports, 74% say there are barriers within their organisations to them providing mental health support; and only 11% say that they have received any training in managing workplace stress levels.

“And everybody expects 2020 data to be even more pressing in terms of anxiety disorders, depression, domestic violence and loneliness,” he said.

In this context successful management is all about “meeting people where they are” he added.

“It’s about spotting the early signs of problems, being aware of the referral routes – and showing empathy. We teach managers to recognise the links between stress and productivity.”

The rise of remote working makes contact and communication more challenging. But the potential benefits make it even more crucial to get it right. Homeworking is clearly here to stay and all the evidence is that agile working has far more advantages than disadvantages in terms of productivity and wellbeing.

“A new form of leadership is needed… If we use COVID-19 as an example we saw compassionate leadership demonstrated by often female leaders of countries, including New Zealand, Germany and Finland, that showed the need for decision-making based on the need for care and benevolence,” said Dr Seidl.

When it comes to the workplace, this kind of leadership needs to be implemented at a strategic level, and showing the caring face of an organisation is about more than free fruit or occasional mindfulness sessions.

“We are in a new world and organisations need to be asking themselves if their benefits programme is still fit for purpose post-Covid-19,” said Stephen Hempenstall, Principal, Mercer Marsh Benefits.

Successful companies will design work around human needs, and workplace benefits need to be fully integrated with health and wellbeing in order to be effective, while communication must be personalised, high impact, and highly relevant.

Even before the pandemic changes such as flexible working were becoming common and the benefits of even more radical shifts in working patterns were being debated. But the lockdown turned what was a abstract conversation into a revolution overnight.

The challenge for risk managers now is to get ahead of the galloping pace of change, plan for the future and provide the dynamic leadership their organisations will need in order to seize the opportunities present in the new world of work.