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Has the employer-employee relationship changed forever?

See how Covid-19 has changed the way employers are tackling wellbeing.

Written by
Brad Joffe

As we all know, the workplace changed dramatically during 2020. Since then, a lot of time has been spent talking about the benefits and drawbacks of working from home. But for many workers, it wasn’t just a physical switch from the office to home, there are other shifts that may end up being just as transformative over the long term.

These changes mean the relationship between employers and employees is also shifting. Open any annual report and you’re likely to see wellbeing somewhere close to the words people or staff or read about how an employer sees their staff are their most valuable asset.

 In the last few decades there’s been a gradual shift towards policies and benefits that help people with their physical and mental wellbeing – yoga days, bring your dog to work days, fruit bowls and table tennis tables are all part of a greater movement. Covid-19 has catalysed this change and also re-shaped the way leading employers are thinking about wellbeing.

Here are two of the key takeaways.

1. Wellbeing is crucial, but support also needs to be remote

When Covid-19 hit, people leaders had to figure out how to set up and support remote teams in a very short amount of time. Once that was done, there were questions about burnout – people were working longer hours because they struggled to log off and others fatigued from spending most of their days on video calls.

We’re still understanding the longer-term impacts of working from home in terms of productivity and wellbeing. Research by Atlassian found that Aussies are working an extra 32 minutes per day – they’re starting earlier, finishing later and taking less breaks. Almost a quarter of people said they’re also thinking about work more outside of hours and half felt it had become more difficult to maintain work-life balance.

So for employers, taking active steps to support the wellbeing of their employees has become more important than ever – especially in terms of helping people feel they have an appropriate work-life balance.

The working world has changed so much that this kind of support is now an expectation from employees. One in 3 Australians recently told Seek that work-life balance comes ahead of salary and job security when they’re considering a new position.

2. Wellbeing is about more than physical and mental health

In recent years businesses have focused on physical and mental wellbeing, but Covid-19 has highlighted the need to also focus on personal finances – a topic many employers have previously regarded as taboo. For almost all employees during the pandemic job security, pay cuts and reduced hours played into their thinking with many citing increased money worries.

Even prior to Covid-19, research from EY found that financial stress is the number one concern of employees, with 73% of employees saying they feel it regularly. Financial stress is proven to impact both mental and physical health. Research has also linked financial stress to short-term health issues like headaches and insomnia, as well as longer term problems such as heart and lung disease, arthritis, diabetes and asthma.

It’s not so surprising then that 7 in 10 workers say they’re comfortable receiving information and support from their employer on financial topics, according to FutureFriendly. What’s more, 1 in 2 people say they would benefit from more employer support and would be interested in financial wellbeing programs.  

Separate research from AMP found that despite this desire, only 1 in 10 workers are offered this kind of assistance by their employers – with employees placing an average value of $1,300 on their employer offering some kind of financial wellbeing program.

What next?

As the employer and employee relationship continues to evolve, employee benefits are becoming more important – often separating good employers from great employers. 'Employers of Choice' recognise that supporting the wellbeing of their people through benefits and wellbeing policies can have a material impact on the employee-employer relationship and on the success of their business in general.

Financial wellbeing is an area that is often overlooked in the overall wellbeing mix, even though it is strongly correlated with physical and mental wellbeing. Luckily many leading employers are starting to cotton on, implementing robust financial wellbeing programs to better support their employees.

See the 6 ways Covid-19 has transformed employee benefits.

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