In it for the long haul: how to sustain and build employee resilience as covid wears on
April 2021   WHOLE HEALTH

In it for the long haul: how to sustain and build employee resilience as covid wears on

Employers who have the whole health of their employees’ front and centre, will benefit from a resilient workforce that are well equipped and supported to face challenges at home and at work.
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Remaining resilient can be tough, especially when we’re still facing uncertain times in what feels like a never ending cycle of reprieve and restrictions. Although vaccination programs across Europe are beginning to have an impact, we’re still living in a truly challenging health crisis. We continue to adapt and deal with the fundamental shifts to our lives, and a year on there is still no definitive end date in sight. As a result, 86% of people are stressed, with uncertainty for the future the biggest cause1.

The pandemic hasn’t only impacted our physical and mental health, it has impacted every aspect of life, and affected our whole health. Our family dynamics have shifted, we’re facing financial strain, our work-life balance is non-existent and we’re less physically active than ever before – collectively, all taking a toll on our levels of resilience.

Mental health and the connection with resilience

Being resilient is the ability to tap into our mental health reserves to help us find the strength needed to navigate through tough or challenging times. Without it, we’re left unable to cope with stress and lacking the ability to bounce back when faced with difficulties. Resilience and mental health are inter-connected and the global pandemic has shined a light on the importance of remaining resilient, especially right now.

There’s no shortage of issues that have been impacting our mental health and resilience recently – isolation, bereavement and loss of income to name a few. These issues could be exacerbating existing mental health conditions or triggering the onset of new conditions. And if resilience levels are low, too much stress, change and the inability to cope with such change can lead to negative emotions and behaviours including insomnia, drug and alcohol dependencies and in extreme circumstances, suicide or suicidal thoughts.

So, how do we recognise if resilience levels are low and how can we improve resilience? This isn’t easy, especially as signs and symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Common behaviours to look out for include being irritable, angry, moody, overreacting to normal stress, poor memory and persistent illnesses.

At an individual level, being able to recognise these characteristics will help understand if support is needed to help build resilience - such as engaging in resilience boosting activities, taking time to relax, practicing mindfulness techniques, setting personal goals and maintaining perspective.

When it comes to thinking about your employees’ whole health it’s important to understand that everything in their life which makes up their world - family, friends, work-life balance, access to care, finances and home environment – is all connected. A difficulty in any one of these areas can have an immediate knock on effect on other areas. If they are struggling to remain resilient in their personal life, this can impact their resilience at work, and vice versa. Being accountable and taking steps to building resilience doesn’t just fall with the individual; employers have a duty of care to their employees and senior management need to play a key role here as well.

Employee resilience – exactly why is it so important?

Resilient employees have a lot to offer – they are more likely to be confident communicators, they are better placed to handle challenges, they are more productive and are less likely to be affected by stress at work. As a result, it’s likely that their whole health will be good too. Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite for an employee whose resilience is low – they lack confidence, drive and determination, often resulting in presenteeism and in the longer term, are likely to be more susceptible to illness, resulting in absenteeism from the workplace. Not only impacting their mental health, but also their whole health.

The workplace has become more complex with many of us still working from home and a return to the office not likely until at least the summer. This in turn means the lines between home and work continue to be increasingly blurred. Workplace culture and mind-set needs to continue to adapt to be supportive, collaborative and motivating. Employers who have the whole health of their employees’ front and centre, will benefit from a resilient workforce that are well equipped and supported to face challenges at home and at work.

Four steps for building and sustaining employee resilience

1. Acknowledge and understand employee needs: For an employer, it’s important to recognise that resilience levels, causes of stress and coping mechanisms can vary - what causes stress for one person could be completely different for another. Building employee resilience won’t be achieved overnight, it needs to be nurtured and cultivated within the workplace. It begins with employers acknowledging that employees’ lives are busy, and their plates are full, particularly right now.

2. Promote good mental health in the workplace: Ensure the workplace is a safe space to talk openly about the mental health problems that people by providing employees with a platform where they can easily communicate with their managers. This can be done by offering guidance and training to employees to start a dialogue with their managers or by involving middle managers in delivering mental health interventions. Simple interventions, such as providing mental health training to managers, can significantly impact employees’ mental health.

3. Provide more than just a traditional insurance package to support the whole health of employees: Recent research from Cigna found that more than half (53%) of people globally want their employer to provide them with mental health support and a similar number (48%) said they want their employer to provide training on how to stay physically healthy1. As personal wellness and the focus on mental health becomes an increasingly important part of people’s lives, there is also a growing expectation that these benefits are carried over to the workplace. As a result, the proactive provision of employee wellness programs is becoming a key part of building a stronger workplace culture that can help attract and retain talent.

4. Encourage healthy behaviours and develop a culture of wellness: Employers should educate employees on mental health issues and resilience, raising awareness about mental well-being and providing work-life balance training. A new Cigna study identified that mental health interventions in particular yield high returns, with the most effective program achieving a sixty-fold return on the initial investment2. Furthermore, the rollout of mental health-related programs that offer stress management coaching to employees and access to counselling sessions with clinical professionals will help to encourage a happy and engaged workforce with support and compassion at the heart of the organisation.

Strategically investing in employees’ whole health, will yield a return on investment with lower rates of absenteeism, lower healthcare-related costs to the company, and higher productivity levels. And for the employee, they’ll benefit from greater levels of support, they’ll be better equipped to manage their own mental health and resilience and ultimately, they will improve their whole health.


1 - Cigna’s COVID-19 Global Impact Survey

2- Health and Wellness in Workplaces: What Works? - ROI analysis of Health and Wellness Interventions

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