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Will mental wellbeing stay on the global business agenda?

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COVID-19 highlighted the importance of mental health, not least in the workplace. But what does mental wellbeing look like in a business climate changed by the pandemic, and what support should companies be offering their employees?

The pandemic cast light both on the situations that negatively impact mental health, and on the factors that help strengthen it. ‘Working from home’ turned into ‘living at work’, with employers quickly recognising the value of an environment that supports good mental health. According to research by Gartner, by late March 2020 68% of organisations surveyed had introduced at least one new benefit to support employees during the pandemic.1

The future is flexible

In this new world of work, flexibility and the ability of each person to find a setup that suits them is seen as central to wellbeing. A Glassdoor survey of 2,000 UK office workers found that 53% considered flexible working to be the most valuable work-based perk.2 Meanwhile, 54% of respondents to the global EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey said they would consider leaving their job if their employer didn’t offer some post-pandemic flexibility in how and where they work.3

71% of businesses consider employee wellbeing the most important benefit of hybrid working

Our own Future of Work survey shows that businesses are responding to this new reality. For 39% of companies, offering flexible working (including remote and hybrid options) is a key recruitment and retention driver. The positive impact on employee wellbeing is considered the most important benefit of hybrid working, with 71% of respondents naming it an expected outcome of such a model.

Support for employees

Nearly half of our survey respondents (49%) said they now offer flexible or reduced working hours to attract applicants, 38% that they provide wellbeing guidance and resources and 36% that they include increased annual leave. This compares to the 35% that focus on higher salaries and bonuses to appeal to jobseekers. Businesses are also preparing for hybrid working being the norm going forward – with 36% training and upskilling managers to enable them to support staff wellbeing as they adjust to the new setup.

A well workplace

Investing in the wellbeing of staff is not only beneficial for employees; it’s also likely to have a positive knock-on effect on the viability of businesses and the strength of national economies. Poor mental health is costly in a number of ways, with depression and anxiety – two of the most common mental health problems – costing the global economy around US$1 trillion a year in lost productivity.4 It’s not surprising then that as many as 77% of Future of Work respondents see a strong link between investing in the company workforce, which can include an emphasis on staff wellbeing, and the long-term profitability of the business.

Business leaders can contribute to workplace wellbeing by encouraging openness and conversations around mental health and providing access to mental health tools and expertise. An initiative designed to achieve that is the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health, which launched earlier this year. The business-led collaboration, of which HSBC is a founding member, aims to drive positive change for mental health in the workplace – asking companies to sign a six-point pledge in support of that.

An environment in the workplace where people can talk openly and also know where they can get help is really important for the social fabric, and for the wellbeing of individuals.

Ian Stuart | CEO HSBC UK

The pledge includes a commitment by signatories to signpost employees to mental health support, work to eliminate stigma around mental health issues, and deliver an action plan to support good mental health within their company.5 Speaking on BBC News in January this year, Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK, said: “We believe mental health continues to be a big problem in business today. So, we’re asking companies to sign up to the leadership pledge. It’s designed so companies can share best practice [and] help colleagues deal with mental health.”

He added that it’s essential to continue to address the stigma around mental health and to “create an environment in the workplace where people can talk about it openly and they also know where they can get help”. “[It’s] really important for the social fabric, and for the wellbeing of individuals,” Stuart explained.6

Perks 2.0

The move towards more remote and hybrid working has led to a change in the company benefits that employees value. In addition to flexibility emerging as the most sought-after benefit, there has also been a shift away from an interest in office-based perks such as free gyms and canteens and towards perks centred on wellbeing, such as apps, private healthcare and online therapy.7

COVID-19 has prompted work culture changes that look set to remain in a post-pandemic future – including a stronger emphasis on workplace wellbeing and good mental health. For businesses it’s important to embrace this change and ensure they invest in the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff – to the benefit of employees, the business, and the economy.

HSBC Navigator: The Future of Work

The Navigator: Future of Work survey was conducted by FTI Consulting on behalf of HSBC. Research was conducted online from 3rd to 8th August 2021 with 2,130 respondents who are involved in or influence strategic direction for their company in 10 markets: UK, USA, UAE, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Mexico, Australia and Germany.

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