Global uncertainty: Why it’s important to check in on your people

It’s reasonable to wonder how many more shocks the current decade has in store for us.

First there was the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, reasserting itself in a new format every time we thought we had it beaten, taking its toll on the global and local economy, and the population’s bodily and mental health. Its lingering effects are likely to be with us for years to come.

Then, more recently, came the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war in Europe. While there’s no doubt that Ukrainians themselves are undergoing the greatest suffering, the effects of the conflict are being felt around the world.

Your employees’ wellbeing can take a dive when they face this combination of health, economic and emotional traumas.  

Economic impacts of global uncertainty

The combined effects of the pandemic and the war in Europe have disrupted the global supply chain and are driving an inflationary spiral both at home and overseas.

  • Energy prices are expected to stay high for a long time to come, and while this is good for Australian coal exports it means additional costs for production, domestic transport, and all our imports, further fuelling the inflation rate.
  • Manufacturing bottlenecks are occurring. Ukraine and Russia are significant sources of iron ore, manganese, graphite, uranium, titanium, neon gas, krypton and palladium, all vital for global manufacturing, and some are critical in the production of semiconductors and catalytic converters.
  • Food price rises are likely to continue. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus together produce a significant share of the world’s wheat, as well as potash – a vital ingredient in fertiliser. Supply chain disruption and energy price rises are adding to shipping costs.   
  • Interest rates have risen. The Reserve Bank has little choice when it comes to lifting interest rates to contain inflation. 

However, it’s important for business leaders to look beyond the obvious economic impacts on their organisation, and consider how worldwide unpredictability may be undermining the wellbeing of their employees. 

How global uncertainty affects employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is closely linked to employee engagement, productivity and talent retention. 

When your team members feel anxious and uncertain – whether it’s about returning to the office and the possibility of new COVID variants, the risk of escalating conflict in Europe, the prospect of China staring us down in the South Pacific, or the probability of fast-rising prices and mortgage interest payments – it’s probably a good time to check in on how they are doing. 

Ways to focus on workforce wellbeing (and reap the benefits)

Checking in on employees and ensuring that they are doing well mentally, physically and emotionally can be challenging if, like many businesses, you now have a permanently hybrid workforce, some of whose members you may see in person only irregularly. But adopting the following practices will promote employee wellbeing and foster talent retention.

  • Flexible working arrangements

Allow employees to work from home sometimes.

Gone are the days when employees were automatically expected to endure a commute, no matter how long and arduous, between their home and a workplace where they stayed all day, five days a week. Increasingly, organisational experts are warning that employers need to ‘earn the commute’ by providing added value for in-person attendance. 

Talent is becoming more difficult to attract and retain in a job market where candidates are in the box seat, and have discovered the work/life balance benefits of working from home at least some of the time. Leaders should be prepared to offer flexibility around hours and location while pursuing clarity about why they actually want or need people to be in the office. It may be to build teamwork, foster personal relationships and promote collaboration, but former arguments about productivity no longer hold water, as studies have shown.  

  • A satisfying office environment 

Rethink your office layout to make it more appealing to your staff.

Steelcase, a US office equipment and fitout company, recently produced a global report, The New Era of Hybrid Work. The research confirmed that people who like working from their office are significantly more engaged and productive, more connected to their company’s culture and less likely to leave. And it also revealed that employees value having both quiet, personal spaces where they can focus – rather than open expanses and hot desks – and collaborative areas to which they can repair for teamwork, exchange of ideas and socialisation. 

  • Personal development opportunities

Create career paths for your people, not just jobs.

No one wants a job that leads nowhere. Motivate your team by focussing on personal and career development. Give them training opportunities, and allow them study and examination leave if they are pursuing a qualification that is relevant to advancement in their role or within the organisation. Larger businesses may be able to provide career mentors for junior staff from the ranks of senior leaders. 

  • Physical and mental health support 

Explore ways to support employee wellbeing, such as:

  • In-house fitness challenge. Which team can complete the most total steps this week?
  • Standing desks to offset the detrimental effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Bike or walk to work days. Perhaps just a part of the way, if the whole journey is not feasible.
  • Monthly sabbatical day to recharge batteries by doing something different, such as volunteering or learning a creative skill.
  • Wellbeing events. There are many workplace wellness organisations in Australia offering webinars and online employee wellbeing programs. Comcare, the national work health and safety authority, has produced a booklet about implementing workplace wellbeing programs, with a useful list of suggested topics.
  • Workplace mental health. Get expert advice from the not-for-profit Black Dog Institute.
  • Care packs for employees, containing items like healthy snacks, sunscreen, herbal teas and muscle-soaking bubble bath.   

Get a head start – How Australian businesses can find out more

Bentleys’ Business Advisory team can assist you with every aspect of your business, including employee engagement, talent retention and wellness programs. Contact your local Bentleys office for a chat to find out how.

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

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