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Covid-19 impact: How significant is workplace wellness in UAE-based offices?

Covid-19 impact: How significant is workplace wellness in UAE-based offices?

A healthy work environment starts with an empowered leadership that prioritises the mental and physical well-being of all employees

Working habits have changed globally over the last six months as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The health scares and challenges Covid-19 brought with it, have led to an altered workplace where uncertainty, stress and financial pressures seem to dominate.

Personal and professional stressors have shaped a complex and anxious workforce that is more concerned and wary of the future than ever before. Being physically disconnected from colleagues and family adversely impacted employees and compounded the stress experienced. As offices continue to gradually welcome employees back into the physical workplace, there are many lessons from the lockdown period that need to be remembered and considered as we move forward.

In this context, workplace wellness is more crucial than ever to boosting employee morale and positivity in organisations. In line with the growing global awareness of the importance of mental well-being post-Covid-19, employee wellness initiatives have been gaining momentum in the UAE as well.

A Covid-19 Global Impact Study commissioned by Cigna revealed that the always-on culture, finance related problems and overall health concerns led to an increase in stress levels among employees during and after the lockdown period. In the global study, the UAE ranked second highest after Thailand when it came to longer workdays, with 65 per cent of the respondents admitting to working extended hours.

While working hard towards the success of an organisation is important, an always-on culture can be toxic and draining. It creates a sense of being connected 24×7 and leaves little or no time to unwind and focus on one’s inner and physical well-being.

While 79 per cent of respondents of the Covid-19 Global Impact Study claimed to have more flexible workdays and improved communications with colleagues, these enhancements came at the expense of longer working hours in the UAE. Employees also admitted that working from home could add to the anxiety of being always-on, where each individual was responsible for switching off and unwinding at the end of the workday.

Curbing the practice of working long hours is a practice that the management must determine. Managers today must realise a healthy work environment is one that eliminates the need for long working hours and that creating a change is a top-down approach. If employees are expected to respond to work emails after working hours, the issue needs to be resolved at the management level. A deeper study and understanding of working conditions by the human resource department will reveal what needs to change.

A notable positive outcome of the lockdown period was that people checked in with one another more often. According to the Cigna study, UAE residents admitted to experiencing lower levels of loneliness as they continued to remain connected via technology even while working from home. Friends, colleagues and family members regularly communicated with one another and this led to people feeling less isolated.

A positive and open working environment contributes substantially to an individual’s overall well-being and growth. We spend nearly 8-10 hours each day at work and amid colleagues. Although it is all too easy to remain disconnected and not stay in touch for hours while working, this is regardless, a work imperative we all need to adapt. Creating a safe and holistic work environment either in office or virtually is becoming a vital need.

Technology plays a key role in dealing with unforeseen situations, such as the one we recently experienced, when we were all suddenly called upon to work from home with no prior warning.

Using technological advancements to our advantage has never been so critical. The need to be present virtually in the past months had most of us diving into the new way of doing things without giving it a second thought. However, not everyone copes with every situation in the same way. A lot of the survey’s respondents admitted to getting distressed at having to call and hop on video chats constantly even to simply request a work update.

This instance highlights the need for employees to band together and support one another no matter what the circumstance.

A healthy work environment starts with an empowered leadership that prioritises the mental and physical well-being of all employees. Clearly, it is the management that is instrumental in building a workplace culture that employees are happy to be a part of.

Although we are now coming back to office, there is so much we need to adapt to. Workplaces will never be the same spaces we left behind just a few months ago.

The pandemic has changed our priorities and outlook and the only way to deal with a stressful workday is to truly understand our new work environment.

Age-old values like kindness and empathy are sure to stand us in good stead here.

Isil Ata is the head of human resources at Cigna, Middle East and Africa

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