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    Navigating the Impact of the ‘Flexi-fallout’ on Employee Wellbeing

    Remote and flexible working arrangements have become the new norm, and in 2023, at least 44 percent of employed adults worked this way.
    But as businesses begin to transition back to onsite working, employees are growing concerned that they will lose the flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to.
    This anxiety will likely cause an increase in flexible working requests under the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023.
    To address these concerns and support employee wellbeing during this transition, employers must take proactive steps to assess and mitigate the potential negative impacts of the ‘flexi-fallout.’
    Consider the impact of the ‘flexi-fallout’ on employees
    While mandating a return to onsite working may seem like a straightforward solution to increase productivity, it’s essential to consider the broader implications for employee wellbeing.
    For the majority of employees, the flexibility afforded by remote or hybrid work arrangements is pivotal for maintaining a work-life balance, and removing these options could result in increased stress, work dissatisfaction, and ultimately, burnout.
    Research has shown that hybrid work models can enhance productivity and job satisfaction, with 65 percent of hybrid workers reporting increased productivity and 59 percent experiencing improved job satisfaction.
    Before implementing any changes, employers must carefully evaluate how transitioning back to on-site working will affect their employees’ emotional well-being and productivity and whether the change is warranted.
    It is crucial to engage in open dialogue with employees to understand their perspectives on flexible working. By soliciting feedback and addressing concerns, employers can ensure that any decisions regarding workplace policies are informed and considerate of employee needs.
    Model benefits during the transition
    Workplace culture plays a major role in employee wellbeing and happiness, and maintaining a healthy outlook will help to facilitate a smooth transition back to onsite working and prevent a flexi-fallout.
    Employers should lead by example by encouraging employees to embrace the change in working policy and help them feel more motivated and supported about returning to the workplace.
    Taking a punitive approach to enforcing onsite attendance can backfire and lead to increased worker dissatisfaction and potentially higher employee turnover.
    Instead, employers should emphasise the benefits of returning to in-person working, such as increased social interaction, collaboration, and creativity.
    Office environments offer opportunities for spontaneous interactions and idea-sharing that can enhance problem-solving and alleviate feelings of isolation experienced by remote workers.
    Emphasising the value of these face-to-face interactions can help employees feel more connected and engaged with their work and colleagues.
    Establish a supportive workplace culture
    Creating a healthy and inclusive culture at work is vital for prioritising employee wellbeing and maintaining employee motivation and efficiency.
    Employers have a responsibility to cultivate a good working environment and must establish open lines of communication and stress the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
    A recent survey found that one in three workers have quit a job due to poor management and toxic work culture, but organisations that establish a respectful, transparent, and trustful environment are more likely to make their employees feel valued and empowered.
    Encourage workers to raise concerns they may have and remind them about setting boundaries and taking regular breaks to protect their well-being while enhancing job satisfaction and reducing the risk of burnout.
    Support employees with the right resources
    Transitioning back to onsite working from flexible working can be a struggle for some employees, but making resources and support services available can ease this process.
    Mental health support services like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions can equip workers with tools to manage stress and anxiety and address other mental health concerns that can create further workplace challenges.
    Counselling services like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help employees deal with personal or work-related challenges to mitigate stress and improve emotional and mental well-being.
    Improved employee well-being can reduce absenteeism and enhance productivity to the benefit of both workers and employers.
    All teams should also complete emotional literacy training which can help colleagues empathise with each other as they undertake workplace changes, and this will also help with coping with complicated interpersonal dynamics to foster healthy communication and resilience.
    By prioritising employee wellbeing and fostering a supportive and resilient workplace culture, employers can ensure a smooth transition back to onsite working while maintaining high levels of morale, productivity, and job satisfaction to successfully avoid a ‘flexi fallout.’
    By Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Mental Wellbeing at Nuffield Health.
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    Understanding the Toll of Compassion Fatigue on Workplaces

    Compassion is a vital emotion in a professional setting, helping to build and strengthen team relationships and business collaboration worldwide. However, the physical and emotional strain of consistently supporting colleagues can be taxing, especially amidst the various challenges facing the UK economy.
    In this article, I’ll explore the repercussions of compassion fatigue in the workplace and offer insights into how businesses can provide the necessary support to help their employees avoid growing feelings of fatigue and helplessness.
    What is compassion fatigue?
    The term “compassion fatigue” was first introduced in 1992, in the realm of medical professionals. It described the adverse health effects and deteriorating patient outcomes resulting from healthcare workers’ excessive exposure to trauma.
    However, its scope has broadened to include individuals in various challenging roles beyond the medical field.
    Compassion fatigue can affect anyone whose job-related stressors and triggers permeate their daily thoughts, mood, and overall well-being. Some individuals describe the feeling of becoming so saturated with distressing scenes that a psychic numbing can occur.
    Several additional factors contribute to compassion fatigue, including the ongoing strain of the cost-of-living crisis, the uncertainty stemming from global conflicts, and the constant presence of social media in our lives.
    How does it physically and emotionally affect individuals?
    Compassion fatigue can have both a physical and emotional impact on individuals. Firstly, acts of caring and feeling decrease, and these are substituted by an outward detachedness. Individuals become more task, and less emotion, focused, and may start to isolate themselves, engaging less with their colleagues and teams.
    In the short term, compassion fatigue can manifest as various physical health issues, including headaches, migraines, as well as gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Over the long term, it heightens the risk of developing cardiovascular problems, obesity, and diabetes.
    Mood swings, ranging from moderate to severe, become commonplace, disrupting an individual’s ability to think clearly, regulate emotions, and sustain a sense of hope. All these factors combined can contribute to the emergence of stress-related mental health concerns, like anxiety or depression.
    How does it impact workplaces?
    In the absence of supportive measures from leadership, the repercussions of compassion fatigue in workplaces could be significant. Firstly, many experiencing the condition struggle with unmanageable negative emotions, like anger, irritability, and reduced tolerance.
    These often lead to interpersonal challenges, making it difficult for employees to maintain positive relationships with their colleagues and fostering a sense of disconnection from their workplaces. Cognitive functions like clear thinking, sound judgment, and effective decision-making may be compromised, affecting the ability to focus on tasks.
    Work behaviors and routines may become increasingly erratic. Some employees may exhibit increased absenteeism, take more sick days, or spend less time in the office. In contrast, others might invest extra hours working to catch up, or they may carry work home as they struggle to concentrate and find themselves less productive during regular office hours.
    Supporting employees in times of need
    A crucial step in addressing compassion fatigue is to implement training programs that acknowledge and address the emotional toll of work roles. Consider inviting mental health experts to run in-house employee seminars, which delve into topics like stress responses, emotional resilience, and self-compassion.
    This approach not only welcomes discussions about emotional well-being but also makes them an expected part of the workplace culture.
    Leaders should also scrutinize and eliminate behaviors that may exacerbate anxiety or stress among employees. For instance, if bosses are responding to emails at 10:00 p.m., an unwritten expectation may emerge that others should follow suit.
    Encouraging leaders to remove work emails from their phones and endorsing similar practices within their teams can help establish consistent, much-needed cutoff times for work-related activities.
    Highlight the value of breaks during the workday, emphasizing the importance of self-care activities like taking a refreshing outdoor walk and enjoying a proper lunch break instead of hastily eating at your desk.
    These seemingly minor adjustments encourage employees to recharge, prioritize self-care, and shift their focus away from factors that contribute to negative behaviors.
    Research indicates that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating compassion fatigue, as chronic exposure to suffering can influence negative thought patterns.
    Employers may want to consider incorporating emotional well-being support, like CBT, into their employee benefits packages to assist those already grappling with emotional wellbeing challenges.
    CBT therapists can also help employees recognize lapses in self-care and boundary setting, enabling them to understand and respond to their symptoms or experiences differently over time. This can significantly enhance their overall well-being and quality of life.
    The good news is that there are practical measures you can employ to tackle compassion fatigue, both for yourself and your team, to rekindle emotional well-being within the realm of work.
    For many, compassion fatigue is a transitory phase, a clear sign that your body and mind are desperate for a recharge and a healthier work-life balance.
    When businesses heed these signals and respond accordingly, they can help employees rebuild enthusiasm for their work and in turn, most importantly, their capacity to reconnect with others.
    By Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care, Nuffield Health
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    Leveraging AI for Employee Mental Wellbeing

    As organizations strive to attract and retain top talent, it’s crucial to recognize the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in supporting employee mental wellbeing.
    Going beyond its role as a productivity tool, there’s untapped potential in AI to support employee mental health in the workplace. But how safe is it to hand over such responsibility to AI? And when should human intervention take place?
    In the modern workplace, mental health has gained significant recognition for its importance. Employers now understand that the wellbeing of their employees extends beyond physical health. Mental health plays a crucial role in overall productivity, engagement, and success. For the newest generation entering the workforce today, mental health support is a must, not a nice to have.
    Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is essential because it directly impacts employee wellbeing and happiness. A positive and supportive work environment that promotes mental wellbeing fosters a sense of belonging, reduces stress levels, and improves job satisfaction.
    The role of AI in workplace mental wellbeing
    AI-powered solutions, such as virtual assistants, have the potential to revolutionize mental wellbeing support in the workplace. However, there are currently no tools dedicated to mental health support. While there are anecdotal instances of people using the likes of ChatGPT for support, the tool isn’t designed for such use cases. As such, there is a need for generative AI capabilities to be utilized in a considered way to ensure appropriate measures are in place to enhance the user experience.
    The challenge in creating an AI-enabled assistant for mental health support lies in ensuring that it is designed by individuals who possess a deep understanding of the intricacies of therapy and coaching practices. Developing an AI-powered assistant that can effectively provide support, guidance, and empathy requires a comprehensive knowledge of psychological principles and therapeutic techniques.
    To create an AI-enabled assistant that can engage in meaningful and effective conversations, developers must work closely with clinicians who have a profound understanding of various therapeutic techniques. This includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely recognized as an effective treatment for a range of mental health concerns.
    This understanding enables the AI-powered assistant to follow evidence-based practices and techniques that promote positive change and empower users to overcome challenges.
    Building an AI assistant dedicated to mental wellbeing
    With these challenges in mind, I could see an opportunity to develop an AI-assisted tool specifically designed for mental wellbeing. Not only this, but a mental health support tool that could be deployed in the workplace, bringing the benefits of AI that leverages therapeutic best practices to employees and employers alike.
    As part of this process, I set the following requirements for such an AI-enabled assistant:

    Ethical guidelines: Align AI systems with internationally recognised ethical guidelines for psychological practice to ensure user privacy, data protection, and confidentiality.
    Compliance: Follow relevant data protection and privacy laws to safeguard user data and maintain transparency in data collection and usage.
    Robust algorithm design: Develop AI algorithms that prioritise user wellbeing and avoid biases that could perpetuate harm or discrimination.
    Human oversight: Establish clear protocols for when AI should hand over to human professionals, such as during critical or complex mental health situations.

    Following months of work, the result was EMMA, an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant for mental health and personal growth support.
    Harnessing the power of Azure Cognitive Services and generative AI, combined with our own advanced sentiment analysis, EMMA provides immediate always-on support, encouragement, and guidance for a range of mental health concerns and personal development goals, through text-based conversations.
    Attracting and retaining talent with AI-powered mental wellbeing
    This development is great news for employees, but how can it help with the recruitment process? Well, I believe organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing and leverage innovative solutions like AI can differentiate themselves in the talent market.
    Prospective employees are increasingly seeking employers that genuinely care about their mental health. So, highlighting the availability of AI-powered mental wellbeing support during the recruitment process can showcase an organisation’s commitment to employee wellness, attracting top talent who value a supportive work environment.
    AI-enabled tools can also play a pivotal role in fostering a positive work culture that promotes employee wellbeing. By offering constant support, guidance, and resources, AI-powered assistants create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and understood. This can contribute to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty, ultimately reducing turnover and enhancing the overall work experience.
    Of course, addressing mental wellbeing concerns through AI-enabled support can significantly impact employee performance and productivity. When employees feel supported and access resources that enhance their mental wellbeing, they are better equipped to manage stress, maintain focus, and bring their best selves to work. This, in turn, helps to improve individual and team productivity, leading to better overall organizational performance.
    AI-enabled tools truly offer significant potential for supporting employee mental wellbeing in the workplace, making it valuable for talent attraction and retention. By embracing the role of AI as a tool for human enhancement, organizations can create workplaces where individuals thrive and reach their full potential.
    By Asim Amin, Founder and CEO of Plumm.
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    How to Support Staff’s Mental Health When Working from Home

    Since the announcement on the 22nd February 2021 that lockdown restrictions will be easing, there has been a 466.67% increase in Google searches for “returning to office”.
    Over the last year, the UK has had to adapt to a new way of working, especially with mental health affecting so many people working from home. A study done by Harvey Nash shows that 1 in 3 people reported that their mental health has deteriorated, while 26 percent of UK tech professionals have said that they are experiencing even higher levels of stress than they did before the pandemic.
    Researcher at the Institution of Organisational Safety and Health (IOSH) Kirsty Iliffe and leading commercial space provider, Bruntwood Works, have provided advice and some lessons learned from the past lockdowns when it comes to supporting employees mental health.
    Kirsty says; “The ongoing stress of the pandemic could lead to both physical and psychological damage and even depression and anxiety,” she goes on to add; As employers, organizations have a duty of care to help their employees and in many countries, they have a legal obligation to do so.”
    “It’s important that organizations are aware of the potential mental ill-health implications and ensure they are aware of their roles and responsibilities in supporting their teams.”
    1 – Have regular, honest one-to-ones
    Lockdown has changed the way we schedule our days. Previously, a manager’s office door was always open. Now, our communication has dwindled as the lockdowns go on, and we get used to working from home.
    Effective one-to-ones under the new measures look fundamentally different; they should be open, honest conversations about how we feel, what we’re worried about, and — most importantly — what’s helping us through it.
    “Keep in regular contact with remote workers,” says Kirsty. “This will help to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s a good way to ensure that workers are well and that they understand any information and instructions presented to them.”
    During these conversations, you should let your staff set the agenda. This is the time for managers to listen more than anything else. Establishing a safe space where employees feel heard, can be a lifeline for those who are struggling.
    2 – Bring the office perks home with you
    Back in the office, business owners spent a lot of time understanding how their employees’ environment affected their productivity, meaning they were creating office perks that would encourage a friendly and productive environment, but when we entered lockdown this wasn’t an option anymore.
    Companies should continue to boost staff morale by finding ways to continue those perks outside of the office.
    Here are some of the most common office perks — and how you can replicate them remotely:

    Gym memberships — If the gyms are closed run a virtual fitness club instead. Share your results using a smartphone app and incentivize the winner with prizes like an afternoon off or an Amazon voucher.
    Free food — Used to getting free snacks or meals at the office? Send your staff vouchers to order themselves a tasty lunch a couple of times a month.
    Great internet — Most modern offices have fast internet speeds to cope with staff being logged on eight hours a day, but it’s tricky to replicate that at home. Invest in some signal boosters for staff who are having trouble with their home internet connection.
    Office games — Missing the foosball table in the office? Luckily, there’s a ton of virtual games you can challenge teammates to instead. You can play Pictionary, Scrabble, and even chess online. Start a leaderboard to see who’s doing best on your team!

    3 – Share some good news
    When everyone was first put into lockdown, we were obsessively connected to the news cycle, which was mainly negative news being fed to us. Continually being exposed to negative statistics greatly impacted the outlooks and moods of workers. To combat this, companies should share the good news as regularly as possible.
    Jo Gallagher, People Business Partner at Bruntwood Works says the company has made practical efforts to share more good news. “Every day, right across the business we’re seeing, hearing, and reading some great colleagues’ stories on our staff conversation platform, Universe. We’ve welcomed a few new Bruntwood Works babies, we’ve embraced new learning opportunities and we’ve seen how our customers are supporting the fight against COVID-19.”
    When reading through the press it may not be easy to come across positive news, as a business you can share stories of staff achievements and acts of kindness. Doing so will help lift moods and it may also help to prevent their mental health from deteriorating.
    4 – Keep your (virtual) door open
    When we were in an office environment, employees often mixed with different teams and senior team members, whether that was whilst making a coffee or having lunch.
    Since we are working remotely that just isn’t possible anymore. Setting up measures that bridge the gap between the teams and senior members is important to make sure those relationships are still present.
    “Communicate the organizational plan,” advises Kirsty: “be open and honest with all employees. Explain what the organization is doing to help protect its employees, their families and friends, and the organization itself.”
    Opening these channels of communication helps your team feel more closely connected with what the business is doing. It gives them a chance to have their say during a time when very little seems to be in their control.
    One of the best ways to do this is to have virtual ‘open door’ times for senior staff. During these sessions — perhaps a couple of hours on a Friday afternoon — company directors should keep their calendars free and be prepared to chat with any staff members who want to talk. It could be about the business’s performance, staff concerns, or even new ideas for how the team can move forward.
    5 – Don’t give up on social events
    Social events were simple before the lockdown. Teams would go out for a few drinks or maybe a fun activity and everyone would have a chance to get to know each other a little better.
    As we can not attend any social events, it becomes easy for companies to stop hosting and creating staff socials. Leaders need to look for new options available to them.
    Schedule regular social events with your team. Anything that lets you keep in touch without the conversation centering around work will help support your team’s mental health. Here are some virtual socializing ideas your business can try:

    Virtual coffee sessions
    Zoom evening drinks
    Friday afternoon quizzes
    A TV and film recommendations group
    30-day music challenges
    Virtual book clubs.

    One step at a time
    “People have personal triggers; some are better to carry on working while others simply need some downtime. There is also the social stigma that many feel around talking about their struggles.
    Kirsty from IOSH highlights that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to maintaining your team’s mental health because everyone is different.
    This being the case, businesses need to be in tune with their staff on an individual level. The only way to do that? Take a genuine interest in each and every member of your team.
    “Some decisions can only be made by the individual, such as whether to go off sick or to continue working.”
    “Make sure you’re investing in those relationships, regardless of the new obstacles in the way. That needs to be the number one priority of any company right now,” says Jo Gallagher from Bruntwood Works. “If you really care about how your staff is coping, finding the right support measures for them will quickly follow.”
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    5 Alternate Ways to Ask Your Employees “Are You Okay?” 

    As HR professionals, we’ve felt the intense impact & pressure COVID19 has had on our companies. We’ve had to re-structure and organize our operations, re-visit our strategies, put in place new training and regulations… whilst also dealing with living in a pandemic! Every news station is discussing the changing workforce, and it’s true the workforce has been disrupted in a manner we’ve never experienced before, but what about our employees? Can’t the same be said about our workers? The global pandemic has had a drastic impact on the mental health of individuals, with a shocking 1,000% increase of individuals calling mental help hotlines.
    You know that feeling when you’re in a terrible headspace but you’re uncomfortable letting yourself cry or complain in your current environment…there’s been countless times where someone has attempted to comfort me and the fireworks have let loose. Whilst it’s comforting to know someone cares, it’s also uncomfortable to feel so overwhelmed. And, whilst your intentions are coming from a place of care, you may cause tension if you simply ask “Are You Okay?” because this sentence has connotations of implying there’s something wrong with the disheartened individual. Fortunately for us, there are other ways we can show our support.
    1. Buy them a coffee.
    It doesn’t have to be a coffee, but you know what I mean. We’re humans, and we have the tendency to overthink and work ourselves up over our emotions. The more we think about them the more intensely we feel them which is a vicious cycle. Sometimes, all it takes is a small act of compassion to pull you back to reality and center you…so, when someone buys a ‘coffee’ for you, you begin to focus on their act of compassion and slowly the negative thoughts and feelings you had to seem fainter. This is a great way of showing someone you care about them, and you acknowledge they need some support- WITHOUT being overbearing. If you’re working remotely, like most of the world, you can still do this! Heard of Uber Eats or DoorDash? Maybe even ‘Jimmy Brings’ if they need some serious cheering up…
    2. How can I support you?
    If you know (or sense) your colleague or employee is going through a rough time, you already know that. You know they aren’t okay, so what is asking them ‘are you okay’ going to do? It’s not beneficial and draws attention to their seemingly off demeanor. What you need to do is show your support. Give them a helping hand, and cut to the chase. We’re nosy beings.. we love to know all the nitty-gritty details of someone else’s life and drama, (hence the huge market for reality TV), but don’t get your curiosity confused with your intentions. Skip the chit chat, ask them how you can support them. Ask them what they need from you. By showing them you want to give them something, it takes away the tension of them having to approach you and ask for something (which is very hard to do).
    3. Mention a concern, then approach.
    This one is a bit tricky but works well if executed in the correct situation. I think the best way to explain it is with an example… Imagine this scenario;
    Your work colleague comes to the office noticeably not themselves. They always say good morning and have a chat before diving into work- but not today. If they’re not themselves, they aren’t going to act the way they normally would- but SOMETIMES that’s exactly what they need to do! You aren’t strangers, you can still approach them… “ Hey, you seem a bit distant today, how are you going? What did you get up to over the weekend?”. YOU take initiative, just because someone’s seemingly unsettled it doesn’t mean they aren’t human beings with social instincts.
    Reach out, if they wanted to talk about their feelings they would tell you but the reality is they don’t owe you any explanations, and you shouldn’t want one. If you care, the only thing you should be concerned about is their wellbeing and how you can make a difference.
    4. You can vent to me if you want.
    You shouldn’t want to pry, you shouldn’t aim to get the latest tea, BUT you should offer to listen. Everyone is wired differently, some people don’t want to talk about what they’re feeling and others are dying for someone to vent to, but don’t want to be a burden and unleash a heap of negative thoughts on someone else. It never hurts to offer your time and attention, usually we’re able to think objectively and see our situation from a different perspective when we speak out loud and air our thoughts. When taking this approach on board it’s important to remember the ball must always be in their court, don’t overstep, and don’t be forceful.
    5. Open-ended questions.
    The biggest concern with asking “are you okay?” is the minimal room for a response. “Yes, I’m okay” or “No, I’m not okay”. Either way, neither of these responses offer insight into the mind of your colleague or employee. Therefore, what’s the point of asking them? You’d need to ask them another question regardless of their answer… so skip the useless closed-ended question and start with open-ended questions. You provide them with an opportunity to elaborate and express themselves how they want to. You’ll receive more in-depth and insightful answers that’ll enable you to continue the conversation and hopefully discover what is disrupting them and how you can help.
    These are a few alternate ways to check in with your colleagues and your employees. Now’s the time we need to step up and look out for one another, we’re all in the same boat so there are no excuses. You know what you need, thus you know what your peers need. We must step up and be proactive rather than reactive, the wellbeing of our employees shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked in these times of distress. Check-in before you regret not checking in.
    A list of help hotlines
    Mental Health America 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 toll-free
    Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
    HopeLine UK 0800 068 4141
    Cassandra Diamantis is the Marketing Specialist at My Recruitment Plus. Cassie writes content that aids HR and recruiters efficiently recruit, onboard, and lead. Her company aims to modernize recruitment and onboarding processes through enterprise-grade technology and round the clock client success support.

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    It’s Time to Change Our Approach to Employee Wellbeing

    ‘Time to change’. You may recognize this phrase as the headline of Mind’s ambitious campaign to change the stigma around mental health. In line with this great work, we believe it’s also important we look at how to change the way employee mental health is handled in the workplace. According to Mercer’s 2019 report on mental health […] More