Over the past two years, employers have had to rely on the trust and dedication of their employees more than ever. A perfect storm of financial turbulence and political upheaval has put pressure on businesses in every part of the world, forcing many to adapt to challenging new working environments, and ask employees to do the same.
The first Friday in March has become known as Employee Appreciation Day - and as the world finds its feet again, what better time to celebrate the contribution their employees have made to their businesses? Of course, as an employer, there are plenty of simple, tried-and-tested gestures you could make to show employees what they mean to you: everyone enjoys the traditional box of chocolates, afternoon off, or end-of-day drinks - but what if you wanted to think a little differently this year?
At activpayroll, we’re always looking for ways to help businesses enhance their working practices. Like many others over the past few years, we’ve found ourselves thinking about new, and sometimes disruptive, strategies to help make employees’ lives easier - not just on 4th March, but every day. With that in mind, here are some ideas for alternative, and longer-term, ways to celebrate your staff…
The 4 Day Week
The Covid-19 pandemic, and the challenges it brought, forced employers to consider radical ways of keeping employees safe and productive in the workplace. One of those methods was to introduce a 4 day work week.
While a day less per week might suggest less work can be done, real-life implementations of the system have been surprising. The notion of a 4 day week didn’t spring from the pandemic: many large companies have been trialling some version of it for years - and feeding back plenty of useful data points.
- Microsoft Japan trialled a 4 day work week in 2019 and saw a 40% increase in employee productivity - along with significant savings on peripheral costs such as utilities and stationary.
- US fast food company Shake Shack also implemented a 4 day work week in 2019. offering managers 40 hours of normal pay over fewer working days. The company saw a 20% increase in employee productivity, prompting a nationwide roll-out of the program.
- In 2021, researchers in Iceland announced that trials of the 4 day week model across the country had been an ‘overwhelming success’, showing no negative effects on productivity, while ‘dramatically increasing’ worker well-being.
Obviously the 4 day work week can’t work for every business, but it’s an interesting approach for employers that are looking for a bold new way to enhance their employees’ time at work. Potential benefits, such as improved productivity, increased morale, and utility savings should be weighed against practical challenges, such as longer hours to cover shortfall, or the need for business partners and suppliers to adapt to a new schedule.
Like the 4 day week, remote work didn’t originate with the Covid-19 pandemic, but received widespread attention because of it. As lockdown and social distancing restrictions hit, thousands of businesses across the world were forced to adapt their working practices to allow employees to work from home. What was born out of necessity, however, brought an array of benefits for both employers and employees. The benefits of remote work include:
- Cost savings: Employees don’t have to spend money on the peripheral costs of work, such as fuel, public transport, and meals.
- Increased morale: Working from the comfort and familiarity of home offers many employees a mental and physical boost, increasing morale and motivation.
- Work life balance: Employees working from home can plan their lives in, and away from work, more easily, allocating time for family and leisure.
- Productivity: While ‘unsupervised’ work at home may intuitively suggest lower rates of employee productivity, real work implementations suggest that remote work actually increases productivity - by up to one day a week.
- Staff turnover: Happier remote employees tend to stay in their roles - leading to reduced staff turnover for employers to manage.
- Utility savings: With fewer employers at the office, employers can expect to save on utility bills, cleaning costs, and even rents.
Any transition to remote work should be considered carefully. While the benefits are real, working away from the office may not be desirable for some employees. The isolation of remote work can be difficult: being able to work face-to-face, socialise, and interact in a workplace are important factors for many individuals. Keeping that in mind, employers should consult employees closely about the shape of any remote work system, before implementing it.
Mental Health Awareness
Mental health is an increasing priority in workplaces across the business landscape, with around 1 in every 6 employees suffering from some sort of mental health problem. However, while many employees struggle, research suggests that more than 50% feel uncomfortable talking about their problems.
With that in mind, many employers are working to raise awareness of mental health problems and offer support to employees that are suffering in silence. There are obvious benefits to taking mental health seriously, not least employee health and wellbeing, company morale, and a business’ wider reputation - but while there is an urgent need to bring the issue into the light, it should be addressed on an individual level, with each employee’s needs taken into account.
Workplace mental health issues cover a spectrum of conditions, including:
Similarly, mental health problems manifest with a wide variety of symptoms and while some employees may display those symptoms physically, or express them verbally, others keep them hidden - with negative consequences down the line. Fortunately, there are plenty of practical ways that employers can address their employees’ mental health needs. These include:
- The development and implementation of a mental health support plan - which is regularly promoted to employees.
- A program of mental health awareness training for employees to help them take care both of themselves and of their colleagues - and spot potential problems.
- The creation of an honest, open workplace atmosphere in which conversations about mental health are encouraged.
- The distribution of confidential employee mental health questionnaires, or personal check-ins, with support offered for those who need it.