Numerous headlines have suggested that people’s wellbeing has reduced since COVID-19 hit our shores, with others speculating that our workplaces have changed forever. But there have been few studies showing data-driven insights into how the world of work has changed due to COVID.

We have been running our Umbrella Wellbeing Assessments for several years – helping NZ organisations of all sizes, shapes, and sectors to assess and improve the wellbeing of their people. Earlier this year, we published our first set of research reports sharing the high-level findings of these assessments and providing a picture of workplace wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand. These research papers were exclusively based on data collected before COVID-19 hit our shores.

We have now run Wellbeing Assessments with a number of organisations who are living and working in the COVID world we know today. Using this data, we wanted to identify what had changed for our clients since COVID arrived, along with its (multiple) lockdowns.  And, we want to share those preliminary insights with you. 

  1. Work-life balance has improved, and flexibility is here to stay

62% of people are satisfied with their work-life balance now, compared with fewer than half of all people (49%) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with this, a key theme coming through when we ask people about their wellbeing is the demand to continue flexible working (e.g. working from home). In line with previous research, this suggests that flexible working will become a key criterion for employees looking for jobs in the future. This will be important for organisations to consider when it comes to talent attraction, recruitment, and retention.

  1. Fewer people are planning on leaving their jobs

People’s intention to leave their job has effectively halved, with only 12% of people intending to leave their job now, compared with 24% of all people before COVID-19. In a job climate seeing mass unemployment and, therefore, greater competition for available roles, it makes sense that fewer people are planning job changes at the moment. Fortunately for businesses, this means that staff turnover is lower. However, in order to support their people, organisations will have to reconsider their internal development and career progression opportunities so that their employees are supported to keep developing and learning.

  1. Leadership support needs to be maintained

In one organisation we work with, we ran two assessments this year – one in the middle of New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown and another one five months later. People were very positive and appreciative of the support they had received from leadership during lockdown.  However, we found that perceptions of leadership support, communication, and responsiveness had weakened since we came out of the lockdown. 

Many workplaces likely increased their leadership support and communication during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (a reactive response to put people first during an uncertain time). However, this communication and support may have lessened over time as life has returned to “normal”. 

The key takeaway here is that proactive, supportive and transparent leadership is needed year-round, not just when the going gets tough. Organisations should consider incorporating the strategies used during lockdown (e.g. weekly update emails, team meetings, or regular check-ins) into their new BAU to improve their overall organisational climate. For our tips on how to do this with dispersed teams, click here.

  1. Resilience is improving for some

Prior research suggests that going through difficult times can help people to become more resilient when the going gets tough again. This means that living through the unique stressors associated with the COVID-19 lockdown may have strengthened some people’s resilience skills. Specifically, in our data we found that healthy habit usage during stressful times (e.g. taking regular recovery breaks even when busy) appears to have improved since COVID-19 hit our shores. This may be because employers are supporting people to lead a healthy lifestyle, in part through increased work flexibility. 

One thing a number of people took away from their lockdown experience was the rejuvenating nature of going on a daily walk or run. It’s possible that this nationwide “reset” helped more people to pick up, and continue, these resilience-building habits. Organisations should continue to support people to build and maintain their resilience, especially given the positive flow-on effects this has for productivity and performance.

In sharing these high-level insights with you, we hope that you can use them to refresh your organisation’s wellbeing priorities in the new year. Supporting and promoting wellbeing in the workplace often takes a village and our team at Umbrella are ready to help you on your journey. You can get in touch here or read our FAQ on building wellbeing strategies here.