Among the Lessons of the Pandemic, the Need for Workforce Resilience

Group of office workers having conversation

by Siobhan Kelly, Managing Director – Ireland, Aon Assessment Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted numerous challenges facing organisations, from the ability to change rapidly to the importance of supply chain resilience. But the biggest workplace issue of the last two years may be how a resilient workforce is vital to the long-term prospects of a firm.

Employee wellbeing programs that might have been considered “nice-to-haves” before the pandemic are now increasingly recognised as essential. As businesses work hard to remain productive — while attracting and retaining talent in a tight labor market — the need to look after employees’ physical, mental, financial and emotional wellbeing has increased in importance.

“It’s top of mind for CEOs and senior executives all around the world,” says David Guilmette, CEO of Health Solutions at Aon. “What workforces have gone through in particular in the past 18 months or so as a result of the pandemic has really brought to the surface how tenuous resilience might be in a workforce.”

Even for organisations that might believe they enjoy a high level of workforce resilience, the pandemic has raised the question of how to maintain stamina and a feeling of purpose among their employees.

The solution to this challenge requires increased attention on wellbeing programs that help workers cope with the issues confronting them better — not just in the workplace, but in their personal lives. Such an increased focus on workers’ mental and emotional health can help them become more resilient at work in times of turmoil, as well as more fulfilled outside of the workplace.

In Depth

By creating a workplace environment that makes employees feel secure, motivated and connected, employers can build a resilient workforce able to thrive in good times while positioned to weather future crises. Comprehensive wellbeing programs are an essential component of building a resilient workforce, but enlightened leadership and ongoing communications with employees are also critical.

Building worker resilience is especially important during the current “Great Resignation,” as employees who feel overly stressed or disconnected seek a job change as a key to improving how they are feeling.

“We need to consider the role of all employees to build solutions and address challenges stemming from various threats — like how the future of work is impacted and continues to evolve,” says Anne Corona, CEO Asia Pacific at Aon. “We need to focus on making sure our colleagues achieve their full professional potential and in doing so feel more relevant, more connected and more valued.”

In addition, as various stakeholders put greater emphasis on businesses’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) profiles, the way employers look after their workers’ wellbeing is often under the microscope.

“Investors and other stakeholders recognise people as one of organisations’ most critical assets,” says Jennifer Bell, CEO North America at Aon.

Recognising the Need for Resilience

As they’ve guided their organisations during the pandemic, many top executives have increasingly come to realise the importance of workforce resilience.

“When it becomes more real for senior executives, when they look across their teams, then they become more enlightened,” says Guilmette. “Then I think they want to look more deeply into their broader teams and into their workforce at large to ensure that the right programs and the right support are in place for workforces and their families.”

Those leaders also are recognising that the factors eroding resilience aren’t just in the workplace, but in workers’ personal lives, Guilmette says.

“So, I think we’re going to see a lot of attention placed not just on wellbeing in broad terms, but emotional wellbeing, mental health, more specifically, over the coming years,” he says.

The Steps to Building Resilience

Employers are turning awareness into action by taking several steps to ensure strong, agile professional environments.

The first is conducting assessments to understand the current state of the organization’s workforce resilience. Using questionnaires and interviews, the organisation can create a baseline that can guide its efforts to build resilience.
Next, organisations are assessing their existing benefits programs to determine whether they’re appropriate and employees are fully aware of the resources available to them. Guilmette notes that many companies’ employee assistance programs (EAPs) are “woefully underutilised.”

“There’s an opportunity to revisit whether or not those programs are, in fact, offering the level of support that they could be and should be for global workforces,” Guilmette says. “There’s an opportunity to look at the fundamentals like an EAP offering or something else that might be in a benefit program.”

Sensitivity training can also help supervisors identify issues workers might be experiencing and prepare them to intervene and help employees get assistance. “There are programs that are being rolled out to identify emotional wellbeing or mental health captains, whose job it is to kind of keep an eye out for things that might be happening around them that might result in the need for somebody to be given some help,” Guilmette says.

Finally, as many employers embrace hybrid workplaces — where employees mix working from home and the office — they must consider the different needs of employees working remotely.

“We may find that the things that we need for that hybrid workforce are different than the things that we’ve been using for a more traditional workforce,” says Guilmette. “It’s going to create the need for a pivot. What kind of help might remote workers need and do we have the right programs in place to support them? What’s it going to take to engage and motivate them and make sure they stay resilient?”

Building Resilience in Non-Traditional Workers

As employers build workforce resilience, they must consider not just traditional employees, but the non-traditional employees or gig workers on which they rely.

“Your workforce is a mix of both and the resilience of the workforce, therefore, is a mix of both,” Guilmette says. “But when you think about the kinds of programs that employers offer today and who they offer them to, it’s traditional employees.”

Employers must look at resilience through a lens that focuses on non-traditional workers as well, according to Guilmette.

“What might employers make available to these non-traditional workers, whether they’re part-time or seasonal, or truly gig workers, to be able to ensure that they can get the job done that you’re contracting for,” Guilmette asks.

Investing in Resilience

Building workforce resilience is a long-term endeavor. And, as employers evaluate how they might need to rework benefits to help build that resilience, they should consider any added costs an investment in the business.

“It’s an investment worth making, because there is a clear line of sight to how that investment provides a return on business performance,” Guilmette says. “We’re going to see more of an appetite to invest in resilience because companies have experienced serious resilience challenges.”

Aon’s human capital business has a mix of talent assessment, rewards and performance specialists working with leaders to help them make better workforce decisions. We are not only in Ireland; our team spans more than 30 countries with 2,000 colleagues. Contact us to find out more [email protected].