By Nic Redfern, finance director of NerdWallet
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented strain on businesses across the UK. It is encouraging, then, to see some early signs of recovery; after the predictable crash in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, the volume of investments made by businesses rebounded well in Q3, up 9.4% on the previous quarter. That said, there is still some way to go before the businesses return to ‘normal’ ; compared with the last wholly pre-pandemic quarter of Q4 2019, the level of investment was 18.4% lower in Q1 of 2021, according to the ONS.
The impact of the pandemic was not purely limited to finances – it had a tremendous impact on the wellbeing of managers and employees. A recent survey conducted by NerdWallet of more than 900 UK management staff found that more than half (54%) of respondents reported the year subsequent to Covid-19’s onset was the most challenging of their career to date. While this is understandable given the stressful circumstances, it is striking to note that an even greater number (57%) felt “significantly less” enjoyment in their job than they had before.
Accordingly, as business leaders begin preparing their long-term strategies for recovery and prosperity in the post-pandemic landscape, their considerations must not be limited to finances. Businesses who hope to not only flourish once society reopens, but solidify their foundations in case of a new wave, or another equal unprecedented economic crisis, should look to invest first in their employees.
Embracing remote working
A number of factors influenced how quickly, and how hard, a business was hit by the pandemic. The organisational scale, liquid resources at hand, operational capacity, employee numbers, and level of investment, to name just a few. It is creditable, then, that so many businesses have marshalled their resources aptly in response to these unprecedented conditions. And with continued uncertainty surrounding social distancing restrictions, and another wave of COVID-19, many organisations will likely continue such flexible approaches.
For instance, one of the more visible representations of the famous ‘new normal’ is the success with which some firms have adapted to remote working. Indeed, a recent study found that an overwhelming majority of employees (85%) wish to continue working from home in some pandemic for the foreseeable future. As such, many may look to assess the viability of shuttering the office permanently – or at the very least, embracing a hybrid model of remote and office working.
Decision-makers may also look to consider their successes and failures in communicating with their teams over the past year. A study conducted by CIPD found that many businesses sought to engage proactively with their employees with regard to their general wellbeing. More than two thirds (69%) of workers surveyed felt satisfied with their organisation’s pandemic response, with 82% of remote workers saying their mental health and wellbeing had been checked in on by a line manager.
While this is encouraging figure, it remains of concern that nearly two fifths may have slipped through the cracks. And this issue should be addressed by businesses as a priority
Safeguarding mental health
Revisiting NerdWallet’s survey, a majority (56%) reported having ‘regularly’ worked longer hours than before the pandemic, while 53% admitted working out-of-hours during the weekend. Indeed, the ONS have released data highlighting remote working correlates with increased unpaid overtime activity – those working from home reported six weekly unpaid hours, nearly double those still in the office.
While the pandemic necessitated improvised structures to be put in place, it is clear more must be done to improve communication with staff. Business leaders should look to be hands-on in affirming a stricter culture around out-of-hours work, looking to appropriately limit their contact with off-shift employees and emphasise more robustly the importance of taking routine breaks and limiting screen time.
Additionally, firms must improve their support structures for employee wellbeing. Such methods could include affording regular 1-2-1 meetings with management, funding more “socials” to knit teams together in a non-productive setting, actively discouraging unpaid overtime, or even sparing budget allocation towards making counselling sessions available, should they be needed.
While business and public confidence has demonstrably risen in recent months, it is natural that many will proceed with an air of caution. After all, the recent setbacks on the much-vaunted roadmap to a full reopening of the UK show that there remains little material certainty about the short-term future, let alone the longer-term. Given the strain placed on teams as they worked harder and with less certainty than ever before, it is right that looking to assess frameworks which will, in turn, reward them, should be a priority for business leaders at any scale.
Nic Redfern is the finance director for NerdWallet UK. NerdWallet is on a mission to provide clarity for all of life’s financial decisions. As an independent financial comparison website, NerdWallet provides consumers and businesses with useful tools and insights so they can make smart money moves. From choosing a bank account or breakdown cover to buying a house, NerdWallet is there to help individuals make financial decisions with confidence. Users have free access to our comparison tables and expert content, to help them stay on top of their finances and save time and money, giving them the freedom to do more. For more information, visit NerdWallet.com/uk/.