Wellbeing at Work During COVID-19 and Beyond

April 30, 2020

In Management & Organizational Performance

wellbeing at work - woman working from home

COVID-19 has undeniably changed the way we live and work, and many experts agree some of those changes will persist beyond the COVID-19 confinement. Remote workers and virtual conferences, for example, are likely to remain among the new realities of today’s businesses. This lack of proximity might make it more difficult for employers to evaluate their employees’ wellbeing and adjust accordingly, but it would be an error not to make every effort to do so. In fact, whether work-related activities take place in the office or at home, employee wellbeing strategy should still be one of leaders’ top priorities. Why?

Research shows that physically and mentally healthy employees are happier and more engaged. In other words, wellness and engagement go hand in hand. They are indeed inseparable and as stated in this Gallup report, highly engaged employees show 21% greater profitability, 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover. The question then becomes: how can we promote employees’ wellbeing at work in today’s new business realities? There might be many possible answers, but the one we propose is quite simple: recognition.

That is exactly what we will demonstrate in this blog post. Using 7 important stats you and every leader should know, we’ll give tips on how recognition can help leaders worldwide create a positive work environment and develop an employee wellbeing strategy that will make their employees healthier and more engaged.

1. 89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and recognition are key to a business’s success.

People always need to feel connected, but certainly even more when they are forced to work from home and deal with the apprehension and restlessness the current pandemic is creating. They need to know they are not alone in these anxiety-provoking times, even while they are in fact sitting alone at their desk. Staying connected will reassure them, give them a sense of belonging to a team and to the whole organization, which will increase their level of engagement. Employees also need to feel valued, even from a distance. Connection and recognition are two basic needs that must be met to keep one morale’s up and ensure their health and wellbeing at work.

A social recognition platform like Celebration, where employees can highlight their peers’ successes and good deeds, can fulfill both needs and boost the team’s mental wellbeing.

“The biggest advantage is to feel closer to the team. It’s the place to go for good news when work gets discouraging,” states an employee using the platform.

If you don’t have such a platform, other technologies can help. The key is to make this type of peer recognition as easy and user-friendly as possible, so it can become a much-needed daily boost rather than an occasional pick-me-up. Recognition should be fun and frequent. “Celebrate first downs, not just touchdowns”, writes David Novak in the Harvard Business Review.

Another important tip is to try to link peer recognition to your organization’s core values. “Employees want to be reminded that their work has purpose and meaning”, writes Naz Beheshti for Forbes. 

2. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to offer their best work.

Today’s employees are used to collaboration and expect communication to go both ways. Even when working from home, they need their voice to be heard and their ideas to be recognized. In fact, this basic recognition is key to their mental wellbeing. For that reason, virtual conferences where leaders share information without giving employees a chance to respond will never be enough. Here are a few ways you can make sure your employees feel heard, in today’s crisis, of course, but also in any circumstances:

  • Give employees a chance to ask questions at the end of an informative virtual conference, either by speaking up or contacting you in private afterward. Employees will know if the invitation is genuine.
  • Complement group virtual conferences with one-on-ones where each employee can have an open conversation with his/her supervisor.
  • Use video technology (Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.) for team meetings and one-on-ones. Seeing the person on the other end of the conversation helps establish a stronger connection.
  • Create a channel on a platform like Celebration or another social media where employees can post their positive thoughts, quotes, ideas, fears, etc. and comment others’. This will give your team a sense of community that is essential to their wellbeing and engagement.

3. 96% of employees say empathy is important to ensure employee retention.

Recognition goes well beyond saying thank you in any way, shape, or form. Saying thank you is a way to recognize a job well done. It means leaders have heard, seen, and acknowledged a good action and they are grateful for it. But employees need leaders to recognize them beyond their work-related accomplishments.

They need their fears, anxiety, and insecurities to be recognized as well. Especially in our COVID-19 world. They might worry about their health or the health of their loved ones. They might worry about their job security. Their spouse might be unemployed, which has them live in a difficult financial situation. Employees will not expect their employers to have answers to all their concerns, but they will expect them to hear and recognize them.

Okay, but how can one do that?

Employers are just beginning to understand how to recognize actions, but how can they recognize feelings? Empathy is the answer here. “Engagement and empathy are inextricably linked, as employees are unlikely to feel truly respected and empowered in an organization that does not show empathy”, writes Naz Beheshti.

Empathy does not require a degree in psychology. It can easily be communicated in various ways:

  • Listen long enough to show you understand and redirect to proper channels, such as employee mental health programs, when needed.
  • Do not hesitate to share your own fears and insecurities without being alarmist. Employees will identify with you. “Show respect by sharing as much information as possible”, says David Novak.
  • Encourage employees to talk with peers. Technology can be used for more than business meetings, especially in times of needs. Be understanding when employees need to use that technology for non work-related matters.
  • Use a platform like Celebration where employees can share positive quotes, images, helpful resources, etc.
  • Recognize good deeds. When an employee does something extraordinary to help a peer in need or their community, recognize their effort. You can achieve this with a custom-made award, a gift from a rewards platform, or use a point system so your employees can pick their own gift from such a platform.

4. 89% of employees working for companies with wellbeing initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work.

So far, we have focused on mental health. Mental wellbeing is an important preoccupation in the current situation. That said, physical wellbeing can’t be forgotten. Of course, physical health is also a very important part of any employee wellbeing strategy. Physically healthy employees tend to be stronger mentally, have more energy, and perform better. They also tend to react better to high stress levels their work responsibilities or a situation like the current pandemic might impose upon them.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is that employees who feel their leaders truly care about their overall wellbeing are more likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work. How can you show your employees you truly care about their wellbeing? you might ask. Well, having a gym in the office is great, but any single initiative or yearly event will not do the trick. Your entire work environment and company culture should show you care. And yes, you guessed it, recognition is key to your success.

Here are a few ideas to show your employees you care about their physical wellbeing:

  • Organize a contest to promote physical activity. A step challenge, for example, will stimulate everyone to move. Most people have a device or at least an app they can use to count their steps daily. Why not cumulate this data for a month or two and reward those who cumulated the highest number of steps at the end of the chosen period? This type of contest is a fun way to promote exercise, and one that does not require anyone to be an athlete. Employees can participate individually, respecting social distancing rules outside in their neighborhood, or even in their living room. Or your organization could choose to make it a team challenge and promote virtual camaraderie at the same time as you encourage exercising. The winning person or team could be awarded a special gift, a personalized award, or points to use on a reward platform. Important note: the contest will motivate employees even more if leaders participate. Lead by example!
  • Some training technology like Peloton allows people to connect virtually to participate in a race or a bike ride. Encourage this type of event and reward winners as well as participants.
  • Use a social platform for employees to exchange their favorite healthy recipes. You can even organize a virtual dinner where employees show off and discuss their culinary creations before they enjoy them. Once your employees can all be in the same office again, you could even have a cooking contest with special rewards for winners.

Speaking of physical proximity…

Here are two more ideas for better days to come when we will once again be allowed to stand closer than 6 feet from each other.

  • Put a group together to participate in a running or walking event and pay for your employee’s registration fee, or at least for part of it. You can even boost the team spirit with t-shirts sporting your company logo. The event will build up your team spirit as a bonus advantage, especially if team members train together in preparation for the big day.
  • Reward your employees with a company golf tournament, or any other sport outing you might think of. Why not try curling? Chances are you will laugh to tears while you use muscles that you had forgotten you had.

5. 87% of employees expect their employer to help them maintain a good work-life balance.

Employee wellbeing goes beyond health measures. Work-life balance is a preoccupation for most employees, and they expect their employers to help them with this important matter. Several companies offer flexible schedules to their employees so they can deal with childcare or other life-related responsibilities. Working remotely is another perk that was already gaining popularity before the pandemic and that is likely to become a permanent part of our working lives. But why stop there? Showing you care about your employees’ life and hectic schedule can also be done using recognition.

The most impactful reward to help with this aspect of your employees’ wellbeing might very well be paid time off that will not count against their usual vacation time. It could be a day, half a day, or even just a couple of hours. It will certainly not break the bank for your organization, but it will make a huge difference for your employees. Extra time might help them catch up on neglected home chores like laundry or house cleaning, but hopefully it might allow them to fit in a well-deserved bubble bath, a long walk in the woods to relax away from everything and everyone, or an hour of meditation to alleviate the stress in their life.

We’ve all heard that the most precious gift you can give anyone is time, and your employees will certainly appreciate the reward of time as recognition for a project well done, a special accomplishment, or simply for being a wonderful employee throughout the year.

6. 76% of employees save handwritten thank you notes.

“A customized, thoughtful gift will have a bigger impact than something mass-produced, regardless of the price tag,” writes David Novak. Personalized gifts can include a custom-made award, of course, but the impact this award has on your employee will be even greater if it comes with a handwritten thank you card or note. Chances are that note will be pinned to your employee’s wall or kept carefully in the top drawer of their desk forever. If you take the time to write it, they will keep it and read it again when they feel down. A handwritten note is the simple gift that keeps on giving.

The personal touch a handwritten note requires might be more difficult with technology while your employees are confined at home. But imagine their reaction if they find one in their mailbox on a morning when they happen to feel particularly isolated and disconnected from their team and organization. Imagine the impact you might have by taking the time to write a thoughtful note with your favorite pen, put it in an envelope, place a stamp on it and mail it to them. That will certainly show you care much more than a quick email or a text “just to check in” and will make your employee feel valued and connected to you and your organization.

And if such a note is impactful at any given time, its meaning during pandemic confinement will be priceless. It will boost their morale and its effect will be long-lasting.

7. 82% of employees don’t feel they are recognized enough for their contributions.

It can be difficult for leaders to notice the extent of each of their employees’ contributions, depending on the size of the organization and the leader’s schedule, even if they are all in the same office. Imagine how difficult it can be when everyone is in their own home, blocks or even miles away from each other. Yet although peer to peer recognition is key to develop a recognition culture in your organization, most employees still expect and need recognition from their leaders as well to truly feel appreciated. Thank you from peers will boost their morale, but the occasional thank you from their supervisor or another leader is also essential to their wellbeing.

How you can make a difference

Whether you are new to management or not, we can all benefit from learning new skills, including soft skills like employee recognition! Here are a few actions you can take to become a better leader and improve manager-to-employee recognition:

  1. Take part in the Orange Program: Orange is a unique program that aims to integrate recognition into your daily practices. As a manager, it’s an asset to you and your team’s development if you know how to use recognition as a management tool. By properly recognizing your team members, you will improve employee engagement, retention, and overall well-being at work. Ultimately, this will lead to better outputs and will promote a culture of recognition.
  2. Have a monthly or quarterly review of all peer-to-peer recognitions by a team of leaders in the organization to recognize stand-out performances at a higher level: A social recognition platform will make this easy as it keeps track of every recognition any employee has received. Leaders can pick nominees and reward one or several employees for their contributions. And why stop there?
  3. As a leader, take the pulse of your organization daily by keeping track of peer-to-peer recognitions: This practice will certainly boost your own morale, but it will also allow you to offer more frequent recognition in the form of a handwritten note to your employees or a quick video call to say thank you. Get to know what your employees are capable of, what are their strengths and talents.

What recognition can lead to

This knowledge can only be beneficial to you, your employee, and the organization. Especially in the middle of a pandemic. Your organization might have to slow down its operations. You might need to be creative to get essential tasks done with a reduced team. If you know that the guy doing your billing is also capable of writing a great marketing article, or that one of your saleswomen also masters office organization, everyone wins. You can move talent where it is most needed in these difficult times and your employees can feel like they contribute to the team’s efforts to keep afloat. Nothing will ruin an employee’s morale as much as feeling useless. Take the time to know your employees to make sure they can feel valued under any circumstances.

“As a leader you have the privilege of feeding people’s souls and helping them feel great about themselves. And by feeding their souls, you’ll feed yours in return,” says David Novak.


As you can conclude from the examples above, not having an employee wellbeing strategy would be a grave mistake. Leaders who neglect wellbeing at work neglect their employees’ engagement, and thus neglect their organization. “Employee engagement and wellness are about protecting your human capital, your most valuable asset,” writes Naz Beheshti.

Even if their activities slow down because of COVID-19, leaders must remember business will come back eventually and the employees who feel their leaders have their wellbeing to heart now will still be there to help the organization get back to normal once the crisis is over. Even as unemployment grows during this temporary situation, employee retention is still extremely important. That is why several countries, subsidize all or part of employees’ salaries for companies who had to stop or slow down their activities. These countries’ leaders understand that it is crucial for companies not to break employment ties with their employees if they want to get back running full speed as soon as possible after this temporary crisis. Because yes, let us not forget it, this is temporary.

In a world where business is forced to pause, leaders should not ease up on taking care of their employees’ wellbeing. On the contrary, they should increase their efforts to keep their employees as physically and mentally healthy as possible. To achieve this, they should recognize their accomplishments and encourage them to recognize their peers, but they should also acknowledge their concerns and empathize with them. More than ever, leaders should do all they can to ensure their team is mentally and physically strong enough to hold on during the storm. If they do, they will be rewarded with employees who are ready to shine as soon as brighter days come.

to explore

5 Elements To Promote Happiness In A Business
FastCompany published a recent article on the Secrets of America’s Happiest Companies. The article compiles the results from the 50 happiest […]
the 4 Elements of Effective Recognition
One of the keys to driving employee engagement is recognition. Everyone needs to be recognized for the work they do. There are a million ways to […]
ROI of employee engagement at work
What Is Employee Engagement?
For many years, we increasingly hear about employee engagement. It seems to be a fashionable term now. All companies want engaged employees. […]