Survey reveals state of New Zealand’s workplace wellness
A re-design of New Zealand’s workplace in the wake of COVID-19 has given more flexibility to employees around where they can work, but research released today has revealed a hidden downside to working from home – which is likely to have been exacerbated by the latest lockdown.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, more than one in three businesses surveyed (34 per cent) have changed their views on working from home, to offer it permanently to some extent outside of lockdowns. However, 73 per cent of these organisations report some employees feel isolated at home and prefer the team environment of the office. This increases to 80 per cent within smaller businesses of fewer than 50 employees.
These organisations also said flexible working has reduced their teams’ ability to collaborate (20 per cent) and has had a negative impact on office culture (five per cent).
For other businesses, however, the increased flexibility has presented a completely different problem with almost one in four employers surveyed (22 per cent) saying that working from home has been too successful and they’ve had to encourage people back into the office. Almost 60 per cent of businesses that now offer flexible working said it’s been a completely positive move.
These findings come from the Workplace Wellness Report 20211, the nation’s most comprehensive study into workplace wellbeing. Undertaken every two years by Southern Cross Health Insurance and BusinessNZ, the report is now in its fifth edition.
The study canvassed 116 private and public sector businesses of all sizes, representing more than 95,000 employees, or 4.8 per cent of New Zealand’s workforce.
Southern Cross Health Insurance CEO Nick Astwick said the pandemic has resulted in a material shift in the way people work, communicate and connect, and New Zealand businesses have been at the forefront of embracing this change.
“Businesses have had it pretty tough but they moved quickly to adapt and reimagine how to operate in this new COVID-19 world so their organisations and people can flourish.
“The challenges of remote working outlined in the report are likely to have intensified during the latest lockdown, but businesses have continued to step up to support the wellbeing of workers as the effects of the pandemic continue,” added Astwick.
“Our research shows more leaders are seeing a positive connection between healthy employees and the productivity of their organisations. The workforce is the critical engine of our economy and powers our businesses throughout New Zealand, both in times of stability and in crisis. One indicator of the nation’s productivity is the wellbeing of our workers and driving positive change in the health of our nation can lead to better economic prosperity.
“One of the ways we’re seeing this is how increased flexible working offers better work/life balance. Our research makes it clear that while this shift is largely positive, it does come with challenges. Without face-to-face engagement for example, it can be easy for employees to lose their sense of belonging, and stress and anxiety can rise. When I talk to businesses however, they’re focused on supporting their people with effective strategies,” said Astwick.
The Workplace Wellness Report showed that 66 per cent of organisations surveyed reported that general stress levels of employees increased during 2020, with 91 per cent citing COVID-19 as the partial reason why.
General workload remains the biggest cause of work-related stress reported by all businesses surveyed, as does relationships outside of work as the key determinant of non-work-related stress. Stress related to financial concerns saw a marked increase from 41 per cent in 2018 to 54 per cent in 2020 for all enterprises, with smaller businesses even higher at 60 per cent.
When it comes to having practices in place to identify mental wellbeing of employees, large businesses place more importance on staff surveys, while training for managers is undertaken by half of all businesses.
“Navigating new ways of working in the COVID-19 era is a focus for businesses right now. They’re adapting health and safety policies and making sure they’re fit-for-purpose for a workforce that no longer works full-time in an office environment. At Southern Cross, we’ve been more intentional about supporting our people through the recent lockdown,” said Astwick.
“Businesses have been finding it hard, but the importance placed on employee wellbeing remains high, and it has significantly increased in the past two years. Leaders are asking for insights and assistance to develop more informed workplace wellness programmes which we provide help with, and this survey provides a strong foundation from which to do that.
“The research also showed a decrease in the number of people taking annual leave and a significant number of employees continuing to work at home when unwell instead of taking a sick day. These are also things that organisations should track and monitor as they can have a significant impact on employee health and wellbeing,” added Astwick.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it wasn’t surprising the report revealed a shift in the challenges facing businesses since the last survey two years earlier, given the significant impact COVID-19 has had on the way they operate, and most have maintained permanently the changes adopted during the lockdowns.
“Half of organisations surveyed believe the role they play in employee health and wellbeing increased in 2020, and we saw businesses offering a variety of new workplace wellness initiatives including COVID-19 guidance, EAP programmes, vaccinations, flexible hours, education, wellbeing programmes and COVID-19 PPE.
“There was also a positive shift in the number of businesses seeing a correlation between employee wellness and the productivity of their organisation. This is supported by the number of organisations being clear on their policy of ‘if you’re sick, stay home’ which increased from 50 per cent in 2016 to almost 80 per cent in this survey,” said Hope.
Workplace Wellness Report 2021 – key insights
Working from home
• Over half of employers surveyed have introduced more formal policies towards working from home (56.9 per cent).
• Before COVID-19, twice as many large enterprises (more than 50 people) offered working from home vs. small enterprises (less than 50 people) (54 per cent vs. 24 per cent). However, 40 per cent of smaller enterprises stated that due to the nature of their business, they are unable to offer working from home (compared to three per cent for large organisations).
• The most common number of days to work from home is one-two days per week (59 per cent), three-four days (7 per cent), full-time (2 per cent) and never (27 per cent).
• Almost half of employers offer laptops and monitors to employees who work from home, one in three offer keyboards, one in four offer chairs and almost 14 per cent make a payment to employees to help cover the cost of bills e.g. power, internet.
• Half of organisations surveyed believe their role in the health and wellbeing of employees increased in 2020, while the other half say it stayed roughly the same.
• 66 per cent of organisations said the general stress levels of employees increased during 2020, with 91 per cent citing COVID-19 as the main reason.
• Workload remained the biggest cause of work-related stress/anxiety reported by businesses of all sizes; followed by change at work and long hours for large organisations, and long hours and job uncertainty/redundancies for smaller organisations. Fear of getting sick/catching COVID-19 at work ranked highly as well (22 per cent).
• When it comes to having practices in place to identify mental wellbeing of employees, large businesses place more importance on staff surveys, while half of all businesses prioritise training for managers.
• The number of organisations being clear on ‘if you’re sick, stay home’ increased from 50 per cent in 2016 to 76 per cent in 2020.
• 62 per cent reported that employees continue to work from home while sick. This is significantly higher for larger organisations (77 per cent) vs. smaller ones (46 per cent).
• 56 percent said their employees had taken less annual leave in 2020, while only 13 percent had taken more.
 Research for the Southern Cross Health Insurance – BusinessNZ Workplace Wellness Report 2021 was carried out between March and June 2021. Respondents were asked to report on data for the period 1 January to 31 December 2020. In total, 116 enterprises responded, representing 95,488 employees (4.8 per cent of all NZ employees).
Customer enquiries, feedback and complaints.