What are the potential risks/issues with home-working and the Pandemic?
Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on how we work, socialise, and live our daily lives. With the UK Government reversing their message of working from home (now encouraged wherever possible) it poses issues for Employers to contemplate regarding their staff and their mental health wellbeing. Working from home has been a key part of the plan to reduce the spread of Covid-19, it has provided some with positive benefits such as reducing a stressful commute, feeling a sense of trust from their employer, saving them money on traveling and other expenses.
Unfortunately for some, working from home can create a sense of isolation, disrupt their daily routines and rituals, and be a catalyst for a deterioration in their mental health.
Mental health has become a focal point in the workplace which has helped reduce the stigma attached to mental health conditions, but Covid-19 has placed in front of us a wall, one which we need to be guided over/around.
Below are some potential issues facing employers that require consideration:
- What background anxieties are being experienced in the wider context of the pandemic? (dependant/carer needs, money worries, health problems)
- Are employee’s able to successfully separate work and home time?
- Is there risk of an employee misusing alcohol/substances as a coping mechanism because of the stress of Covid-19?
- Are employees coping with the changes in their working pattern?
- Do employees have a known mental health condition or disability?
Employee relations considerations
One of the first HR considerations that should be a focus is how you are checking in with staff? How often are you keeping in touch and whether those conversations are meaningful and helpful?
It can be very easy to focus purely on work, gliding past the ‘C’ word at all costs, but this does not necessary help everyone. A more constructive way is for employers to encourage conversations about Covid, and the impact it is having on employees. For example, you could schedule in some time in the week where colleagues can openly discuss/share (if they want) any concerns they have or even share helpful tips. If managers are also open and share some of their worries or struggles, they can lead from the front and show that everyone is finding this situation hard which strengthens a sense of community.
Why not suggest creating mini hubs within departments/teams? This can boost collaboration, aiding a sense of isolation that can come from working at the kitchen table and can help to fill some of the missing routines the workplace offers like chatting about their weekend plans, or doing the coffee round.
Its also important to ask employee’s individually what are they dealing with and what do they need help with? It could be a simple question like, making sure that they have everything they need to do their job that could make them feel noticed. Another idea is to schedule quality 1-1 meetings, which can be done virtually, you could aim for a 70/30% split of work-related discussion to anything else that feel they need to get off their chest. Building trust and connections during a time where people can feel lonely is a great tool to help promote positive wellbeing in your team. Utilising a team meeting and individual catch up sessions can provide opportunity for employee’s to be open about could lead to them receiving the right support.
Some more practical things to address are setting some boundaries with home-working, e.g. will sending an email to a homeworker at 9pm cause a negative impact? Even if an email does not contain any urgency, it could cause someone to feel the need to log back in and carry on working, this furthers the difficulty with separating working time and rest time. You could encourage conversations within hubs/teams to make and document guidelines to help promote the healthy work/life balance, which also provides a sense of autonomy of their work schedules.
- Talk to you employee’s, involve them as much as possible in creating a working plan.
- Encourage a supportive environment to develop.
- Check in on a 1-1 basis with everyone.
- Remind your team that we are all in this together, and we will overcome these struggles.
Take a pro-active approach and manage the risk before it becomes a problem is crucial in helping to promote mental health wellbeing.
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