In recent years, mental health awareness in the workplace has continually improved and been shown more support by employers. However, last year saw a monumental shift in the way we work as a result of the pandemic and social distancing measures. One year on, the final easing of lockdown remains uncertain, and many employees are continuing to work remotely from home. Many believe that this switch to remote working is a setback to mental health awareness in the workplace. In a report by Westfield Health released in 2020, 32% of remote working employees believed they required more mental health support from their employer. Why is remote working causing fears about mental health, and what can employers do to support their workforce?
Visibility and Remote Working
Working from home can create a paradox where we lose in person connection to our co-workers, while simultaneously feeling constantly monitored through our online presence. Many can feel tempted exaggerate their online visibility, and employees can feel afraid to leave their desks in case they miss calls and emails and are accused of not working effectively from home. This can become an added pressure which employees working in the office would not experience.
Employers can help to reduce these anxieties by highlighting the importance of employee output rather than time spent on each task. Flexible working policies can reduce guilt that employees can experience for being less productive from home.
Taking A Break
With our online presences being monitored through remote working, many can feel guilty about taking breaks, fearing that they will appear absent from their desks. Employers should encourage breaks as a healthy part of the working day, encouraging employees to keep their breaks schedules at home as similar as possible to the breaks they would allow themselves in the office.
Frequent breaks enhance productivity and maintain focus, meaning mistakes are less likely to occur. Taking a break from your desk is vital for both your physical and mental health, by reducing the chance of eye strain or back problems, as well as reducing stress and anxiety. Managers should lead by example by using their time in a flexible way, so that their team can feel comfortable to do the same.
Check-ins and Conversation
Online working has also changed the way we check-in with our colleagues. In the office, a manager could simply ask for a quick chat, and a colleague could simply look around the office to see who appears to be struggling and needs a helping hand. When working remotely, check-ins must be scheduled formally into a calendar, and colleagues are unable to have conversations casually. Workplace interactions must now have a specific purpose, rather than being generated naturally in conversation.
Despite social distancing, managers can still find ways to create a social atmosphere among their team. Group calls on Fridays and even quizzes and games can be used to encourage causal conversations and a friendly atmosphere. Rather than scheduling formal meetings, managers could propose casual check-ins with a tea or coffee break to encourage relaxed conversation and open communication.
Webcams and Mental Health Awareness
In the office, a manager should be able to notice when someone is struggling with their mental health, either through their body language, their mood or their interactions with other colleagues. Despite our lack of face-to-face contact, employers can still be aware of their employees’ mental health. Body language can be a strong indicator of someone who is struggling, so webcams should be encouraged in meetings and one-to-one check ins.
One of the best things an employer can do to support their workforce is to encourage communication. By starting the conversation about mental health first, employees will feel more comfortable coming forward to their managers without judgment.