I read a report last week that ‘professional anxiety rose 4,000 % since the lockdown’. Another article reported that 86% of those WFH felt more anxious now than they did working from an office. A huge increase but also entirely understandable when one considers the prevalence of poor mental health before the CV and the measures and uncertainty hitherto the lock-down. Businesses have been forced to send people home and whilst this may have been entirely sensible, in many cases it is exacerbating some of the causes of poor mental health in our workplaces.
WFH has been a revolution for many and the idea that workers no longer have to spend hours of their life on a packed train or now have more time to spend at home at home with family rather than battling rush hour traffic, has been an eye opener. It has given people back time, saved them money and positively impacted their mental health. Having time to exercise, eat well and reduce certain stresses has been a God send, but we must consider those who are battling isolation; lack of social contact; an inability to segregate work from their home life; those who have lost their purpose and identity and who have smiled their way through zoom catch ups and meetings but who are crying out for support. WFH has been a quick fix for businesses to reduce office and fixed costs but what are businesses doing about supporting mental health remotely?
In an era of email and text communication, many workers were already feeling ignored and forgotten by bosses and managers. The physical distance put between people is only making this worse, so what can you do?
1. Ensure a work-life balance.
With a laptop or work phone at the end of a bed or desk in a bedroom the temptation to work longer often means people are working longer than they would otherwise. Set your working hours and have a cut-off as you would when leaving the office. Take your breaks, have a proper lunch and have a limit on your working hours. Switching off at the end of the day should be that – a proper shut down. Make sure you have time for yourself each day. Make sure your people know this too.
2. ‘Checking in’ doesn’t always have to be about work.
Most companies are holding regular zoom/teams/skype or other calls and meetings where the focus is on work, but how many are a virtual coffee and catch up where colleagues can chat about anything BUT work? It doesn’t have to be a conversation about MH, but if it leads onto that they great. Share how you are keeping on top of things and how things might be for you. Keep it empathetic and positive and offer tips on things that work for you. Listening to others not only makes them feel valued, you may also find out more things about them that you didn’t already know and it may well help you understand them better – and vice versa.
3. Meet in person.
Depending on where you live and the limitations at the time, there may well be nothing stopping you doing something a little different like getting together for a walk or some exercise. If people don’t feel comfortable doing this don’t force the issue but getting out and about for half and hour/ an hour could be break you and your colleague needs. Follow the guidelines and keep safe.
4. Take responsibility.
The Mental Health challenge isn’t just an HR one, it’s the whole organisation’s responsibility. As a manager or leader you need to be as involved as the HR manager or person spear-heading your MH agenda. If you don’t have an agenda, you need one. Not discounting the human cost, the commercial costs to your business are enormous. To do nothing is nonsensical. Many leaders are sharing their MH stories and struggles and this is allowing others to share their stories and troubles too. Sometimes just talking is enough to make a positive difference. Creating and maintaining an open environment / culture will encourage people to think about MH differently.
5. Sign-post further help and support.
You may find some people are not ready to talk or share their feelings with you and this is also absolutely fine. We are all different and if people want to share their thoughts and feelings or not, by having the right support services available and easily accessible for all means those that need a little help and support know where they can turn to get it. If you are not sure there are lots of different places (mind.org.uk / https://www.time-to-change.org.uk / NHS.uk ). There are numerous other organisations and charities out there willing and able to help. Where you can’t offer this service and support in house, make sure your people know where they can go to get help.
If your organisation takes a caring and human approach to MH, there is little chance it can go wrong. This challenge isn’t going to go away with a vaccine or some return to normal working conditions – it is here to stay and unfortunately, growing. Being remote is not a reason to not take action.
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