Working from home during this prolonged period of lockdowns over the last 14 months or so has brought a mixed bag of experiences for many people during the pandemic.
Home working has brought several benefits; time and money saved on commuting spring to mind, as well being able to work flexibly around family commitments whilst within easy reach of the sofa and the kettle… Not to mention the new take on the working dress code!
That being said, many people who live on their own experienced loneliness and isolation during this time. Zoom meetings and virtual coffees can only help so much to plug the gap.
Whilst there were repeated calls for empathy and to “be kind”, it would seem that sentiment sometimes fell on deaf ears. Recent research carried out by MHFA England found that “25% of employees have had no wellbeing check-ins from their workplace during the pandemic and almost a third of workers say they never discuss their mental health with their line manager”. And while some businesses are itching to get back to the office full-time, there are many more businesses who are seriously considering remote- and hybrid-working models for the longer term.
Even before the pandemic hit, mental health issues accounted for 54% of sick days in 2018-2019. The same research found that whilst 69% of managers deemed employee wellbeing a core skill, just 13% had received mental health training, whilst only 35% had expressed a wish to undertake similar training. Add in the stigma that was still prevalent about taking appropriate measures to recover from mental ill health, such as time away from the office, and the overall picture looked bleak. Then Covid arrived and changed how we work – changes that will have an effect on many in the long term.
As the home office becomes a permanent fixture for a considerable percentage of the workforce, how can organisations help their people in times of distress?
No quick fixes
How your organisation handles mental health issues amongst its workforce, pandemic or not, is a cultural issue – one that requires forensic examination, some tough conversations and long-term work to rectify if necessary. Initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) with no initial work carried out on why the culture may be at fault regarding employee wellbeing, is akin to applying a sticking plaster on a broken arm – it just won’t work.
Mean what you say!
How many times have you heard companies say that they “care about their employees”?
Anecdotally, we have heard all too often in the last year of management who, at the start of the pandemic, promised to regularly check on in staff informally, only for this promise to be unfulfilled. It happens all too often that company leaders will say the right things at the right time, with no follow-through. And when it comes to mental health, these unsubstantiated promises can cause more harm than good.
Be empathetic, be genuine and yes, be kind. Recognise that your workforce are human beings, not machines; and without them, your business will struggle to survive.
Embracing remote working – so what now?
If you lead an organisation that has now adopted hybrid or fully remote working, then this will undoubtedly present some new dynamics to consider for employee wellbeing. If a hybrid model is in place, then there will of course be some scope for casual check-ins that may help some people – we are social beings after all.
Companies that are adopting a mostly remote working model will have to take into account that some staff may feel loneliness from time to time, without that in-office camaraderie. In these cases, it’s important to reach out and offer some support where you can, even if it’s a quick phone call every so often. And once the restrictions are fully lifted, then a meet-up or social gathering will give those working remotely something to look forward to.
Hybrid and remote work present different sets of cultural challenges to an already difficult area of working life. But with the right culture with openness and empathy at its core, then these challenges can be more easily mitigated.
Get in touch with us if you feel your organisation needs assistance with business culture and providing the best possible environment for your staff to work.