Group Director, Alex Cliffe Explores The Challenges Of Mental Health Awareness For Remote Workers
Just a very short time ago remote workers, especially those working from home, were in a minority however isolated personnel have almost surpassed those working from a typical office location for the time being. With the recent COVID-19 global pandemic shifting many of us into the home environment, new issues have arisen with respect to our health and safety and whether the appropriate policies, procedures and support are in place to deal with this.
‘one in four people experience a mental health problem every year’
The Global pandemic has highlighted the need for better awareness of mental health within the home office when managing individuals, teams or ourselves and it’s vital to consider the impacts of isolation and what measures need to be in place for us to cope.
As time goes by and we understand social distancing and remote working will stretch for longer than many of us thought, it’s imperative that businesses implement measures to take care of their employees’ mental health.
Many businesses already have well-documented policies on a variety of Human Resource issues, nevertheless, the considerations for the mental health and welfare of staff may not have been considered due to the rushed nature of the measures that had to be taken. This is totally new territory for many businesses and there is a myriad of resources out there to help. Policies need to be initiated and monitored to ensure our mental and physical wellbeing otherwise the consequence can be disastrous.
‘’The number of people experiencing mental illness in the UK is 16 million. Broken down this means one in four people experience a mental health problem every year. The most common mental health condition is anxiety, which affects 5.9 in every 100 people.’’ National Centre of Social Research
If left unattended the mental health of employees can spiral triggering low morale, anxiety, depression and other psychological issues with the feeling of isolation weighing all this down even more. These emotions have been even more intensified especially during the current period of social distancing and lack of physical contact.
Physical activity also goes hand in hand with sustaining mental health and is additionally known to boost the immune system and lead to happier healthier workers.
Fortunately, there is an almost exhaustive source of resources available now to keep everyone healthy and enthusiastic. All we need to do as individuals is encourage others to utilise them and make sure we help when and where we can with our support.
‘Distress is a word used to describe times when a person isn’t coping – for whatever reason. It could be something at home, the pressure of work, or the start of a mental health problem like depression. When we feel distressed, we need a compassionate, human response. The earlier we are able to recognise when something isn’t quite right, the earlier we can get support.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Whilst initially working from home seems like a great perk the reality of self-management and lack of social interaction soon sets in.
‘’ I got a new laptop, and everything provided for me. I was so excited to work from home thinking there would be no more interruptions and no one looking over my shoulder. That was great for a while, but I didn’t realise how much I relied on the social exchanges at the office and also the distinction between work and home life’’ Darren Johnston
Yes, you get to set your own agenda and have a certain amount of autonomy without the boss checking up on you but you also get the burden of self-managing and that can be a strain psychologically on many people. Set goals and timeframes during the day to maintain a work schedule and hide the TV remote!
Many companies have policies in place to maintain all aspects of remote workers health and safety, from initial ‘remote working risk assessments’ through to weekly checks on mental wellbeing.
‘Addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%.’
There are many factors that improve the psychological health of employees working from home. A lot of these are often just a replication of our routine getting into the company office every day. It may be that you stopped for coffee on the way to work or your commute into work gave you the time to mentally prepare, whatever the case these routines cease to exist when you start to work away from the office.
When these habits are lost it’s essential to realise that for many people, those patterns are a distinction between work and home and therefore can affect their ability to work effectively resulting in unintended stress. Having a differentiation between work and home can be a difficult balancing act and employers have a role to play helping employees with this juggling act.
‘Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. Addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
The social aspect of work is what invigorates many of us, so the use of collaborative platforms can help with communication, especially those with video functions as a form of virtual face to face interaction. They also help to maintain team interaction almost on the same level as they would in a normal working situation.
Talk to your colleagues often and ask how they are doing. If needs be, let them know how you’re feeling and be proactive in the conversation about your concerns. Don’t neglect the importance of these social connections and take the time to talk about things other than work. Now that you don’t have ‘office cooler conversations’ maybe you can have ‘kitchen sink’ conversations via video.
‘When we create workplace cultures where people can be themselves, it is easier for people to speak about mental health concerns without fear, and easier for them to reach out for help when they need it. Even so, the decision to disclose distress at work is not one people take lightly. It is vital that workplaces become environments where people feel safe to be themselves.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
It’s important to keep up the communication not only with your co-workers but with your managers so everyone, in turn, can support each other.
One of the major hassles of working from home is the fridge! Trust me I have been tempted on many occasions to raid it for last night’s leftovers or an extra slice of birthday cake outside of my lunch break. Unlike the office, it’s fully stocked and within reach so there is a tendency to use it far too often. The other issue is that the office may only be a few steps from the bedroom and living room so the normal commute to the office doesn’t burn many calories at all.
‘Almost everyone on the planet knows that exercise is good for them’
Encouraging staff to get out of the home office during their lunch break has many benefits for them as well as the company. No one is expecting you to exercise like a professional athlete, but a bit of sunshine and a walk is great for you physically as well as mentally.
‘Almost everyone on the planet knows that exercise is good for them. It’s good for your heart, good for your waistline, and even good for your mental state. During a single bout of moderate intensity exercise that is less than 60 minutes long we see an increase in blood circulating throughout the body. This comes with the increased transport of immune cells throughout your entire body.
This is then combined with a substantial increase in the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which help lower harmful inflammation throughout your body.
Importantly, over time, these exercise-induced changes in immune cell function, inflammation, and immunosurveillance, may be of particular benefit to boosting the overall strength of your immune system.’ www.foreverfitscience.com
It’s really important to note that while the concept of working from home may appeal to you because you’ll be able to spend more time with your family – DON’T!
Certainly, during your lunch break you can relax with your loved ones but there needs to be separation not only for your happiness but that of your family’s as well. Interruptions can cause tension and it’s difficult to maintain separation when you’re living under the same roof you work in.
Timothy Golden, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies telecommuting said that ‘shifting to a home workplace can intensify existing work and family conflict rather than alleviate it, because the stress we leave behind to work away from home is suddenly staring us in the face at all times.’
Setting up a dedicated work area and defining it as your office, whether it be a separate room or a workspace within your home, allows you and your family to know when you’re at work and when you’re not. Because disruptions can cause a lot of tension and stress within the house that can be alleviated when everyone knows the boundaries.
Make sure you don’t blur the boundaries between work and home by overextending your work hours. If you must, do a little extra time but once you finish work don’t be tempted to go back to it later on in the evening this can cause even more tension in the family unit and with others in your house. Maintain your normal working hours you’ll find you can be more productive that way.
‘We can all take steps to improve our own mental health and build our resilience – our ability to cope with adversity. Self-care is a skill that needs to be practised. It isn’t easy, especially if we feel anxious, depressed or low in self-esteem.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
It can be difficult and It’s not a sign of weakness, it not only helps you, but it might encourage others to do the same. Talking about your feelings to others whether it’s work colleagues or family and friends gives comfort and support.
Keeping active not only maintains your physical wellbeing, it helps with sleep, concentration and self-esteem. You don’t have to go to the gym or do sport you can walk the dog each day or go for a ride, do something you enjoy, and you’ll benefit from feeling happier and materially better.
‘What we eat can affect how we feel both immediately and in the longer term. A diet that is good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Don’t be tempted by something quick from the fridge or the cookie jar. Working from home can keep you in a confined area for too long, make your lunch and take it to the park, don’t eat at your desk. It provides an opportunity for you to separate yourself from work and relieves some stress during the day.
Not only is it a benefit to have regular phone calls and meetings, either via traditional methods or video and messaging, but keep up some normal office banter as well. It’s not all business! When working remotely we often tend to miss some of the light-hearted office talk so, have a joke and talk about your social life.
If you feel you can’t talk to anyone you know seek help from professional sources. Make a phone call and find out what support is out there – everyone has different coping methods and there is support available for all of us.
‘We all have times when we feel down, stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a mental health problem like anxiety or depression, which can impact on our daily lives. For some people, mental health problems become complex, and require support and treatment for life.
Factors like poverty, genetics, childhood trauma, discrimination, or ongoing physical illness make it more likely that we will develop mental health problems, but mental health problems can happen to anybody.
Our research shows that most people have some experience of a mental health problem, and the latest large-scale survey in England suggested that one in six people experience the symptoms of a mental health problem in any given week.’ www.mentalhealth.org.uk
The Corona Virus pandemic has seen a mass of people migrating to a home office, some will cope well, and others will not. It’s up to us as a collective to ride this wave and help ourselves and our colleagues and friends in whatever way we can. There can be any number of reasons why someone is not feeling well mentally but with your help and as a team we can all achieve positive outcomes.
This is the reality for many of us for the foreseeable future and although our hand has been forced because of COVID-19 the positives can far out way the negatives. Remote working may be the future for a lot of us because businesses see the benefits, so it’s important to look at how you are going to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing.