The benefits of remote working have been promoted for some time now, but few would have thought a global pandemic, like the COVID-19 crisis, would be the impetus that pushed working from home so far forward. However, with the adoption of such new ways has come new challenges, with HR Departments now needing to pay attention to employee mental health more than ever.
It might seem contradictory that a work policy that usually emphasises wellbeing for employees should come with a health warning. But there are good reasons to have concerns about remote working now.
After all, the ‘embracing’ of the work-from-home model has been forced on employees due to the travel restrictions and social distancing regulations that have come into force. It has seen some of the leading global brands, like Amazon, Apple, Google and Twitter, ask their staff to work from home.
Now, a temporary arrangement looks like continuing for much longer than expected. Twitter employees can work from home permanently, while Amazon employees are being encouraged to work from home until October, and Google and Facebook staff to the end of 2020.
In not being voluntary, working remotely amid the COVID-19 crisis is not the welcome release from the hum-drum day-to-day office existence; it’s a reminder of a world in chaos and the threat to life. Its impact, therefore, on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees can be considerable.
The Known Benefits
Plenty of research has pointed to a plethora of benefits associated with remote working, from greater productivity to lower stress levels, and from better work-life balance to significant savings made by companies on their costs.
One study carried out by Airtasker showed that remote employees work on average 1.4 more days every month than office-based workers, while losing less time to distractions (27mins to 37 mins) and while applying a new ‘pulse and pause’ working model (bursts of work followed by a break) actually leads to higher rates of productivity.
The Mental Health Impact
However, the 2019 survey wasn’t all good news. It discovered that slightly more remote workers (54%) to office-based workers (49%) admitted to feeling “overly stressed” while working from home, while a similar difference (45% to 42%) said they “experienced high levels of anxiety”.
In fact, 31% of employees who were remote working said needed to take a day off just to address their mental health.
The COVID-19 crisis exasperates these issues, with some of the recognised concerns including:
- Fear of becoming ill, or a loved one becoming ill
- Impact of separation from family
- Fear of losing employment
- Impact of repeated negative feelings, like powerlessness, anxiety, boredom and isolation
6 Points To Protecting Employee Mental Health
Whatever the new working arrangements are, they must adhere to the Organisation of Working Time Act, which lays out the entitlements that employees have in relation to rest periods and the duty of dare employers have.
But it’s also important to ensure employee morale is kept up. So, here are some steps that can be taken to help achieve that.
- Encourage employees to keep a routine – the routine may be different to normal, but from getting up to stopping work, everything should be as close to normal as possible.
- Get enough sleep – sleep deprivation has a serious impact on mental health, so it’s important to get the usual recommended hours sleep (6-7 hours).
- Provide support – a work-buddy system allows colleagues look after each other. Managers may think that calling employees every day is good, but it can actually cause greater stress (45%) or distraction (70%) for remote working employees. A ‘buddy’ is a better idea.
- Recommend more frequent breaks – while productivity is always a concern, taking more breaks allows employees to focus better for shorter periods. For example, the Pomodoro Technique sets 25-minutes work followed by 5-minute breaks.
- Encourage technical and social media downtime – switching off from work but more importantly COVID19 news can ease stress over the issue.
- Be flexible – with school systems affected, employees remote working may be caring for children or even ill partners too. It’s important to bare personal situations in mind. Be compassionate. Be flexible with hours and deadlines.
For more advice on Employee Mental Health during the COVID-19 crisis, check out:
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