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We’ve had to adapt quickly to a new way of flexible working, especially with poor mental health affecting so many people working from home. So what can we do about it?
With lockdown restrictions easing, there has been a 96.4% increase in google searches for “returning to office”.
A study done by Harvey Nash shows that 1 in 3 people reported that their mental health has deteriorated, while 26 percent of UK tech professionals have said that they are experiencing even higher levels of stress than they did before the pandemic.
Researcher at the Institution of Organisational Safety and Health (IOSH) Kirsty Iliffe and leading commercial space provider, Bruntwood Works, have provided insights and some lessons learnt from the past lockdowns, when it comes to supporting your employees’ mental health.
“It’s important that organisations are aware of the potential mental ill-health implications and ensure they are aware of their roles and responsibilities in supporting their teams,” says Kirsty. “The ongoing stress of the pandemic could lead to both physical and psychological damage and even depression and anxiety. As employers, organisations have a duty of care to help their employees and in many countries, they have a legal obligation to do so.”
The question is: how can companies make things better?
When the office environment was the norm, business owners spent hours trying to understand how their employees’ environment affected their productivity. This led to countless businesses creating office perks in order to encourage a more friendly and productive environment. When the country went into lockdown these office perks were not an option anymore.
Companies should continue to boost staff morale by finding ways to continue those perks outside of the office.
Here are some of the most common office perks — and how you can replicate them remotely:
Lockdown has changed the way we schedule our days. Previously, a manager’s office door was always open. Now, our communication has dwindled as the lockdowns go on, and we get used to working from home. Effective one-to-ones under the new measures look fundamentally different; they should be open, honest conversations about how we feel, what we’re worried about, and — most importantly — what’s helping us through it.
“Keep in regular contact with remote workers,” says Kirsty. “This will help to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s a good way to ensure that workers are well
and that they understand any information and instructions presented to them.”
During these conversations you should let your staff set the agenda. This is the time for managers to listen more than anything else. Establishing a safe space where employees feel heard, can be a lifeline for those who are struggling.
When everyone was first put into lockdown, we were obsessively connected to the news cycle, which was mainly negative news being fed to us. Continually being exposed to negative statistics greatly impacted outlooks and moods of workers. To combat this, companies should share good news as regularly as possible.
Jo Gallagher, People Business Partner at Bruntwood Works says the company has made practical efforts to share more good news. “Every day, right across the business we’re seeing, hearing and reading some great colleagues’ stories on our staff conversation platform, Universe. We’ve welcomed a few new Bruntwood Works’ babies, we’ve embraced new learning opportunities and we’ve seen how our customers are supporting the fight against COVID-19.”
When reading through the press it may not be easy to come across positive news, as a business you can share stories of staff achievements and acts of kindness. Doing so will help lift moods and it may also help to prevent their mental health from deteriorating.
Social events were simple before the lockdown. Teams would go out for a few drinks or maybe a fun activity and everyone would have a chance to get to know each other a little better.
Schedule regular social events with your team. Anything that lets you keep in touch without the conversation centring around work will help support your team
’s mental health. Here are some virtual socialising ideas your business can try:
When we were in an office environment, employees often mixed with different teams and senior team members, whether that was whilst making a coffee or having lunch.
Since we are working remotely that just isn’t possible anymore. Setting up measures that bridge the gap between the teams and senior members is important to make sure those relationships are still present.
“Communicate the organisational plan,” advises Kirsty. “Be open and honest with all employees. Explain what the organisation is doing to help protect its employees, their families and friends, and the organisation itself.”
Opening these channels of communication helps your team feel more closely connected with what the business is doing. It gives them a chance to have their say during a time when very little seems to be in their control.
One of the best ways to do this is to have a virtual ‘open door’ times for senior staff. During these sessions— perhaps a couple of hours on a Friday afternoon — company directors should keep their calendars free and be prepared to chat with any staff members who want to talk. It could be about the business’s performance, staff concerns, or even new ideas for how the team can move forward.
“People have personal triggers; some are better to carry on working while others simply need some downtime. There is also the social stigma that many feel around talking about their struggles.
Kirsty from IOSH highlights that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to maintaining your team’s mental health because everyone is different. This being the case, businesses need to be in tune with their staff on an individual level. The only way to do that? Take a genuine interest in each and every member of your team.
“Some decisions can only be made by the individual, such as whether to go off sick or to continue working,” she says. “Make sure you’re investing in those relationships, regardless of the new obstacles in the way. That needs to be the number one priority of any company right now,” says Jo Gallagher from Bruntwood Works. “If you really care about how your staff is coping, finding the right support measures for them will quickly follow.”