“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace”
We have never lived in more uncertain times and for most, uncertainty breeds stress and anxiety. In addition, the way we work has shifted and so has our mind-set with regard to normal patterns of working. However, an employer’s duty of care to do all that they can to support employees’ health, safety and wellbeing continues.
Living at work
The traditional view that permitting homeworking will equate to a decline in productivity has quickly become antiquated. A recent study by the ONS has found that people working from home spent more time at their desks (with an average of 6 hours unpaid overtime compared to 3.6 for those who do not work from home) and less time off sick (with an average of two days compared to four). They are also more likely to work in the evenings.
In inevitable knock-on effect to this is a potential negative impact on work-life balance, with an increased sense of needing to respond immediately and effectively “living at work”. This has prompted the union Prospect to write to the Business Secretary to enshrine a “right to disconnect” into law.
Although the increased productivity could initially be viewed as a positive thing, it comes with a strong warning that this benefit could well be short-lived with increased mental health issues, such as a workers suffering from “burnout”, standards slipping and an increased need to take “time-out” from work which is likely to lead to staffing issues and absenteeism in the long-term.
Returning to the workplace
Further, there is now the question of when or if workers should return to the workplace to contend with (see are previous article on this here). Whilst the official government position remains that everyone who can work from home should, with the gradual lifting of restrictions, both employers and employees positions are starting to shift.
This in itself can create stress for employees wanting to abide by the rules and stay safe on one hand, and those who are keen to get back to workplace and be less isolated on the other. Clearly there is “no one size fits all” solution. For some employees suffering with isolation and who are not too concerned about the COVID risks, getting out of the house will be the best thing for their mental health. For others their stress-levels may be eased most by continued home-working. It is clear that employers must walk a delicate and diplomatic path to preserve workplace relations and the mental wellbeing of staff.
5 Top Tips
- Create an open workplace culture – If staff feel that they can talk openly about their issues they are less likely to fester and grow. This can be achieved by setting clear organisational values, ensuring that these are communicated and making it clear that staff will not be perceived as “weak” or “incapable” for voicing their concerns. You could also consider appointing a staff member as a “mental health first aider” and training them to fulfil this role. Click here for further info.
- Ensure managers understand mental health – Ensuring managers understand mental health issues, know how to spot them, and avoid engaging in behaviour that can create them are all very important. Engaging with empathy is key. Acas offer regular training sessions here.
- Stay connected – Regular check-ins with staff are key to ensure that they are not feeling isolated or that they cannot approach you with issues. Proper human contact such as a call or video chat is much better than email. The #asktwice campaign offers some good advice here. Often an individual’s first reaction is “I’m fine” when this may be far from the case, and the true position is much more likely to come to light if you ask again.
- Encourage staff to take breaks and create boundaries – Stress often leads people to feel that they do not have time to take a break (guilty!), but it is now well established that even short-break (especially if accompanied by some fresh air and/or exercise) can do a lot more good for productivity than working through. Further, a statutory footing should not be needed for employers to send a clear message that staff are entitled to “clock off” and take enjoy some downtime (switch off the work phone, laptop etc.)
- Offer training on coping mechanisms for those struggling – Sometimes when you are stressed you cannot see the wood from the trees. Even getting the employee to take a one hour webinar on coping mechanisms can work wonders and will be seen as a sign of support.
The charity mind has produced five ways to wellbeing here which are a highly recommended quick read for anyone struggling.
Get in touch
If you have further questions, would like to discuss any issues raised in this article, our Employment Law and HR team would be delighted to hear from you.
Melanie Rowe (Senior Associate)