For the most of us, being at work is good for your mental health. Working provides a sense of belonging, worthiness, intellectual stimulation and social interaction. It can provide a healthy break from your family, or crucial contact with others for those who live alone. The current situation has changed that, with most of us being asked to work from home in isolation through unprecedented challenging times.
For many years the HSE stress management standards have been to consider:
- Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
- Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
- Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
- Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
- Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
- Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation
Over my years as a health and safety advisor, managing the demands and in particular workload, has usually topped the list of things that staff feel creates stress. For some, workloads may have dropped off, however, every one of the 6 management standards will be relevant. Increasing home working has been more commonplace in recent years, whilst it can certainly have benefits in maintaining a work life balance it can be isolating and removes some of the benefits that work provides.
Now in addition to the uncertainty of a global pandemic, individuals are being isolated from their workplace and colleagues. Therefore businesses need to ensure that as much is done as possible to minimise the effects. Therefore we have put together some ideas to protect your staff.
- Review your organisation’s stress risk assessment and see how the controls you have already can be adapted for remote working
- Communicate to staff regularly about what changes you are making and how it affects them
- If possible don’t cancel meetings, they are an important link between colleagues, instead change them to telephone or video conferences
- Be clear what you are expecting of staff, bearing in mind they may also have children at home or supporting family members
- Be flexible with working hours, being available 9-5 may not be possible. For many roles, set hours are not necessary and one of the benefits of routine homeworking is to work at times that fit around home life
- Ensure that all staff know who to contact to raise health and safety concerns
- Remind staff how to access your mental health first aiders or assistance helpline
- Encourage activity
- Team socials by video conference, just 30 minutes once a week can have enormous impact on morale
Individuals are being asked to work at home for the health of the nation, we need to minimise the impact on mental health too.