Homeworking in the Long Term: Managing Employees’ Mental Wellbeing

There is an acronym of military origin that just about sums up the year 2020; VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous). We have all had to deal with a VUCA landscape and the challenges it places on our own wellbeing and that of others around us. The first lockdown saw us largely unprepared for the upheaval of working conditions and the mass migration of many office and professional workers to a homeworking environment. Today employers should be better positioned to offer employees structured homeworking and to be able to support them with their mental health throughout.

Worldwide many workers live with stress and social isolation as they work from home away from their normal working environment, and it is apparent that the mental wellbeing of a significant proportion of these workers is suffering. Let us not forget that everyone is susceptible, including top management, who may be wrestling with their own personal and work-related challenges. So how does an employer support the mental wellbeing of their homeworkers in the longer term?

Plan

Ensure Human Resource and Health and Safety departments work collaboratively in producing clear and transparent homeworking policies. Set goals for the management of psychosocial risks and ensure managers have clear roles and responsibilities towards reducing stress at work. You should integrate psychosocial risks into your COVID-secure risk assessment, as it is not unrelated. Recognising the problem is part of the solution.

Do

Effectively communicate your homeworking policy and consult with workers in how to make homeworking workable and acceptable. They will all have their own personal story of how they coped at initial lockdown, and their personal solutions might be helpful to others in their teams.
Early intervention will help to reduce the impact of psychosocial risk. Mental health awareness training should be offered in how to build personal resilience and how to recognise signs amongst others. According to IOSH 69% of line managers have not been trained in how to recognise poor mental health. Training is also part of the solution.
Soften the impact by supporting employees suffering from poor mental health. Support them with confidential helplines, employee assistance programmes and (if you have them) mental health first aiders.
Videoconferencing is now the method of choice for communicating with homeworkers. Some companies have started to use videoconferencing for morale boosting sessions. During paid time at the end of the week, they organise a social get-together where workers join in an informal gathering, with work conversations being strictly off the agenda.

Check

How are your co-workers coping? Look, listen and talk to them. Ask them ‘on a range of 1 to 10 how are you coping with your work?’ and be prepared for a conversation about this, don’t move hastily on. If their response is complicated or difficult to gauge, before concluding the meeting, make a plan to continue the conversation at a later date and meanwhile ask them to write down some specific issues to talk through next time.
Homeworking policies should now be well enough developed that we can start monitoring and auditing them, and this will include a review of the management of psychosocial risks.

Act

There will be gaps or deficiencies in your system of ‘plan, do and check’ which can be acted upon and improved. Can senior managers allocate additional resources necessary to manage psychosocial risks? Flexible work patterns designed to combine work activity with family commitments can reap rewards. There is approximately a four-fold return for any investment in mental wellbeing. Our workers should be our best resource and they deserve positive action and compassion to support them in a VUCA landscape.

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