As working from home becomes the new normal, promoting employee wellbeing and identifying steps employers can take to maintain a healthy workforce, has never been so important. The Coronavirus pandemic is changing where and how people work and with millions working from home since lockdown was introduced in the UK, a fundamental shift is occurring with the employee experience, at least on a temporary basis.
Research suggests that remote working has positively impacted employees’ quality of life, with almost two thirds of employers receiving reports of improved work-life balance from staff. The findings also indicate that 43% of employees think collaboration has been enhanced by the change in structure. Whilst this is to be welcomed, studies also reveal a worrying picture of declining mental and physical health amongst UK homeworkers.
But it won’t signal the end of the office, much of our job satisfaction is derived from the friendships of our workplace. There will always be a need for creative company too, where the sharing of ideas can only be formed through face to face contact. Most of us have now experienced the inefficiencies of working from home and miss the connectivity and productivity an office environment provides. The daily work environment, the daily interaction, the social energy that’s created that makes working for a company part and parcel of why you want to get up every day and give it your all, you just can’t replicate working from home.
According to the Homeworker Wellbeing Survey by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), more than half of respondents reported musculoskeletal complaints within the first two weeks of working remotely during lockdown. Aches and pains in the neck (58%), shoulder (56%), and back (55%) were recorded as newly emerged symptoms. Additionally, 60% of respondents stated they were exercising less; 33% said they were eating less healthily, and 20% admitted to drinking more alcohol than usual.
Allowing employees to have a say in their terms is a sure-fire way to boost satisfaction, but it means that we need to keep a closer eye on remote workers to ensure that we are promoting employee wellbeing and communication is consistent. So how can this be done?
Encouraging a healthy work-life balance
As well as making the workplace a more positive space, the home office is now an important consideration. Working from home can be just as, if not more, productive than being at the office. However, the main drawback is the lack of separation between work and social life. Some employees may feel more pressure to be productive while not under their manager’s watchful eye. This attitude should be discouraged by urging them to take regular breaks, finish on time, and close their laptop during lunch. In the event that remote working appears to be less productive for some employees, this should be approached sensitively and with concern around wellbeing. The better employees’ needs are accommodated, the more inclined they will be to stay with a business.
The economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic could be a concern for employees who may feel uncertain about the future and have money worries. Employers should seek to have open conversations with staff, so as to address questions around job security and hopefully minimise these concerns. Consideration should also be given to changes in shift pattern or remuneration that could be adversely affecting employees’ finances. Employees are often uncomfortable about asking for help with money problems because of the stigma associated with struggling financially. Make it easier for them by promoting expert organisations like StepChange Debt Charity that can provide help and advice at no cost.
Keep in contact
These could be daily, every other day or weekly phone calls or even video calls. The idea is that you can continually assess workflow, set new tasks and check on your employee’s wellbeing. Working from home might be causing unforeseen issues for an employee, so it’s important to get feedback where you can. It also opens up the opportunity to discuss topics that aren’t work-related – catching up on plans for the weekend, asking after their family, discussing the news etc. You’d usually have these types of conversations in passing, over lunch or in brief meetings so it’s important to maintain this level of socialising where you can.
Promote access to support
You may provide access to support services through your workplace – if you do, make sure these are advertised well and find out whether there are specific resources relating to the outbreak. Make sure people also know where they go and who they talk to internally. If you have mental health champions, allies or mental health first aiders make sure they have the latest information, and that if you change working practices that this network of mental health support carries on if possible and continues promoting employee wellbeing, even when a return to normal is in sight.
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