Over the last two years, many organisations adopted remote and hybrid work practices. Initially, employers considered working from home to be a short-term solution. However, due to its many benefits, organisations are now seriously considering offering remote and/ or hybrid work as a permanent option.
Surveys have revealed that many employees enjoy working from home, even on a semi-permanent basis. However, there are risks involved as remote workers may feel excluded, isolated, stressed out, and anxious. They may also experience exhaustion and burn out and with the lines between work life and home life becoming more blurred.
Furthermore, employees can feel uncertain about their future, which can in turn cause issues in relation to their mental health. Whilst the situation appears to be quietly settling down into a new normal, employers must still lend a helping hand to protect the mental wellbeing of their workforce.
As remote and hybrid working arrangements are likely to remain in place post pandemic, outlined here are seven of the ways in which employers can promote and support their employees’ mental wellness.
Encourage an open environment
Employees should be encouraged to engage in open dialogue in order to discuss the challenges they face. Besides keeping the virtual door open, anonymous feedback forms should be provided for the benefit of those employees who are hesitant about speaking out in the open.
Employers should also carefully consider the language they use when talking to their employees. For example, they should avoid using words that will make an employee feel segregated or inferior. Empathy is preferable to sympathy.
It is imperative that employees understand that any concerns or problems they have will be addressed appropriately. Managers and other team members should offer grace and understanding when someone reveals their mental health struggles.
Check In and offer praise
Even the most productive employees can experience mental health issues. Someone with seemingly positive mental health can still face a tremendous amount of stress if they remain in isolation for too long.
Not everyone has a wonderful home life or conducive surroundings, and some employees may live alone. In addition, many workers see the office environment as a social outlet. For this reason, employers need to stay in touch with their employees on a regular basis to ensure their needs are being met when working remotely.
Good work should also be acknowledged and rewarded. Remember, some employees may feel pressure if they sense they are not doing enough. This may force them to overwork which can result in premature burnout. Unfortunately, if they are working remotely, it will not be possible for an employer to casually sit next to them for a quick chat. For this reason, their efforts and contributions should be praised during team video meetings.
Although it is important that the remote team is contacted regularly, they should not be constantly pestered for updates. Instead, two-way communication should be maintained so they can be informed of the good things that are happening to the team and organisation.
Encourage positivity and healthy lifestyles
Employees should be encouraged to undertake physical activities, such as walking meetings or workouts, during their breaks. In addition, hygiene, hydration, good sleep patterns and other healthy workplace cultures should be promoted. With regard to video meetings, periodic breaks will help reduce eye strains and fatigue. The services of a health professional, such as an occupational health nurse, can also be offered to remote team members.
Although working at home can provide people with flexibility, they may find it difficult to separate their work life from their home life. Often, employees will check their mobile phones and emails even after their workday has finished. Therefore, rules should be set in place whereby team members will respect each other’s off-hours.
educate and redefine workplace policies
Due to the stigma that can arise in the workplace, people are often reluctant to voice their mental health concerns. For this reason, it is important to adopt a work culture that will not allow anyone to look down on an employee who needs help with their mental wellbeing.
“Sick time” often refers to physical health but it should also incorporate mental health.
Improve current productivity tools
Working hard is quite different from working smart, therefore employers need to utilise reliable, productivity tools and systems such as:
- Leadership guidance and support systems
- Project management software
- Work-flow protocols
They should also consider incorporating any other support systems that can enhance employees’ performance and wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
Remote and hybrid working arrangements are likely to remain in place even after the current pandemic has abated. Although working from home has its advantages, many employees encounter problems, often relating to their mental health. Therefore, having policies in place to support the mental wellbeing of remote teams could help foster a culture of open dialogue, self-care, in educating the workforce and preparing them to manage their mental health issues.