Health and wellbeing: a challenge in the home 'workplace' of 2020
Richard Mills considers the three levels at which the health and wellbeing of employees working from home can be maintained or even enhanced.
The history and full impact of the COVID 19 pandemic will be endlessly examined and written about for decades to come. Living through these turbulent times has and will affect us all. We have experienced through a series of lockdowns and restrictions a simultaneous deceleration and limitation in our own personal lives and interactions coupled with an acceleration of changes in the economy and wider society. Numerous sectors of the economy are undergoing fundamental and potentially existential change not experienced for decades.
For almost half of the working population1, this time of ‘radical uncertainty’ has been typified by working from home. A situation which has created both challenges and opportunities for creating a better ‘work-life’ or is it ‘life-work’ balance?
A major challenge is that while we work within our home we may for example have spouses, partners, flatmates, pre-school and home-schooled children, teenagers at college studying on-line or loved ones who we are carers for, all at home as well; equally one might be living on one’s own and not physically going into work and interacting with work colleagues can be a hard adjustment to make. On the flipside the opportunities not to commute, to have lunch with one’s family, to be able to concentrate on work while not in a large open plan office, to exercise or to put a load in the washing machine at midday have been enjoyed by many.
The rise of the virtual office from your bedroom, kitchen or living room with the ubiquitous video conference meetings has created a whole new debate on the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the etiquette of its use and our interactions with it. Arguably the phrase ‘to zoom’ has to some become a verb as to do the ‘hoovering’ once was to others.
The backdrop, the clothes we wear to ‘the office’ and our skills on line are all up for evaluation and sometimes unnecessary self-criticism. We are yet to have a full evidence research base as to the subtle and not so subtle effects that constant ‘back-to-back’ video conferencing has on employee productivity, motivation and health and wellbeing compared to more traditional ‘face-to-face’ meetings and work patterns.
Dependent on the economic sector and location of offices the future of work for some post-pandemic is heading towards a ‘blended working pattern’ – with a regular pattern of working virtually from home and attending a physical work space.
Both now and post pandemic how can the health and wellbeing of employees working from home be maintained if not enhanced?
The answer has to be viewed at three levels – that of the organisational entity, the working teams within it and the individual employee.
As a counsellor you won’t be surprised to note, that to me, it is at the individual level that health and wellbeing has to be centred and focussed.
However, the organisational entity and its managers at all levels are absolutely key to facilitating a cultural environment and providing a set of resources to fully support employees to realise as good a level of health and wellbeing while working at home as possible.
At the board or senior management team level a strategy for mental health and wellbeing should be in place which has alignment with overall corporate objectives in a balanced scorecard approach. It has to be integral not an add on. If employees believe it is phoney or simply a tick box exercise, they will not buy into it and it could even be counter-productive. Leaders who are open about their mental health and wellbeing struggles and challenges can engender an open culture which can galvanise the overall positive mental health and wellbeing of any workplace. A happier workplace really can be a more productive one.
In an environment of homeworking it is even more important that all in an organisation offer their views on and experiences of the virtual working environment in a constructive manner to their work colleagues, both peers and their managers alike.
Prior to typing this sentence, I was drinking my tea from a mug that states “Being totally honest with oneself is a good exercise.2” If any one individual feels, that they are struggling with the new home working environment to a point where they feel overwhelmed by it, then they could and must be supported to reach out for help. As leaders, managers, team members and colleagues being available to offer a friendly word and proportionate level of camaraderie is an ideal first step.
At an organisational level ensuring there is clear signposting and advice on how to access occupational health services and counselling via external employee assistance programmes is vital.
Talking to a GP about your feelings is also an obvious option and fortuitously it is now possibly easier to access a five-minute GP telephone appointment than previously having to take hours off work to attend in person.
Appraisal systems and regular ‘one-to ones’, can also be sensitively used to encourage and allow employees to check in and talk about the challenges for them of a virtual and perhaps then blended work pattern.
When considering how to best manage and cope with the challenges and restrictions of working at home there are many ideas/frameworks that we can all pick up, think about, adapt and act on.
A recent simple two minute watch is Dr Radha Modgil from BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks with her 5 ‘C’s for surviving the second lockdown – control, care, continuity, creativity and compassion. All good principles that you can use to view working from home.3 For those who have more time and want to view life ‘in the round’, I recommend psychotherapist Julia Samuel’s recent book “This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings”.4
Finally, do stay safe and wherever you are in the UK and beyond please do follow all the relevant applicable regulations and guidelines. The sooner we can build forward better together, the better it will be for all of our health and wellbeing.
This short article is an initial ‘think-piece’ not a ‘blue-print’. It is a suggestion to reflect on and start thinking about how we might all at corporate, team and individual level react to a fundamental change in the way many of us will be working from now on. Please email to firstname.lastname@example.org any ideas and questions you may have emerging from your organisation, sector, team or individual situation on maintaining/enhancing mental health and wellbeing while working from home. Your ideas and questions can be shared and considered in a subsequent newsletter article (anonymously or attributed as you prefer).
Richard Mills is a qualified counsellor who volunteers with a local mental health charity offering support to individual clients for up to two years. He also works as a charity Trusts Fundraiser. He writes this article wholly in a personal capacity.
April 2020 statistics released by the UK's Office for National Statistics showed 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home, as a result of social distancing measures introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sigmund Freud from a letter to Wilhelm Fliess on the 15th October 1897.
ACCA has produced an on demand webinar about mental health and wellbeing where Victoria Fellowes of StrideForth explores the vital role that internal auditors play in a company's mental health and wellbeing - register here.
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