Working From Home And Mental Health: A Manager’s Guide

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way many of us work is something of an understatement.

In April 2020, almost 50 per cent of employed people undertook at least some of their work at home. 86 per cent of those did so directly because of the restrictions put in place in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Initially for many, as the first national lockdown was put in force, the idea of working from home was a novelty, perhaps for some even a realised dream. But there was no knowing that it would go on for such a long time and that in some cases, it would become pretty much permanent.

Working from home is not everyone’s ideal. Some have found it a challenge to adapt, especially with so many other significant lifestyle changes to get used to, and with childcare and home schooling making the whole thing a tricky balancing act in some cases.

One of the most talked about issues amongst the new home working generation is isolation. The absence of a physical support network, combined with a lack of direct motivation, can together form a recipe for stress and anxiety.

For employers or managers of home working staff, the situation can also prove difficult. There is a great deal of responsibility involved in making sure staff are working safely, as well as ensuring they remain supported, motivated and connected. There are practical, work-related needs to consider, as well as mental and physical well-being.

If you are finding it a challenge to manage and support home working staff, you are by no means alone. Thankfully, there is a variety of resources and advice on offer to help you. Because it is important to recognise that whilst your homeworkers need support, you do too.

How to prevent feelings of isolation amongst home workers

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the greatest difficulties faced by home working employees is isolation. Staff may feel out of the loop, uninvolved and perhaps even unimportant. This is all bad for self-esteem and morale, which can directly impact upon productivity. It can also lead to anxiety and other mental health related problems.

With this in mind, here are some practical tips for employers and managers looking for ways to maintain a connected workforce and ensure staff feel supported.

Put a support system in place

Employees will benefit from knowing there is an open line of communication, where they can ask for support and advice just the same as when they are in the workplace.

It really helps to set up a check-in schedule where you speak to certain members of staff at set times. Not only does this help staff have a focus point for communication, it also helps you manage your own time.

Whilst it’s vital for you to be available to your team, it is also important that you have time to get your own work done and that you can share your time equally amongst everyone. If you are not feeling like you’re on top of things, then it won’t be possible for you to help others. Always remember that your own mental health is just as important as everyone else’s.

Hold regular team meetings

People who are used to working in teams will be accustomed to a feeling of connection. It is helpful therefore to try to find ways of maintaining this feeling.

Virtual meeting tools like Zoom or Teams make it possible to get everyone ‘together’ face to face, so make use of them as much as you can. Schedule regular meetings so there is something for everyone to look forward to, and seek ways to make the virtual get-togethers more engaging and fun. You could for example invite guests to host a motivational talk, or even introduce something extra-curricular such as a desk workout or a ‘healthy lunch of the week’ spot. It’s all about helping staff feel valued and part of something, rather than alone and isolated.

Show understanding

When people feel anxious or overwhelmed, they can quickly become demotivated. Such feelings are known to be common amongst homeworkers, especially during times of lockdown, and even more so when there is no set end date in sight.

Demonstrating empathy and understanding of such feelings is so important when managing home working staff. Whilst it’s important for staff to know they can get advice on work-related matters, it’s also good for them to feel they have somewhere to turn when other, more personal things are playing on their minds.

The effects of isolation and loneliness can be significant. It is therefore essential to be able to show team members that you understand. So, even if there is no need for a work-related check-in, try to make time for a general catch-up every so often.

Always be aware that loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health problems. Look out therefore for any behaviour or personality changes, as these could indicate that an individual is finding it difficult to cope.

Maintain motivation through training and development

Just because everyone is working from home, doesn’t mean their training and development programmes need to go on hold. If they do, it could lead to staff feeling worthless.

There are many ways to deliver training virtually, and it’s a good way to take people’s minds off their worries too, with something to focus on and goals to work towards.

Share helpful resources

There are lots of resources available on the subject of working from home which could prove useful for your staff.

It is also helpful to direct people to professional support where you feel that a more qualified level of assistance is required. There may be professional assistance available through your organisation’s healthcare plan, or you could signpost individuals to other relevant healthcare sources.

A staff newsletter is a great way to keep everyone connected, engaged and up to date with what’s happening in the organisation, plus it’s a great platform for sharing resources and helpful advice. Inviting contributions will help people feel valued and involved.

Promote the benefits of a Wellness Action Plan

If you are looking for ways to encourage staff to take control of their own well-being then one idea is to encourage them to set up a Wellness Action Plan (WAP).

A WAP is a useful tool that can help staff identify what keeps them well, and what affects their mental health. It is a personalised, practical tool that employees can either keep private, or share with a manager or someone else they trust.

Sharing WAPs with colleagues can promote openness and understanding, as well as promote a supportive environment.

Useful resources for employers and managers of home workers

Here we have brought together a selection of helpful resources suitable both for homeworkers and their managers:

Mind guide for line managers and supervisors looking to introduce WAPs

Acas guide to working from home

HSE guide to protecting home workers

CIPD remote working top tips

Coronavirus and work tips from Mind staff

Managing the well-being of remote workers – a podcast from CIPD

Mental health and insurance cover

Here to help

Please always be assured that team RG is here to support you through the pandemic situation. If you have any questions, you are welcome to get in touch with your regular contact.