The last few months has seen us endure monumental changes to our work and lifestyles. First, we heard about a deadly new disease that may or may not spread to the UK, then cases of the coronavirus started quickly spreading, then shortly after that, talk of a UK-wide lockdown. Before long working from home became the new normal and leaving the house, even for essentials, felt risky. Now, nearly two months after lockdown began, we’re seeing early signs of a society trying to get back on its feet.
Surrounded by so much fear, it’s no wonder that many people are suffering with anxiety, stress and depression. Last week, The Guardian reported that a mental illness crisis could be looming, accelerated by isolation, physical illness and the death of loved ones.
Even before COVID-19 hit, mental health was a big issue for businesses, just a quick scroll through the MIND website brings up some eye-opening statistics:
- More than one in five employees had called in sick to avoid workplace stress
- 14% of people had resigned and 42% had considered resigning over workplace stress
- 30% disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
- 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve employee wellbeing but they don’t feel that they have the right training or guidance
Back in February, I wrote an article for Insurance Business about the importance of mental health in the workplace, little did I know that soon the “workplace” would look very different to us all.
In that piece, I wrote about some of the challenges faced by remote workers, adding that in a 2019 survey by Buffer, a global social media branding company, 49% of remote workers stated that their biggest struggle was wellness-related and within that, 22% couldn’t unplug from work and 8% couldn’t stay motivated. Supporting colleagues when they are visible in the office is one thing, but helping home workers is quite a different challenge, and one made more complicated by the fact that we’re all in largely the same position.
When it comes to supporting homeworkers during this difficult time, I firmly believe that communication, honesty, flexibility and trust must be the foundation of maintaining a successful (and healthy) balance.
We must keep talking to our employees and colleagues, it’s easy to become even more isolated when you’re in your own socially distant bubble but luckily we have the tools to bring us together remotely, and we must ensure we’re using them for both work and leisure.
It’s also important to understand the difference between working from home and, working in the home. Whilst some of us I’m sure have our own office and a quiet space to work without noise and distractions, for many, that simply isn’t possible. I know lots of people juggling their work with childcare and home schooling, children are not great respecters of the 9-5 shift! Employers must allow some flexibility in their procedures to recognise that the “standard” day may not be possible for some anymore.
Though NHS mental health services in the UK may be struggling to cope with an increase in people needing help, I still believe it’s important to talk. Many businesses offer free employee assistance programmes which I would recommend utilising if that support is offered, and never underestimate the importance of just reaching out to ask someone if they’re ok.
Mental health is a tricky subject, and right now businesses and individuals are facing their biggest challenge yet, but this mental health week I’d like to remind everyone to not lose focus on their own mental health, even as we tentatively return to the workplace over the coming months. There is support out there for people and I would encourage everyone to engage.
Ben Busfield 21/05/2020