Whether employees are being brought back into the workplace, still working from home, or doing a combination of both, the mental health and wellbeing effects of loneliness and isolation will need to be a priority for many employers in the coming months. The mantra for our ‘new normal’ will need to be ‘out of sight, front of mind’, argues Malcolm Tullett.
For many of us, working life as we knew it may never return to the pre-Covid ‘normal’ and a new, different workplace will need to be navigated.
Organisations adapted and prioritised how to manage their businesses and staff, both on site and remotely. Many individuals may have enjoyed (or endured) nearly 18 months of working at home. Limited contact with work teams has been virtual and probably lacked most of the social interactions and banter which exist in the workplace.
Depending on the personality of staff members, some have thrived and enjoyed remote working. No commuting, no need to make ‘polite conversation’, less unnecessary interruptions and being able to get stuck into the task in hand often at the crack of dawn or late at night. Perfect for early birds and night owls!
However, most of us are sociable beings who need interaction with others, an imposed work routine, and being able to get out of the home. Remote working has been both challenging, and in some cases damaging. Existing mental health issues may have been exacerbated whilst anxiety and depression have significantly impacted on individuals for the first time.
Managing both scenarios to ensure staff wellbeing will require time, empathy and skill from senior managers and occupational health teams. There will be ‘no size fits all’ and consistent and well- planned staff communications and monitoring will be needed to put care with a big ‘C’ into the duty of care role and responsibilities.
Need for emotional intelligence
Failure to do this could result in costly employment and discrimination claims. Putting additional support and processes in place and adopting an ‘out of sight, front of mind’ approach might be a prudent and important strategy for organisations.
The wellbeing of remote workers will not be effectively managed by endless tick boxing questionnaires. Emotional intelligence will be much in demand in senior staff and being alert to changes in a member of staff’s productivity or personality and investigating further will need to be built into the normal workload.
Line managers may well need additional training to ensure they have the right skills and methods to effectively support the wellbeing of their teams whilst also protecting staff performance and productivity for the business.
More money might be needed in the training budget to help staff adapt or take on additional or different roles and tasks. Now could be the crucial time to review processes and introduce a more intuitive and empathic care management system.
Keeping focused on loneliness and isolation
Whilst it may seem ‘safer’ to keep some staff working from home to avoid exposure to possible Covid infection, that should not be the sole or top consideration.
Individual staff needs and circumstances need to be considered alongside data and external factors and should not exclude a manager’s own gut feeling.
If an employee ‘seems’ to be different or acting ‘out of character’ then this could be a red flag that something isn’t quite right. If a member of staff starts to be absent or not online for prolonged periods don’t ignore it.
Prepare and perhaps seek additional expertise for any virtual meeting or phone calls. Ensure that any questions you want answered are presented in a way that don’t breach any laws or cause unnecessary upset.
Making ‘out of sight, front of mind’ the new way of working will ensure managers and occupational health teams show real care in their duty of care to staff.”
Prior to Covid, loneliness and isolation were recognised as contributors to mental health issues such as depression and often attributed to older people.
Covid restrictions have shown that isolation and loneliness can hit anyone irrespective of age and circumstances and that it will certainly impact on staff efficiency and productivity, not to mention possible increases in lost working days.
It is important that staff feel comfortable in asking for help and feel safe in admitting any mental health issues. It is essential that any illness does not impact, alienate or discriminate on a member of staff or see them overlooked for promotion or put at the top of a possible redundancy list.
Making ‘out of sight, front of mind’ the new way of working will ensure managers and occupational health teams show real care in their duty of care to staff.