Portugal has introduced new rules aimed at protecting the wellbeing of remote workers. Gosia Bowling looks at what organisations in the UK might consider implementing in order to support those continuing to work from home.
Last week, the Portuguese government announced new measures to improve work-life balance for its people. With a rise in remote working post-pandemic taking its toll on the mental health of overworked and burnt-out employees, Portugal has rolled out new rules. These include fines for employers who contact employees outside of their office hours and obliging businesses to help pay for additional remote working expenses, like increasing home utility costs.
How can UK employers follow suit and play their role in supporting the emotional wellbeing of the remote workforce?
Remote working can often cause working from home “guilt”, with employees increasing their working hours to compensate for the “benefit” of home working. Individuals feel they are expected to be “always on”, and as a result, work additional hours and feel inclined to check their emails into the evening.
Managers have a responsibility to outline remote working expectations clearly to ease these worries. They should let individuals know they aren’t expected to work longer hours just because they’re not commuting.
However, some industries may require employees to occasionally be “on-call”. In this case, more specific policies around answering out-of-hours emails may be required, customised to the type of work each team carries out. For example, employers may discourage sending emails at weekends and outline clear guidelines on what constitutes an emergency and requires an immediate response.
Remote working can provide key emotional wellbeing benefits, for example allowing employees to spend more time with family or exercising in daylight hours. As individuals adopt flexible working patterns that suit them – for example working into the evening to accommodate the morning school run – team leaders should reiterate that employees shouldn’t feel pressured to reply to emails out of their individual hours and encourage them to switch devices off after work.
It’s important to remember, though, that no one wellbeing intervention suits everyone, and support should be tailored to individual staff members. Employers should take the time to make sure flexible arrangements work for the individual.
Remote workers’ wellbeing
This should begin with assessing their working environment. Do they have an ergonomic working set-up and if not, can you support them with equipment to make home-working a sustainable option? This may also include providing a laptop, so you’re not adding financial pressures.
It is also important to provide support throughout the remote working arrangement. Let employees know you’re free to chat to if they feel stressed or point them towards a mental health champion.
Similarly, instead of simply placing blanket limits on technology, businesses should personalise their wellness offerings to the needs of individuals. This means working out what suits your workforce, identifying staff at higher risk of stress or distress and coordinating the right emotional support.
Emotional wellbeing support can be seamlessly adapted to meet the needs of remote workers and it’s up to employers to signpost them. This may include providing access to employee assistance programmes or remote cognitive behavioural therapy, which provide direct telephone access to a mental health specialist. These sessions allow individuals to speak with a psychotherapist who can help individuals to understand and address unhelpful behaviour and thinking patterns, reduce distress and increase productivity.
Emotional wellbeing support can be seamlessly adapted to meet the needs of remote workers and it’s up to employers to signpost them.”
Supporting healthier sleeping habits
The blurring of boundaries between work and home created by remote working can often lead to widespread sleep difficulties among employees. Many are using their bedrooms for work related activities. “Bedmin” – doing work admin in bed – is on the rise, with many employees working right up until bedtime.
Blurring the boundaries of what our bedrooms are intended for often leads to poor-quality sleep. This is turn may lead to reduced ability to concentrate and negatively impacted work performance.
Sleep is vital to our health, with inadequate or poor-quality sleep linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, plus mental ill health, including anxiety and depression, and an increased propensity to burn out.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to a negative feedback loop. You feel less productive and then try to catch up by working longer and therefore get less sleep.
Sleep should, therefore, be a key focus for employers. Educating employees about good sleep habits should be seen as important as supporting employees to exercise more, eat healthily or stop smoking.
This should include avoiding working in bed and keeping it for sleep only, as well as creating a nightly routine that prepares the body for sleep. For example, having a bath, listening to relaxing music and avoiding using a mobile phone in bed before attempting to sleep.
Although the UK might not have rules in place to protect remote workers in the same way as Portugal, organisations can voluntarily introduce their own policies and support for home workers to help prevent stress and burnout.