Protecting Remote Working Staff’s Mental Health

Protecting Remote Working Staff’s Mental Health

Remote working for prolonged periods during the coronavirus pandemic can have a negative impact on your employees' mental health. Here's what you can do to help

By Brendan Street

On Monday, the Government announced that all UK citizens should avoid non-essential travel and contact with others to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Boris Johnson also suggested people should work from home where possible as part of a range of new measures to delay the spread of the virus. However, it's important to consider how this may impact the mental health of your remote working staff. In light of this, Brendan Street shares some of the findings from Nuffield Health's latest whitepaper: The effects of remote working on stress, wellbeing and productivity.

Mental health and remote workers

According to Nuffield Health's whitepaper, mental health issues could develop more frequently amongst remote workers, as they may find themselves separated from communication channels and support mechanisms. However, there are three main steps that employers can take to support their staff’s mental health while remote working:

1. Communication

Make sure that company health protocols are clear. It's vital to support your remote working staff by keeping them in the loop with regular video conference calls and updates on how your company is adapting in line with government guidance and best practice to prevent the spread of the virus. 

This means keeping staff informed of the steps you’re taking as a company and what to do if staff begin to feel unwell. It's also important to ensure you have appropriate policies in place such as secure remote working

Younger, or less experienced, employees may need more regular communication to feel supported. Build out your engagement strategy by assessing how different demographics want to be communicated with. The most obvious answer for many modern employees is mobile. People are on their phones most of the time, so getting company updates on their devices ensures they’re receiving your communication on the right platform.

2. Boundaries

When it comes to remote working, it can be easier for employees to work longer hours and take less breaks to get more work done. Again, this can have a negative impact on the mental and physical health of your staff.

To prevent this, make sure you keep work communication within employees’ official hours and encourage them to work within this timeframe too. Trust between the manager and the employee is vital for remote working to succeed for both sides. There must be regular communication with the manager and wider team, with agreements on set times employees will be contactable and ways they can contact their line manager so they don’t feel isolated.

Set hours should be reviewed regularly in this time of uncertainty and shared calendars can help employees feel more structured and know when to ‘clock off’.

3. Interventions

Many employees are going to experience symptoms of distress and anxiety as the virus reaches its peak. In addition to this, home working can negatively impact the process of adapting to significant sources of stress or trauma. This can all amalgamate to negatively impact the mental health of employees.

It’s important to provide employees with coping mechanisms and to create a range of personalized interventions to meet the needs of your remote workforce and effectively reduce stress and burnout.

Highlight existing workplace offerings like employee assistance programmes (EAPs) which offer direct, confidential contact with counsellors and mental health experts. Consider inviting an expert to give a virtual company talk on general coping mechanisms for anxiety. This may help those who are worried about speaking to managers or employers about their fears.

Remember, your employees are probably worried about a whole host of other issues at this time, so it's important to lessen the burden and provide them with the emotional support that they need while remote working.

About the Author

Brendan is the Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health. He has over 25 years of experience treating mental health problems in the NHS and private sector. Brendan is a BABCP Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Supervisor, fully qualified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) practitioner, and NMC registered Mental Health Nurse.