It is well known that work is good for mental well-being, but inadequate working conditions and an unsupportive environment can have a significantly negative impact on our psychological health, hindering our ability to perform well and remain productive.
Often a vicious cycle, the chief causes of work-based depression, stress and anxiety relate to the type of employment carried out, managerial contexts, employee skills, and the support they have available. Harassment and bullying, limited involvement in decision-making, inflexible working hours, and poor communication leading to unclear objectives also play a considerable role in harming people’s wellbeing; and that is in a typical year.
Regrettably, 2020 has been anything but typical and I suspect the ONS statistics of 1 in 7 people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, and 1 in 8 sickness days being linked to mental health conditions will increase in the wake of furlough schemes, home-schooling, cancelled holidays, self-quarantine, redundancies, lockdown, and a raft of people being forced to work from home.
Everyone’s experience will be different, with the impact depending upon the industry you work in, the role you have, and your circumstances. One certain thing, however, is that the new challenges we continue to face will create new pressure for people at a time when achieving a healthy work-life balance has become much more of a blur.
It is in times like these when employers must step up. Whilst also a very difficult time for many businesses, companies have a duty of care to do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health and wellbeing.
Organisations need to quickly adopt new processes and technology across their business, as well as investing to ensure people have the right working space, particularly at home. This means completing risk assessments and providing the resources people need, rather than assuming they can safely work remotely.
Creating a culture where people can talk openly about mental health is also important, as problems are less likely to build up, reducing time off and improving morale. Training and support to raise awareness of the commonality of the issue, with well-documented action plans in place to support anyone with mental health concerns will also help to ensure people feel supported when they are not feeling great.
With so many people working from home, falling team comradery is another obvious weakness, indicating leaders should be encouraging their teams to carry on collaborating regardless of where they are based, coming together regularly to share ideas, stay in touch and feel included in the wider operational side of the business.
When speaking to clients and candidates, the majority of people are now searching for a mixture of office-based and home working which, if done well, can offer an opportunity for people to plan their work around their personal needs. This not only supports mental well-being but often leads to improved productivity and loyalty.
In an always-on world, it has never been more important to find a positively balanced ‘work-life integration’. It’s a continuous work in progress and I for one have a lot to learn in terms of creating a distinction between being on and off the clock; something I suspect I’m not alone in right now.
What I have found, however, is that it is often the little things that make the biggest difference to how I feel. So, whether it’s reducing pressure by simply allowing yourself or your team the time to complete their weekly life ‘errands’, or recognising the right time to encourage a friend, family member, or colleague to take their foot off the gas before they burnout, the difference we can all make will be enormous if we simply remember to speak out, take time to listen to others, and be kind to each other and ourselves.