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.
Remote working started for many as a way to get through the pandemic. It has fast developed into an expected benefit and, for some, become a necessary lifestyle change.
With any switch in working practice, to be successful you must adapt and, with new rules of engagement, managers and leaders have been forced to reassess their style. Trust in people and flexibility has come to the fore, with different protocols and technology put in place to improve operational efficiencies.
Positively, some companies have thrived amongst the chaos, remaining busy and continuing to grow their teams. At the same time, however, redundancies have been widespread, with others spending long periods of uncertainty furloughed and away from their colleagues.
Whatever your scenario, one certain thing is that everything needs to be re-examined, including the way we recruit and, particularly, how we welcome new people into our business.
When managed in the right way, virtual recruitment has the potential to become a very powerful tool. Coupled with the opportunity to work from home, it offers unique opportunities to widen the talent pool and, with geography no longer a barrier, could also give companies the chance to tackle gaps in diversity.
Whether in race, ethnicity, age, or parental status, a comprehensive remote recruitment plan will give you the capability to attract people you simply could not find before.
When hiring from afar, one thing to note is that your timeline may extend beyond the norm. Put simply, it takes longer to get to know someone online, but the need for more time does not mean you should ever succumb to the pressure to compromise.
Start your planning by mapping out a new series of interview stages, putting in place realistic timelines. This may include a stage focused purely on technical competency, dedicated to culture fit, or even a call with some of the prospective new team. Whatever you choose, throughout the process you should also test each person on their use of multiple communication platforms, so you know they are au fait with technology, as this is critical to a remote role.
Making job advertisements more specific is now also important. Too often adverts are written to appeal to everyone and, while vague may sometimes work, you need to be thorough and engaging. If home-working is preferred, share your expectations and show your flexibility.
Softer skills – self-motivation, decisiveness, communication, and time management – are critical, so define a string of interview questions that will dive deeper into these areas.
When you find the right person, my advice would be to begin onboarding straight away. The most difficult aspect for anyone working remotely is to indoctrinate themselves in the company culture. Make sure you provide information about this, the team they are joining, and projects they will be working on.
Preparation is key to making people feel welcome, so test their IT systems ahead of time. Consider giving them access leading up to their start date, this will not only iron out any problems but also help them to get used to the technology.
Once they have begun, make sure you check-in regularly, letting them know exactly what is expected from them each day, as well as sharing who it is they need to ask if they require support, or have any questions.
Encourage video calls with their new colleagues, organise virtual coffee breaks for the team to learn a bit more about each other, maybe even offer them a ‘buddy’ from your team to mentor them in the early days.
With more than two-thirds of people now favouring some form of remote working, while it doesn’t require big changes, it does require a shift in mindset. Given everything that is going on right now, if you want to recruit and retain the best people, then moving with the times is a necessity.
At the start of 2020, the number of people working in the UK reached a record high of just over 32.5 million.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, 1 million businesses have taken advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme, leading to 9.3 million people being told that their job is reliant upon salary support until a solution can be found. That is more than one in every four people.
As the furlough scheme phases out, it feels as though we are standing on the edge of a precipice. The employment market is facing a crisis unlike any we have seen in a very long time.
If not already, businesses will soon be forced to make some very difficult decisions as they begin to plan and rebuild for the future. There will be tough times ahead for many, and it is going to be critical that you strike the right balance between consolidation and aspiration to succeed.
As a recruiter, it pains me to talk about job cuts, but with a swift ‘V’ shaped economic bounce-back unlikely, the first question that needs to be asked is whether or not you can you manage with fewer people in your team?
Contrary to this – and on a more positive note – there may also be new areas of specialism for your business, or skills and training you lack but now need to drive things forward.
Equally as important is making sure that your team emerges from lockdown as motivated and committed as ever. If they have been furloughed, do you know how do they feel about returning to work? If they worked throughout the epidemic, do they need time off to recharge their batteries before they go again?
Whatever their situation, the last few months will have been difficult for different people in different ways. As a leader and manager, make sure you take time to reflect on their behaviour at an individual level. It will teach you an awful lot about their character, and knowing who you can count on in a crisis is a hugely important lesson to learn.
As time goes by and feeling safe enough to come into work becomes less of an obstacle, the biggest question is going to be around new models of working.
Their looks set to be a huge uplift in demand for flexible and home working. It has been increasingly popular during the last few years, but now seems to be an expected norm for many people. Can you accommodate these new demands in your business, and do you even know what people would prefer to do going forward?
I suggest counselling opinion. What flexibility do staff want or need and, if they are going to work from home permanently, do they have the right equipment and space to do this? There may be new health and safety aspects to consider.
You may also need to adjust to a new way of recruiting. Changing needs, coupled with higher unemployment, and softer skills becoming an essential requirement for the majority of roles (i.e. communication and self-motivation), means it may be time to review your strategy. Not to mention adopt new technologies to video interview and conduct virtual onboarding.
All in all, I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been a pretty dreadful year, to the point where it has forced almost every business in the world to adapt and change the way they operate.
Whether you believe this is a temporary disruption or will lead to permanent change, we need to face the challenge head-on and, hopefully, if we can ask ourselves the right questions and surround ourselves with the right people, we can start to plan our recovery without delay.