Richie Perera looks at how working from home affects our mental health and explains what companies should be doing to ensure the future of work in the UK is a win-win situation for employers and their staff.
We, as a nation, have been operating with a broken workforce; according to Deloitte, this has cost employers £45B a year and has been rising by £16B a year since 2016 in unpaid days off due to mental health issues.
This is contributing to the rich-poor divide that is getting bigger by the day in the UK and worldwide. In the UK, there can be 100 people applying to every low paid dead-end job, which has not helped this situation. Some employers have been exploiting this desperation in their workplace practices.
Over the last ten years, many organisations have abused that fact, such as Amazon, Just Eat, Uber and Sports Direct, to name a few.
The Next Generation: New Thinking and Different Perspectives
The future starts with the incumbent workforce and Gen Z presents an aspect all organisations must consider.
The oldest Gen Z-ers are around 24 years old and are entering the workforce after university. This generation holds things like mental health, wellbeing, gender equality, sustainability, green tech, the environment, and good work-life balance as top priorities.
A recent survey done by Aviva found that 47 per cent of current employees were less career-focused because of the pandemic. This could result from the pandemic putting their lives into perspective, making workers feel as if their work is not as important to them as it was before. Whatever it is, employers need to be mindful of it or risk losing almost half their existing workforce.
The issues that have arisen through the pandemic form new types of issues for HR and organisations.
Due to changing pandemic situations, managers and HR cannot use the same old frameworks as before the pandemic; they need a new approach.
Blended Working, Blended Hours and the Gender Divide
Speaking to and training numerous organisations post-pandemic, ranging from local businesses to multinationals worth billions, I have gathered that around 50 per cent of people like working from home, whilst the remaining 50 per cent hate it.
It depends on a number of factors, including job role, personality type, age, and current life circumstances, including children, home environment, current mental wellness, and gender.
I concluded that blended working, that is from both the office and from home, was the “happy place” for everyone.
Work-Life Balance and the Gender Issue
Blended working must also come with blended working hours. People must be free to start and finish earlier or later, depending on their circumstances, as long as it doesn't impact the team or the organisation detrimentally.
For an employee, it can have a huge positive impact on wellbeing and work-life balance, thus making them happier and more productive staff members. It can mean the difference between an employee staying with an organisation for ten years rather than one.
Another survey by Aviva found more men wanted to return to the office than women because women often had primary care roles with their children. There must be a strong focus on female employees, or we risk adding to the gender divide in the workplace, once again leaving women behind.
The Mental Health Continuum
Traditionally, we were expected to come into work, hang our jackets up and be a “professional” no matter what was going on in other aspects of our lives. This is no longer the case, especially when organisations have asked their employees to turn their homes into workplaces.
Mental health and wellbeing are fluid and on a continuum, meaning a person can go from being mentally well to experiencing mental health issues and everything in-between in any given year.
That will undoubtedly affect that person’s wellbeing, behaviour and productivity. A truly robust and people-focused organisation will understand that this is a natural consequence of the mental health continuum.
Avoiding Burnout and Legal Issues
Being forced to shift to remote working during the lockdown gave us the perfect platform to develop new strategies for this new normal. HR and businesses will need to move with that shift to get the best from their people.
Suppose an employee burns out due to not being provided training by their employer on how to have a good work-life balance, shut down after work, stay active, and what to do to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing while working from home. In that case, surely, the employer would be liable.
Employers should be purchasing all the correct equipment for people’s remote working environment. Training on how staff can better look after themselves physically and mentally should be provided. I feel that employers should purchase tables that allow for both sitting down and standing up work, and that they should contribute to electricity and internet bills.
Tracking systems should be put into place to ensure contracted hours are being met, and, more importantly, to prevent unsafe working practices, like working over-contracted hours and late into the evenings, all of which can lead to legality issues for the employer.
Aviva found that around two in five people said they could never switch off from work. “One result of this always-on, ever-present culture is that 40 per cent of employees are concerned about work-related burnout,” the insurer said.
If employers do not quickly put frameworks into place over the coming months, I suspect it will eventually lead to many legal claims and issues for employers. Employers need to remember that their responsibilities towards remote working employees are exactly the same as those of employees in the office environment.
The Problem With Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
EAPs are work-based intervention programs that assist employees in resolving personal issues that may be negatively impacting their performance. A person’s mental health and wellbeing are very personal to them, having been developed via their individual experiences of the world. This is why off the shelf or generic EAP solutions always lack engagement.
Many are shocked as to how much they didn’t know when it comes to their own mental health and wellbeing. This is why I always say mental health first aid is the foundation of any effective wellbeing framework.
To truly understand an organisation, it must be personalised and localised, department by department. This is departmental localisation.
Factors and variables can include age, financial situation, family situation, gender and generational divides, mental health, resilience levels, personality types, experience or lack of and many other factors associated with the people incumbent within a specific department. A truly effective EAP can only be built by talking to staff via a departmental localisation strategy. The information gathered provides a deep insight into where bottom-up and top-down needs and wants come together to find that all-important “happy place”.
I put departmental localisation into practice with two simple questions:
Write down three things your employer can do to help you with your wellbeing at work. This can be as personal as fixing a creaking chair, to more team meetings to iron out daily issues that arise. Make it personal to your job role and your day-to-day.
Write down three things you can do at work that can improve the wellbeing of others around you. This can be as personal as speaking with a person that has not been themselves lately, all the way to changes in company policy when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Information like this is usually gathered through external services, but it can also be collected via departmental localisation. Once the data is gathered and analysed, and changes are implemented, it can result in a happier workforce and a more people-focused, sustainable organisation.
The future of work is about establishing people practices that are built on a deep understanding of our human nature, our human psyche, and the needs and wants of an employee in both personal and professional spectrums.
Richie Perera is the Founder of Mental Health and Life and is passionate about mental health in the workplace. He's a strong believer that if we can get mental health right at work it will impact all other parts of our lives.
Richie has fifteen years experience as an Award Winning Company Director and Business Consultant, he is also an Expert Industry Consultant at Guidepoint Global, and is Chair of Judging Panel - International Business Excellence Awards (IBX) Dubai.
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