Workplaces and the workloads that come with them have a huge impact on our overall wellbeing, and an increasing number of businesses are starting to acknowledge their responsibility when it comes to keeping employees fit and well. While physical health and safety has long been a consideration of the average workplace, all-round wellbeing provisions which also encompass mental health are often overlooked.
Employers should be concerned with the health and wellness of their teams not just from a moral and legal perspective, but also because studies have shown that the happier and healthier your workforce, the more profitable the business becomes.
The remote working boom
In this day and age, ‘workplace’ is a flexible term, with companies of all sizes employing remote workers, contractors and freelance staff. A dynamic workforce can be of particular benefit for small businesses and startups, who have to balance their resources and personnel carefully. But working remotely can bring its own unique challenges, and it’s important that employers don’t forget about the health and wellbeing of employees that they don’t have regular face-to-face contact with.
The CIPD’s report on ‘mental health in the workplace’ revealed that 31% of respondents had experienced mental health problems whilst in employment. Of those, 95% of individuals said it had affected their performance at work – negatively impacting concentration, decision making and the time it took to complete tasks.
Other research has found that staff suffering from mental illnesses like depression are 131% more likely to have high presenteeism than their colleagues. This means that while they are still showing up for work, they aren’t working to the best of their ability or really able to fulfil their role.
More flexible working styles are increasingly seen as the norm, and it can be difficult to manage a remote workforce using traditional methods. Here are some key tips that every small business should note, to try and ensure that their staff are supported.
- Stay connected
The flexibility to work remotely is believed to have a positive impact on employee productivity, but for roles that have little to no contact time with the workplace, isolation can be a big issue.
To reduce the risk of staff members feeling isolated, managers should ensure that they keep some form of regular contact with their remote employees. This shouldn’t just be a daily phone call to keep a check on targets – if this was the only interaction you had with your office-based staff, it’s likely they’d feel distant too.
Having regular meetings or catch ups, whether in a physical location or via video chat, can help your remote employees to feel better connected. Encouraging teams to communicate through mediums like Google Hangouts or other chat services during their working day is also not to be overlooked, as it creates a sense of the kind of professional and social interaction you get during an ordinary day in the office.
If there are supervisors involved in managing remote staff members, ensure that they have regular contact with these employees to support and communicate effectively with them. Check-ins should serve the purpose of monitoring workloads and roadblocks, making sure that if staff are feeling pressured or stuck they are able to get support without delay.
- Engage employees with mental health awareness
As well as working to maintain regular contact, it’s also important that anyone who is responsible for supervising remote workers is able to recognise signs of stress, worry and anxiety, which remote working may aggravate.
Providing mental health training to your staff members, whether this be for a dedicated individual or for your workforce as a whole, is an effective way to make your business a more open and supportive place for any employee that may be struggling with poor mental health.
You may have a dedicated Mental Health First Aider, or simply have an open-door policy for anyone who needs to talk – whatever the tactic, try to engage the whole team with a culture of openness and awareness around mental health, whether they are in or out of the office.
A good way to keep people engaged is to request and use feedback; be proactive in finding out what people want and need, and what’s working or not working. This could be done via anonymous surveys or direct communication.
- Encourage exercise
We all know that taking regular exercise is good for our physical health, but it has been shown to have positive impacts on mental wellbeing too. Whether your employees are working at home or in-house, having a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative impact on overall wellbeing.
Consider implementing an employee wellness programme, where staff members have access to discounted gyms and health benefits. Or on a smaller budget, organising simple things like weekly walking meetings – either as a team or in the form of one-to-ones – is a great way to combine activity with mitigating the risk of isolation.
- Promote other healthy habits
One of the major benefits to working remotely is having flexibility in working hours and working locations. However, with total flexibility can come a noticeable and disconcerting lack of structure.
Even if your employee has is in full control of when, where and how they work, try to be clear on protocols around the frequency and lengths of rest breaks they should be taking. Remote workers often find themselves working longer hours, and it’s important that they’re getting enough rest to stay well and stay productive – and that they aren’t leaving themselves overworked.
It’s also worth encouraging people to get into healthy habits outside of their working lives, because while work and the workplace have a huge impact on overall wellbeing, even the healthiest attitude to a working day could be undermined by a personal life that lacks the same foundations.
- Offer access to meaningful mental health support
Even if your business is on top form when it comes to promoting the health and wellness of your staff members, the workplace is not the only factor in your employee’s lives that can cause them stress and exacerbate the symptoms of poor mental health.
Access to proper mental health support can boost staff morale and make employees feel valued. For smaller businesses this may feel like a costly endeavour, but consider whether something like a basic-level Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) could fit within your budget.
EAPs give people access to proper mental health support. While it’s great to encourage exercise and to offer simple wellbeing perks to boost morale, mental health issues should be taken seriously and supported with qualified help – such as easier, cheaper or free access to signposted support options like counselling services.
- Make provisions for physical health
Keeping tabs on staff health and safety can be difficult if your team aren’t in the office with you. However, it’s important to have clear expectations around physical health as well as mental health.
While safety guidelines around cleaning materials or manual handling may not be relevant to a remote worker, other parts of office life definitely are. Ergonomic keyboards, wrist-supporting mouse mats and other handy pieces of kit to minimise aches and pains are increasingly common features in the modern office – and remote workers should be extended the same provisions.
When it comes to managing the wellbeing of your remote workforce, out of sight cannot be allowed to mean out of mind. Whether you’re committed to a sense of moral obligation or not, case studies have found that investing in staff wellbeing reduces sickness absense and increases productivity. So even those leaders most motivated by overheads and profit margins can feel assured that an investment in wellbeing is a wise move.
A crucial step for any business is to identify the risks that remote employee health could or will face, and to mitigate these risks through training, communication and engagement