Katrina Cheverton is CEO of Savannah Group and her background in finance rather than recruitment makes her unusual as a leader in this industry but gives her the skills required to help her own organisation thrive, as well as solving problems for clients. She drives and supports transformation and innovative solutions, ensuring Savannah is at the forefront of the changing world of work.
Hybrid working (a mixture of home and office working) is the new normal. But what’s the impact on mental health and how do we make sure our teams function well and thrive in a very different type of workplace? Since hybrid working affects every individual and organisation in a different way, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
Pros: flexibility, getting more work done and feeling in control
The obvious advantage of hybrid working on mental health is the flexibility it brings. You can work when it suits you and you’re much more able to maintain important personal connections, for example by being in closer contact with your family, as well as making time for exercise or getting out into nature.
Also, most of us actually get more work done and focus better at home. There’s less time wasted, as there’s no need to travel to the office Instead, you can organise your week for the best work-life balance and highest productivity. Getting things done makes you feel more positive.
Hybrid working allows us to feel more in control. If you’re struggling with your mental health and can’t tolerate being in the office and facing other people, you don’t have to. When you’re having a bad day, you can stay home, work from there and manage your own time.
Cons: less contact with colleagues and extra pressure
The main disadvantage of hybrid working is that you have less contact with other people, with the risk of loneliness and isolation. Interacting with colleagues is extremely important to thrive and grow as a person. You’re building connections, relationships, a peer group, and by doing this, adding value to yourself and your career. People learn from each other, which is really tricky on your own. It’s important for different departments and functions to mix with people they wouldn’t work with every day. Although you might meet the same few colleagues every Tuesday, it might be better if you’d also mix with those working on Mondays or Wednesdays.
Hybrid working can add pressure as well. When working from home, the children might expect you to chauffeur them around and the electrician might want you to turn the power off. However, you’re working, so no, you can’t do all these things. There’s an expectation gap, which puts extra pressure on the hybrid worker and can lead to more stress.
The journey towards a mentally healthy hybrid workplace
As a leader, how can you deal with the impact of hybrid working on mental health and manage the needs of your business and your employees’? Before, rules were clear and everyone was either in, or out of the office. Not having everybody in the same place Monday to Friday creates an unsettling feeling. Who’s in today and can we spontaneously resolve an issue with those people, how to we get hold of those at home, are they available? What if someone can’t tolerate coming into work? How can we update colleagues who aren’t physically present?
The truth is, we haven’t yet figured out how to best work in a hybrid way. There’s no need to rush though. It took many years to get to the stage where it was OK for people to work from home one day a week and then we went straight into lockdown with everyone working from home all the time. The current situation will evolve. This is a steppingstone on the journey towards creating a mentally healthy hybrid workplace, not the end result.
Tips for a supportive workplace: talk, listen and learn – not just with HR
To deal with mental health issues and hybrid working it’s essential to have an open dialogue. Talking to people and really understanding their situation makes an extraordinary difference. Perhaps the two days you’d like them to be in the office aren’t enough. Or maybe they’re too much. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable to say things aren’t working for them. Only through conversation you can find what works best – both for the business and the individuals working there.
Nowadays, people are more open about their mental health challenges, which is a great thing. However, how do you react when someone tells you they’re bipolar or suffer from a depression? What do you do with that information? That’s where mental health first aid training can help. It allows colleagues to spot problems early on and provides co-workers with more appropriate responses than ‘I’m really sorry for you’.
With growing awareness and training, workplaces have become much more accepting and accommodating of mental health challenges. This is a big shift in the right direction. Previously, if you had a problem, you could only talk to HR whereas peer support is extremely valuable. Everybody in the organisation needs to be able to support their co-workers. Talking about mental wellbeing is essential: just a colleague saying you look a bit stressed can make a big difference, whether it’s done in person or during a Zoom meeting. Being aware of how hybrid working is affecting your teams is the first step to reducing the impact it has on mental health and performance, then you can start to implement changes that benefit the whole organisation.