A client was telling me recently that her employees were struggling with the remote working arrangements at her company. On the surface it had been an overnight success but, four months down the line, the initial novelty was giving way to frustration.
“Flexible working works, until someone is forced to do it,” said Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology at the Alliance Manchester Business School and President of the CIPD, in a recent interview with Management Today.
Indeed there is evidence that there was a rise in presenteeism during lockdown, driven in part by redundancy fears.
Cooper thinks that the issues companies are experiencing signal a need for greater interpersonal skills, with managers acting as coaches and mental first aiders.
Here are some tips on how to manage employee mental health remotely:
Show, don’t tell
Take the lead with routine and personal wellbeing by developing good habits around self-care. It’s tempting for people to overwork when they’re unencumbered by the daily commute and the office is in the next room. But such behaviours ultimately lead to stress and burn out. Leaders need to set the example and show clear boundaries in their lives.
Reduce the stigma
Talking about mental health is still incredibly difficult for many of us, so take the opportunity to open up the conversation. It might seem obvious, but there is a correct way to approach a conversation about mental health, and there are things to avoid saying or doing. Make sure your managers/employees know this, are able to recognise the signs when someone is struggling, and have the skills and confidence to check in on others.
Setting the tone and giving people the space to talk can take the form of weekly one-on-one team leader chats as well as group discussions.
Stay on top of policy guidance
Let’s face it, we’re overwhelmed with guidance at the moment, so it’s really important our leaders spend the time to ensure their employees know how and where to get help if they need it. This includes working-from-home policies and best practices, who the mental health first aiders are, and other wellbeing support available to them.
Be heart-to-heart and head-to-head
It’s hard not to feel stressed and insecure at the moment. That’s why senior leaders need to help reassure people as much as they can by being open, transparent and clear. Good communication is not only about general discussions and head-to-head conversations, it’s about having heart-to-heart talks as well.
Workplaces are not just about work
Friendships are often initiated at work over “micro-moments” such as a coffee machine, the kitchen area or the chance encounter in a corridor. Professor Pamela Qualter, a specialist in loneliness, thinks managers need to bring that spark of serendipity back by using virtual spaces for non-work related activities too. Some companies organise regular cultural activities such as virtual coffee mornings, group dance-offs, hat days or online cooking to foster a collective spirit. These need to be more frequent than previous face-to-face activities, and in time can be incorporated into hybrid activities, mixing face-to-face with virtual experiences.
Draw up a wellness action plan
Everyone has mental health and you don’t need to have a mental health problem to feel the benefits of support when you are not feeling great. Creating a guide or WAP is a way of putting in place simple and practical steps to ensure people feel supported when they’re struggling, the charity Mind has developed free templates for managers and employees.
Share WFH hacks and tips
One of the great things about working with others is sharing collective experiences, backgrounds and lifestyles. Use this as a way of getting tips and advice from each other on how to best manage WFH. Some companies have parents groups and they meet regularly to discuss what works and what doesn’t.
Set up a thread, WhatsApp group or group discussion and start sharing hacks on WFH. This might even include reviewing how to measure the KPIs associated with wellbeing. Around two fifths of employers use measures such as return-to-work times, incidence of mental ill-health/stress and the take up of employee assistance programmes. Do you need to bring in new ones relating to WFH?
Take some training on managing for mental health
Research by the Chartered Management Institute has shown that half of surveyed managers (49%) have never received any training on managing mental health problems. Training builds resilience among individuals and improves their confidence when it comes to tackling issues around wellbeing and mental health.
Recognising the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of employees is vital to a business’s longer-term success, avoiding the potentially costly problems of presenteeism and absenteeism.
If you’d like to know more about our training programmes on mental health and wellbeing, please contact us.