If you were with me last time, you’ll know I’m writing about the problems of mental health, specifically work-related stress. However, one of the things about the coronavirus crisis is that it has led to new ways in which we can get uptight and worried. On the plus side, the stigma that used to accompany talking about mental health issues is rapidly dissipating and we are now much more likely to open up than our parents’ generation could – or would. That said, with increasing numbers working from home there are additional pressures that can cause people problems.
Firstly, and obviously for those who are entirely on their own, there is the problem of isolation. Human beings are social animals and studies have shown that one of the things people miss most about being in their offices is the banter and interaction with their colleagues.
Secondly, it can be easy to be distracted if you are working from home. If you have a family and there is home schooling required then that’s distraction enough for some, but there is also the temptation to watch Netflix or binge on coffee or social media. This can, perversely, lead some to try to catch up by working into the night, which is not a good way to get a good night’s sleep.
Relationships can become strained at home. Having not seen your spouse or partner during daylight hours for many years, some will find that their relationship goes off track. The stress that causes is obvious, and it does, of course, impinge on a person’s ability to work. In the worst case scenario, this descends into domestic abuse, something which we know is rising during the period of lockdown.
For those used to the structure of an office-based working day, the lack of routine can be an issue. To combat this, (external) managers need to agree and establish new, flexible routines which are reviewed regularly to make sure they are working for everyone concerned.
Managers also need to consider how to use technology more efficiently to enable communication with home-based workers. Zoom seems ubiquitous now, but others will also come into the space (Facebook, Microsoft and Google are striving to capture some of Zoom’s market). Have regular, all-team briefings and make sure everyone is involved.
Communication with those working from home may be made simpler by using technology, but remember my comment about us being social animals: managers should pick up the phone to ask not just about business issues but also to enquire sincerely about how their colleagues are feeling. Don’t just say you care: show you care!
Use colleagues to mentor and encourage anyone who is finding it difficult. Encourage your teams to stay connected, perhaps via a WhatsApp group, but don’t just set up groups and then forget about them. Make sure that if someone is not participating it’s not because they are stressed or worried in some way.
Finally, it is increasingly clear that many people are dying due to causes that are related to the shutdown in the economy, including many with existing health issues who are not being treated. This too is a huge cause of stress for anyone with (or with relatives or friends with), say health problems. Keep your eyes and ears open for colleagues who may have background concerns that are not directly related to work and, if necessary, cut them some slack but also make sure they receive support – professional/medical support if need be.
Julie Downie, Accounts Manager, M&S Accountancy & Taxation