How to look after your mental health when working from home

Working from home has many advantages, but there are potential mental health risks.

Our guest blogger, Jo Lake, MD of Jo Lake HR, offers her tips on how to look after the wellbeing of home workers.

#homeworking #remoteworking

The global pandemic has brought about much uncertainty and change. One key change that lock-down brought for many employees was the overnight transition to working from home. Not just for the odd day here and there but as the ‘new normal’.

For many, I’m sure, there was the initial delight at avoiding the commute to work and the worry about parking, as well as having a flexible schedule, being able to get up later and even staying in PJs. For some, these delights will still outweigh any negatives of working from home. However, for others, the last few months of working from home may have had some significant and negative effects on their mental health.

What are some potential impacts on mental health when working from home?

  • Work stresses are not ‘left at work’  they remain in your home and it can feel as if you are on call 24/7.
  • The pressure of always being available can lead to burnout.
  • The reality of trying to balance family and home life with working life resulting in unrealistic expectations across all areas.
  • The stress of working around the home with no specific work-station. Work documents can be left in a multitude of places throughout the home which can be frustrating.
  • The social isolation and loss of confidence.
  • The impact of less exercise on both physical and mental health.

All of the above factors can have a negative impact on mental health of home workers. With reduced office capacities, many employees are still facing extended periods working away from the office. It is down to individual employees and the employers to ensure that remote working does not do any long term damage.

What can individual employees do to safeguard their mental health and make working from home a positive experience?

  • Designate a workspace or create an at-home office if possible.
  • Keep to a routine: find the routine and schedule that works for you and your job – and stick to it where possible.
  • Don’t neglect basic self care: you may think that ‘diving straight into work’ is best because you can (no commute). but consider taking some exercise, eating nutritional breakfast etc. before starting work.
  • Throughout your working day, check in with yourself and take regular breaks, ideally getting a bit of fresh air and get up out of the chair.
  • Find ways to fully disconnect from work. This is even more important when work life and home life are blended together.
  • Find time for your hobbies and take time out for you.
  • If you do find yourself struggling with depression or mood changes, you should find tools that you can work into your day to help, whether that’s talking with a therapist, physical exercise like yoga, writing in a journal, or meditation.
  • Maintain your social ties. Find ways to connect with people in new ways. Set aside time to chat with a friend and/or attend networking events (even if remotely).

What can employers do to safeguard the mental health of remote workers?

There are a range of different approaches that employers can take to safeguard their employees’ mental health and to focus on each individual’s well-being, which will ultimately have the benefits of keeping them motivated, well engaged and ready to return to the workplace when offices do get back to regular opening.

Some ideas include:

  • Regular communication to the whole company about what the company is doing, e.g. work related; achievements; risk management and plans to reopen offices; how Government guidance is being met; more informal news about other employees etc. This could be via a weekly email or a regular newsletter.
  • Reminders to line managers that their role has a key responsibility for keeping in touch with their team members and to ensure that regular 1-1s are still taking place and recorded. During 1-1s managers can discuss how the employee is managing their time and check if they are sticking to their set hours for completing tasks and sticking to it!
  • Line managers to ensure that they talk to their team members about how they are managing their work time with reminders about being ‘boundaried’ and switching off mobiles, laptops etc. at the end of a working day.
  • HR/Line managers to check that individuals working from home ideally have an appropriate space to work (e.g. desk, suitable chair, working area) and if necessary to undertake a workstation assessment to avoid neck, back, wrist pain now or in the future.
  • Remind employees about keeping their wellbeing a priority, encourage fitness, taking regular breaks. Consider introducing a company-wide wellbeing hour that employees can take.
  • If individuals remain furloughed, remember to include them in the regular communications
  • If a company doesn’t already have an online HR system, consider using BreatheHR, who provide HR services for Harvey John. It is an online HR system that will help making managing employees who are working from home easier.

Transition to remote working can be tricky at the best of times but whilst in a pandemic home working can add more stress or confusion to an employee’s life and result in negative mental health impacts.

Now, more than ever it is crucial for employers to find ways to maintain their employees well being and encourage each individual to make working from home a success.

You can contact Jo Lake via LinkedIn or on 07754 876824.

Jo provides HR advice to SMEs (focusing largely on the charity/voluntary sector). Through Jo, you can access a three month 20% discount for BreatheHR.

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