COVID–19: mental health and working at home in the UK
The mental health aspects of working at home, which can be linked to isolation without the presence of physical team members or managerial support is a key factor that should be considered by an employer on undertaking a risk assessment for home workers. This is currently all the more important when employees’ ability to socialise in and outside of work is restricted.
Employees will sometimes develop certain anxieties related to their working environment where support and contact from managers and colleagues is limited. Working at home for long periods of time can cause feelings of disconnection, isolation and abandonment, which in turn increases stress levels and effects an individual’s mental health. In addition, whilst working at home employees may be working in a restricted space, balancing caring for a member of the family and children who may require home schooling, which can cause added anxiety as well as stress in what is already a concerning time. How an employer can keep in contact with its employees is therefore a key consideration.
Minimising the risk
As part of its risk assessment for home workers, employers should consider putting in place procedures and processes to ensure regular contact with its employees as well as facilities to be able to recognise early signs of stress, with a view to putting in place immediate measures and steps as may be required.
Businesses may wish to educate managers in respect of the signs to look out for by ensuring that appropriate advice and channels are available to them - HSE guidance is a good starting point. In addition, employees should be reminded of the internal support that is open to them through any external employee assistance schemes.
Video conferencing through a variety of apps and video platforms can ensure continuing communication between a business employees. Daily check-ins, weekly team meetings, video tea breaks, quiz and cocktail nights are all ways to ensure an air of normality and presents a way for businesses to offer support to it employees. Although it is worth keeping in mind the importance of maintaining a balance and avoiding over-communication fatigue!
Working at home and flexible working has been show in some studies to lead to more productive and positive employees. However, as we have been in lock down for nearly two months, regular contact with employees becomes ever more important as the feelings of isolation and anxiety increase.
Employers have a continuing duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure that risk assessments are carried out for home workers and as part of that process consideration should be given to employees mental health. We are working in unprecedented times, in which businesses need to adapt to monitor and safeguard employees’ working at home health and safety just as much as before.