COVID-19: Tips for mental wellbeing whilst working from home

Out of sight, not out of mind – why supporting positive wellbeing for home working is everyone’s business

Once the stresses of transitioning to homeworking and getting the IT connected have been sorted, the first few days can seem quite novel and fun. However, given the broader, current context and the anxiety this brings, plus the uncertainties of how long home working will be necessary, that initial stage could well be short lived.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a number of points to help both employers, and fellow employees, spot some of the signs that colleagues might exhibit if they’re beginning to struggle with the situation and having a decline in their mental health.

What to look out for???

Changes in behaviour on video or conference calls including:

Being less prepared to contribute or engage

Being quieter

Being more agitated than usual.

Changes in their work patterns since they have been working from home including:

Being more difficult to get hold of

Increasing the level and type of communication and support they ask for.

Changes in the quality of their work since they have been working from home including:

Being unable to focus

Not completing tasks.

Struggling more than they did working from home initially:

In terms of making decisions

Getting organised

Struggling to find solutions to problems.

Appearing to be:

Tired or anxious

Losing interest in engaging with their manager

Losing interest in engaging with colleagues.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, and if people are showing signs of any of the above, it doesn’t necessarily point to them experiencing mental health problems, especially in the current environment, in which most of us might be feeling more anxious and perhaps less resilient than usual. However, if you pick up noticeable differences in behaviour since they have been working from home, that might be a sign they need a little more support.

So what can you do to help?

The first thing to understand is that you don’t need to be an expert on mental health. Often small, everyday day actions can make the biggest difference. So, here’s a few tips on ways you can help.

Simply asking at the start of a call “How are you?”

Then wait and just listen. Don’t jump in or offer solutions immediately. Other questions to ask could include:

“Is there anything you’re particularly worried about?”

“How are you coping with home schooling”,

“How are you finding working from home?”

The first step is to assure them they are not on their own and you are willing to listen and will understand.

People may want to talk about what they’re experiencing, or they may not

Just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important. As is making the time to talk on the phone, via a video link or app.

It’s also important to ask how you can help

People will want support at different times, and in different ways. So, ask what they would find most useful. For example:

If they would like more regular contact with their manager?

If they feel they need to hand back a specific task?

If they want to be part of a specific group chat with colleagues?

Leaders and managers opening up about their own situation and anxieties can help

Whether that’s worrying about elderly parents, or vulnerable friends and family, or home schooling pressures.

This encourages others to also be open and honest about what’s worrying them. And it can help create a sense of solidarity, acceptance and not being alone in their concerns.

Don’t judge

Off the cuff comments like ‘cheer up’, ‘get a grip’, ‘we’re all in the same boat’ won’t help.

If people are struggling it can impact on their self-esteem, so showing trust and respect will help them build their confidence.

So, give them the space and support to enable them to deliver, as achieving goals and accomplishing tasks can be a great way to build confidence and give them a lift.

Be patient

While you may be keen to understand and be able to help as soon as possible, it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves. But remember, it’s never too soon to ask them how they are.

Other useful ideas

More regular touchpoints

Regular, even daily, team video or conference calls that not only keep everyone on the same page, clear about what they should be doing, but also provide a sense of community

Regular one-to-ones

Line manager’s scheduling in regular one-to-one check-ins with team members that help assess how well they’re coping working from home, if they’re managing to stay productive and focused, if there’s any additional support they need, and also to provide some potentially much needed social support. Making time in these calls to do the social ‘small talk’ in addition to discussing business issues is also important.

Weekly ‘virtual hangouts’

Virtual pub quizzes, or sharing ideas across the team about how people are keeping themselves upbeat, how they’re structuring their days, learning something new, or fun activities they’re doing with their kids, are all being used by organisations to keep a sense of team.

These are often not focused on work-related topics, but on social engagement, wellbeing and a much needed sense of fun.

Paired buddies

Some companies are finding that linking team members to provide the opportunity for informal one-to-one support or communication between colleagues can help to alleviate the feeling they are ‘alone’. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will be members of the same team, but it will help if they know and trust each other. Having someone ‘allocated’ who you know you can chat to informally about both work, and non-work issues, outside of your line manager, can help you feel more able to download your feelings when you need to, and equally, offer support to one another when required.

Switching off

Working from your home environment when you’re not used to this might lead some of us to struggle to separate work from home life. It can mean we are less able to switch off and effectively disengage. With the lines more blurred about when we are and aren’t working, it’s helpful to encourage employees to think about how they will structure the hours they work, build in breaks and not fall prey to checking emails out of hours. You can provide advice and guidance on how to do this, but remember each person will have different pressures and responsibilities at home. So, providing flexibility and allowing them to take the lead on how this will work for them is likely to be the most effective way.

Furloughed employees
Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind

It’s critical that furloughed workers are not forgotten. This might be even more essential if only part of your workforce is furloughed. It’s important to communicate that those furloughed are in no way less valued or important than those who aren’t. That it’s the availability and type of work and how it can realistically be done, plus the individual situation of the company that has driven the decision.

Whether just some, or most of, your employees are furloughed, it’s important to keep them informed and updated about how the company is coping, any new steps that need to be taken and when and how those furloughed will return to work. Regular formal updates, even if there is little to say, will help people keep a sense of connection with their employer and keep anxieties at bay. If information is absent, people will fill the void, often drawing incorrect conclusions and sharing scare stories.

Some useful resources

There are also useful resources available. If you are a small or medium size business with under 250 employees, the mental health charity Mind offers free e-learning on ‘Mental Heath for small workplaces’ with three modules covering:

Building awareness

Looking after yourself

Supporting each other

To access and register to do this free online training

Click here

Charlie Waller Memorial trust

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, has also adapted its suggested ‘workplace wellbeing action plan’ so that it can be used for working from home. Suggesting your employees complete one of these could be useful in terms of helping them look after their own mental health and wellbeing, as well as enabling you to understand how they feel and what they need from you.

To download the action plan templates

Click here

Supporting wellbeing and mental health in your teams is of course the right thing to do, especially in these unprecedented times. But going the extra mile now will also give you the best possible chance of having a motivated, positive and committed workforce that is raring to go and in a good place when we get through to the other side. If you want your employees to look after your business now and in the future, then now is the time more than ever before to look after them.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content is purely our opinion based on being a business with a wealth of experience in dealing with people and getting a general insight into their lives and behaviour on a daily basis. Always seek the advice of your G.P. or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.