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.
What to look out for???
Changes in behaviour on video or conference calls including:
Being less prepared to contribute or engage
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
Looking after yourself
To access and register to do this free online training
To download the action plan templates