Mental health and well-being support
While homeworking can boost staff well-being by offering flexibility and freedom, it can also bring about some challenges. Typically, working from home involves lone working for the majority of the day and can risk blurring the lines between work life and home life. These can create feelings of loneliness and isolation if not managed proactively. Managers have a duty to take care of staff welfare and well-being.
40% of NHS workers have mental health conditions (almost twice rate among the general population) and at least 19% never plan to talk to anyone about it.
Managers have a direct impact on the staff in their team. Being able to proactively support them with the demands and pressures faced can help them to perform at their best. The impact of COVID-19 has taken a toll on the well-being and mental resilience of many people. Talking, supporting and prioritising well-being can help to ensure staff feel supported and engaged in the workplace. This in turn helps to reduce absence and increase productivity and performance.
It is important that managers recognise some of the risk factors of homeworking for staff and look at effective strategies that could be implemented to reduce any negative impact on mental well-being.
Work changes and the impact on well-being
It is important to recognise that these are just some examples of the impact that homeworking may have on well-being, and this is not an exhaustive list. Additionally, not all will apply to every staff member.
- Reduction in ease of social interaction and communication between colleagues can lead to increased feelings of isolation for some staff
- Reduction in visibility means that staff can sometimes feel "out of sight, out of mind", especially when they have been excluded from critical conversations or key updates
- Increased anxiety can be caused by feeling that they are seen by colleagues on-site as "just being at home", especially when work contributions are not recognised
- Blurring boundaries between work and home can result in some staff struggling to switch off at the end of the working day. This can lead to increased working hours and risk of burn-out
- Changing from working on-site to working at home can mean that normal routines are disrupted, which can impact on sleeping, eating and exercise habits. All of these have an impact on well-being
- Staff working from home can often put unrealistic expectations on themselves of what can be achieved within the working day, resulting in increased stress levels
- Reduction in the social cues to take a break, can lead to staff becoming more sedentary and not taking proper breaks
Signs to look out for
One of the most important things for managers is to know their staff. By understanding individual circumstances and behaviours, it becomes easier to identify any changes to enable conversations to take place sooner.
Signs to look out for as a manager can include:
- changes in usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
- changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
- not joining in with team meetings or catch ups, or not turning the webcam on for virtual meetings, when previously they did
- increased absence levels
- appearing more withdrawn
Prioritising well-being of homeworkers
Give mental health and well-being valuable airtime
Talking about mental health and well-being is critical to eliminating the stigma that exists within the workplace. Managers can achieve this through talking about and sharing your own experiences or through taking time to build these conversations into team meetings and 1:1s with staff. By opening up these types of conversations it can help staff to feel comfortable to highlight if they are struggling. The earlier conversations are started, the quicker support can be implemented.
Create social opportunities
Talk to staff about what they are doing in the evening or weekends. Throughout COVID-19 some staff have become very isolated and anxious about accessing their usual sources of support outside of work. Talking about this can normalise it and rebalance their overall well-being.
Take time to build in the social conversations that would often take place within the office. Consider things such as virtual coffees, water cooler moments or team huddles to enable staff to communicate with each other regularly and connect on things other than just work tasks. In addition, make sure that when undertaking 1:1s with staff you make time for social communication. This will help build your understanding of how your staff are and enable early intervention if you spot signs that staff are struggling.
Encourage healthy habits
Just because we are all in the same storm, does not mean that we are all in the same boat. Individual circumstances can significantly influence how much resilience a member of staff might have.
It can be easy when working from home for staff to become more sedentary or mindlessly snack.
Managers should consider whether they can encourage healthy habits within the team through creating challenges such as measuring steps throughout the day, healthy bake offs or sharing what each team member does to look after their health and well-being.
Understand individual circumstances
Mental health and well-being is unique to each individual. Understanding and knowing your staff will help you to identify when they might be struggling or are in need of additional help.
There is disparity in what people might struggle with and when they can and cannot cope. It is important to remove assumptions and treat each person on an individual level.
Encourage a positive work/life balance
Communicate with your staff about the importance of unplugging and maintaining a healthy work life balance.
It is important to actively encourage staff to:
- take regular breaks, which can include setting diary reminders to to move and stretch and/or signal the end of the day. When working from home the normal social cues that happen in the office are missing. Encourage staff to have a break from the computer screen to make a drink, go for a walk etc. Regular breaks help to increase well-being and productivity
- turn off phone notifications for the evening. Support staff to set clear endpoints to the working day to enable them to be able to switch to home life and resting
- diarise when they are and are not available so other staff know when to communicate. It can be easy to forget staff working hours when they are not next to you. Ensuring that staff communicate with each other around when they are available can help to ensure that feelings of being "constantly on" or available are reduced
Establish a structure
Remember, no one size fits all. Some staff will value regular and constant check-ins, while others will feel that they are not being trusted to do their work. Talk to your staff and understand what will work best for both them and you.
Take time to talk to your staff about scheduling of 1:1s, check-ins, team meetings, work priorities and expectations. In addition, let staff know how and when to contact you and/or access support.
These types of conversations can often happen by osmosis in the office. Therefore it is important to schedule time for these discussions to enable clarity and direction for staff. This helps to reduce feelings of uncertainty and stress for staff.
Show your appreciation
When working at home, it can be difficult to visualise the impact being made, so recognising and showing appreciation of work is important.
Just saying thank you can boost morale and help staff feel a sense of purpose with the work being completed.
Ask staff how they are
When asking staff how they are, it is important to recognise that the standard response will often be "yes, I’m fine", so give consideration to different ways of asking this question. For example, try asking "What’s on your mind" or "How are you feeling out of 10?" (people can often find it easier to give something a numerical value). Most importantly, when asking how staff are, make sure you listen to the responses given.
Research found that during COVID-19, 40% of staff had not been asked how they were by their organisation. Take time during 1:1s, phone calls or meetings to ask staff how they are.
It is also important to agree when your staff will be available for work, taking into consideration the need for flexibility.
Consider if there are core hours in which staff need to be available, or whether they can manage their own hours providing deadlines and outputs are met.
Enabling flexibility on when work is done allows staff to work when they are at their most productive and supports them to undertake both work and caring commitments.
Gain feedback from your staff
Encourage feedback from staff about what might improve their experience and make them feel more engaged or supported. Knowing that their opinion matters helps staff feel involved and listened to.
Encourage staff to utilise support tools
Finally as a manager, it is important to be aligned with all the support available for staff and encourage them to access and use it.
The Trust provides a number of tools to support staff with health and wellbeing. Take time to familiarise yourself with and use them when required.
Most importantly, if you are struggling always ask for help. Working from home is a new experience for many staff and can take time to adjust to a different way of working.
Staff counselling service (QEHB)
Tel: 0121 371 7170 (08:30 – 16:30, Monday to Friday)
Staff counselling service (Good Hope, Heartlands and Solihull hospitals)
Tel: 0121 424 7001 (08:30 – 16:30, Monday to Friday)
Employee Assistance Programme
Tel: 08000 305 182
NHS national well-being support line
Tel: 0330 131 7000 (07:00 – 23:00, seven days a week)
Text: 85258 (24 hours a day, seven days a week)
Psychological self-help apps
The following apps are all available for free for NHS staff until Thursday 31 December 2020:
Tel: ext. 17612