Can remote working affect your employee’s mental health?

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Managing employees’ mental health is an important issue for employers as recent figures show UK businesses lose £100m every year due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. There is a risk that these issues could develop more frequently amongst staff who are tasked with working remotely, as these individuals may typically find themselves separated from the same communication channels and support mechanisms that are afforded to on-site staff.

Before working to address the impact mental ill health can have on staff, employers must ensure their workforce are educated on the matter. Many choose to use workplace inductions as an opportunity to educate employees, ensuring new starters are made aware of your approach to the matter and that they will have the organisations support should they experience any issues in the future.

Due to their responsibility of overseeing the work of a group of individuals, line managers often act as the first line of defence against mental ill health at work. As such these individuals should be trained in spotting the various signs of stress, depression and anxiety, whilst making sure they feel confident discussing these issues with affected employees. Although it may be harder to spot the warning signs in remote workers due to the lack of physical interaction, managers should be alert to employees who begin to miss deadlines or become generally less responsive, both of which could be early indicators of a mental health issue.

With the above in mind, it is important that employers stay in regular communication with remote workers in order to assess whether they are struggling with any mental health related problems. Holding regular telephone calls offers an opportunity to discover how remote workers are handling current workloads, whilst individuals should be invited into the office for catch-up meetings wherever possible. Importantly this will allow you to build up a sense of familiarity and rapport which will make remote workers more likely to confide in you with any problems they are experiencing.

Cultivating a positive company culture has long been proven to reduce the occurrence of mental health issues as work. However, due to the nature of remote work these individuals may feel isolated from the rest of the organisation. As such you should make concerted efforts to include remote workers, whether that is by including them in group emails or inviting them to join team meetings remotely via conference call. Inclusion efforts should extend to out-of-work activities, ensuring remote workers are invited to team social events and holiday parties which can help boost morale and foster a sense of camaraderie between colleagues.

Employers need to ensure that they do not take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to managing the mental health of remote workers. The task of working remotely, isolated from the rest of the organisation, can be particularly taxing for many and appropriate provisions must be put in place to ensure these individuals are supported.

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About David Price

David Price is CEO for Health Assured: the UK and Ireland’s most trusted health and wellbeing network. He advises employers daily on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, whilst outlining best practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress. David also speaks regularly to the press and media on mental health issues with his commentary profiled on SKY News, BBC and a regular contributor to Financial Adviser from the Financial Times.

David’s career has always centred on the development and wellbeing of employees. Before joining Peninsula, David spent several years in the senior management team at a leading national training provider, which helped more than 78,000 UK businesses start up. He has also worked for the Department for Work and Pensions and is a long standing member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

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