Boost productivity: Support the mental health of employees working remotely
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental health is becoming well-known. In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 40 percent of American adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression due to pandemic-related stressors. Social isolation, job loss, added parenting stress and general upheaval can all explain the added pressure.
There may be one change that many people wouldn’t expect to have a negative impact: working from home. Indeed, individuals have responded differently to the shift from the corporate office to the home office, especially as it relates to workplace culture. For companies to remain and become even more productive, management is learning the importance of supporting employee mental health.
However, how do we do that for a workforce that works remotely? Such a task may sound daunting, but there are steps organizations can take to promote their remote employees’ health and wellbeing.
Why the transition is difficult for some
While many people enjoy the absence of a commute and the general flexibility of working from home, others have had more trouble with the transition. There are the obvious stressors of remote working: home schooling children; blurred lines between work and personal time; competing for work space with a partner or roommate; and more. Some people miss the socialization that the workplace offers.
There have been company culture changes as well for some people making the transition to working from home. Not surprisingly, employees who normally worked onsite were three times more likely to say company culture had worsened compared to those people who already worked remotely, according to a survey of 1,000 people working from home. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said that remote work has made collaboration harder, and more than half reported the pandemic has strained their relationships with coworkers.
Offer mental health resources to support remote workers
Asking employees what we can do to support their mental health is the best way to find out what they want and need. Respondents to the survey of 1,000 employees working remotely said that offering mental health resources is a top way to support mental wellbeing.
Mental health resources come in many forms, such as online resources and mental health as a covered benefit. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are another option that offers ease and convenience at no cost to the employee. There is an opportunity to improve EAP utilization, which averages below 10 percent. Employee perception of confidentiality is one concern, but another issue is that companies tend not to promote all of the benefits an EAP program can provide. Below are some suggestions to turn that trend around.
- Include program information in new employee orientation.
- Ensure that your managers are educated on the benefits of your EAP so they can recommend it to employees. Also, ensure managers know they can reach out for support when dealing with a troubled employee.
- Maintain the program’s visibility through an ongoing promotional campaign. Distribute educational materials to remind employees and their families of resources available.
- Have your EAP host topical webinars that are interesting and engaging to your employees.
- Reduce the stigma around accessing mental health support by highlighting other EAP services, such as work/life resources or legal and financial planning etc.
- Post information about how to access EAP services on the company intranet and other companywide modes of communication.
Additional ways to support remote workers’ mental health
There are corporate policy and culture changes that employers can make to help support employee mental health. Suggestions include:
- Encourage your employees to take their paid time off (PTO). It’s one thing to provide your employees with PTO, but urging them to take it is going the extra mile. With working from home blurring the lines between personal and professional life, it’s easier for employees to work more hours. Encourage your employees to take time off and ensure that their workload allows them to do so.
- Promote mental health days. We tend to view “sick days” as those days allotted for taking time off due to physical health reasons, such as the flu. However, we need to broaden that meaning to include mental health if we are going to meaningfully address employee overall health and wellbeing. If someone says they need a “mental health day”, your managers should take that seriously.
- Ensure that your managers check in with their employees. Working remotely doesn’t mean that there can’t be regular check-ins to see how employees are doing. Because office or cubicle drop-ins may no longer be an option, managers need to be proactive about touching base. Such check-ins are even more meaningful if they’re separate from regular work meetings.
- Organize virtual health activities. Many companies organize health activities at work, ranging from onsite WW (Weight Watchers) meetings to scheduled group walks during a lunch hour. Some of these activities can be done virtually as a group, such as scheduling times for the entire team to take regular walks from their respective homes. Consider setting distance or time goals to motivate employees.
For many organizations, the future of how employees will be working – remotely or onsite – remains to be seen. Regardless of the outcome, it’s smart to prepare for what may be a permanent change in workplace culture. Preparing to support the mental health of remote workers is arguably the most important initiative of all.