Wednesday 24 February 2021

Managing a flexible workplace culture

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything it’s that a flexible workplace isn’t only possible, but it is in fact, necessary. Many businesses realised the benefits of providing flexible working a long time ago and have therefore become accustomed to how this can be achieved. However, for those companies that are only now experiencing the structure of a flexible workplace, they may require some assistance to do so successfully.

The benefits of a flexible workforce

During the pandemic, we were advised to work from home if we could and businesses were encouraged to ensure their employees had this option if feasible. The fact that many jobs can be conducted from home has revealed how flexibility and homeworking can have both positive and negative outcomes.

The positive impact of a flexibility

  • Single parents are less likely to require childcare if they have the option to work from home, rather than in an office or other relevant workplace. This can help alleviate some of the stresses that are associated with juggling parenthood and full time employment. 
  • Employees with dependents such as elderly or ill parents can continue to work while caring for their dependents.
  • Workers with ongoing health conditions could find it easier to work from home rather than have their illness exacerbated by daily commutes or inappropriate work environments.
  • Flexibility promotes a culture of care which makes employees feel respected and valued which, in turn, has a positive effect on their mental wellbeing, thereby promoting workplace productivity. A review of productivity figures by HSBC revealed that flexible working is an incentive for increased productivity. 
  • Being flexible in terms of part-time and home working increases the talent pool to individuals who couldn’t access roles because of their personal circumstances.

The negative impact of working from home

Although flexibility has its perks for both the employer and employee, working from home full-time can have a negative effect on staff:
  • Loneliness – without the interaction with fellow work colleagues, homeworkers can feel lonely, isolated, and excluded.
  • Isolation can lead to mental health difficulties – prolonged isolation has been linked to depression, impaired function, sleep deprivation, and even impaired immunity.
  • Stress caused by the need to prove yourself – some people may feel pressured to increase their workload or targets because they are no longer working in the office. This can lead to working longer hours and not taking breaks in an attempt to prove yourself.
  • Expectation of working even when ill – this expectation may be self-inflicted or come from employers.

Successfully managing a flexible workforce

It is important to create a healthy, flexible culture that meets the needs of the individual and the entire workforce to ensure mental wellbeing is not affected.
  • Allow flexible working hours to accommodate employees with dependents or with health issues that require shorter working hours and flexible days to accommodate medical appointments. This can release the pressure employees feel from trying to cram everything into a set time period. Less stress decreases the likelihood of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
  • Make your expectations clear from the outset and encourage communication regarding workload. Clear guidance gives employees confidence that what they are achieving is what is expected, and it can prevent anxiety or feelings of underachievement.
  • Organise online social opportunities for those working from home. This can also include weekly online meetings where teams can get together to discuss projects and ongoing work. Isolated working can lead to depression and loneliness so regular socialisation, even virtually, can help prevent this.
  • Emphasise the need for homeworkers to take breaks rather than work through their lunch hour. Breaks are essential to ensure employees don't suffer from burnout which can lead to stress in the long term.
  • Encourage discussions about mental health and make employees aware of places they can get support such as their GP and other health care professionals. Open discussions about mental health take away the stigma that is often associated with these kinds of difficulties. By approaching mental wellbeing right at the start there is a decreased chance that these problems will develop into more serious symptoms.

If you or your employees are struggling with the impact of working from home, you may benefit from a KeepWell Working From Home MOT, which has been designed to focus on the wellbeing and mental health needs of those working from home. Find out more about this service here >

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Keeping workplace stress under control

Stress can differ depending on the workplace and the individual role of an employee. Some stress can be conducive to good results in that it can help with focus and concentration. However, if an employee is continuously placed in stressful situations or is finding their workload or work environment stressful, their mental health can be affected. Discover how both employees and managers can take steps to ensure workplace stress is handled effectively and kept under control. 

Common causes of stress in the workplace

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the rate of work-related stress, anxiety and depression has increased in recent years. Work-related stress can be attributed to:

  • Extended hours – working for long hours without any sensible breaks for rest, food, and sleep can cause extreme tiredness which will result in stress and depression.
  • A heavy workload – when work isn’t distributed properly, and one person takes on more work than they can manage, it can become a huge burden that creates feelings of desperation and anxiety.
  • Disorganised management – It can be confusing and stressful to deal with inconsistent management or not be given proper instructions or direction.
  • Personal problems – if an employee has problems in their personal life these can impact on their productivity and concentration which will ultimately lead to stressful situations.
  • Bullying – Bullying in the workplace can have a huge effect on a person’s mental wellbeing, causing them to feel sad, lonely, and depressed. 
  • Lack of autonomy – if employees are micro-managed, they may feel undermined and not trusted. 

What are the effects of stress?

Stress is the body's way of reacting to situations that could cause us harm. When we feel stressed, we immediately release chemicals into our blood stream which increase our blood pressure, heart rate and rate of breathing and cause our muscles to tighten. This is known as the 'fight or flight' response. In the short term, these changes allow us to face the stressor head on ('fight') on or run away ('flight'). However, if we are exposed to long-term stress, the stress chemicals remain in our blood stream over long periods and as a result we may find it difficult to relax; want to avoid other people; feel low in energy; and experience headaches, insomnia, and loss of libido. We may even become more susceptible to colds and infections. Those who are exposed to ongoing stress may feel pessimistic about their life and those around them and may experience a loss or increase in appetite, increased alcohol or drug use, and could develop habits such as nail-biting and fidgeting.

Even one or just some of these symptoms of stress can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. In a report by NCBI, long term stress has even been cited as a possible cause of some personality disorders.

How to successfully manage workplace stress

  • Treat employees as individuals and establish their personal needs. This can be ascertained via regular meetings and by informing employees that they can approach you with any concerns or needs they may have.
  • Allow for a two-way conversation during meetings so you can establish what changes, if any, need to be made in the workplace. Invite employees to provide feedback and suggestions on current work practices and potential improvements. 
  • Make it clear that bullying and discrimination will not be tolerated in the workplace and that there can be extreme disciplinary consequences should an employee be guilty of either. Encourage staff to speak with their supervisors or other relevant management should they experience bullying or discrimination. 
  • If an employee feels overwhelmed by their workload, help them organise their time better by breaking down tasks into manageable chunks and by allocating realistic deadlines for each task.
  • Redistribute work should an employee's current workload be too much for them to handle.
  • Staff may feel anxious if they are required to finish work within a set time frame. Determine whether a flexible working week would be better for their situation. This could include some days working from home and shorter hours in the office to accommodate appointments and other commitments.
  • Provide access to resources that will help employees deal with stress such as the NHS MInd Matters service.