Mental Health Awareness Week highlights loneliness as one of the key themes and explores how to best support the mental health of employees who work remotely.
By Tanya Woolf, Head of Psychological Services at Onebright.
What steps can business leaders take in order to better support their workforce? Remote working has brought greater challenges, loneliness being one. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place Monday 9 to Sunday 15 May, this is a good time to raise awareness of these issues.
Remote working has presented challenges for companies of all sizes. Regardless of the size of a company, one thing that remains true is that fostering connection and camaraderie remains key to a healthy and productive working environment, especially with workforces more evenly split between the office and home. For those who need to work remotely, random office chats are missed out on, which can often result in a distinct feeling of loneliness and a struggle to maintain motivation at a distance.
This makes regular mental health check-ins more critical than ever before. When workers feel psychologically safe to express their emotions no matter where they are working from, it will help to set a cultural foundation that will encourage and motivate them to perform to the best of their ability, as well as creating a happier and more productive workplace culture.
This benefit the mental wellbeing of your workforce, and can also have a notable financial impact on your business. For every £1 spent supporting the mental health of your workers, you will get £5 back on your investment on average in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.
What signs of loneliness do I need to look out for?
Withdrawing from interaction
When an employee begins to withdraw from consistent interaction, this is the first clear sign that they are beginning to struggle, perhaps feeling isolated or lonely. If a remote worker suddenly stops offering suggestions or participating in goal setting, they might be feeling disconnected from the team.
If a usually dependable team member starts turning in sloppy work or begins missing deadlines when working remotely, this is another good indication that they may be beginning to experience difficulties, which may include feeling disconnected or lonely.
How can I best support my remote employees?
That first step that you can as an employer to help support the mental health of those working remotely is to put processes in place that facilitate meaningful, consistent communication. This can be difficult, given that it is unlikely that you will see every employee every day, especially those working remotely.
This is where signs of an employee struggling can fly under the radar for a long time. However, when managers can demonstrate their awareness and understanding of how commonplace conditions such as anxiety and depression can be, this can remove part of the stress of trying to hide the problem on those occasions when someone checks in. It may feel uncomfortable at first and even more unfamiliar in a virtual setting. Still, leaders who can talk about and show a broad spectrum of emotions are role models for healthy behaviours.
Mental health awareness training
Undertaking mental health awareness training will help to equip you with the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, their teams, and colleagues. As our working situations evolve, so do expectations of how employers should support their people. Employers who seek guidance from mental health experts are better able to meet the demands of the modern employee.
Mindfulness is a state of heightened awareness of yourself, your environment, and other people. Being mindful means you are very aware of your thoughts and feelings, but you do not react or judge them. One study has measured the relationship between mindfulness amongst management teams and their employees; it showed that as mindfulness increased, employee work-related stress improved work-life balance and enhanced engagement.
Online mental health therapy
Finally, with waiting times for public mental health services at an all-time high, business leaders should look to provide their workforces with the option of easily accessible, online mental health therapy services as a fast and efficient first step to help those who need support.
Recent studies have found that when combined with clinical care, online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can effectively treat depression, anxiety, and emotional distress, whilst many other studies have also demonstrated that online CBT is equally as effective at reducing the severity of depression symptoms as in-person CBT.