Improving Mental Health for Remote Workers
You set an alarm for 7.30 am, but wake up well before that because you’re anxious about all the household chores. You’re barely done with a few tasks when you get a Zoom call invite. Breakfast in hand, you rush to your laptop, hoping that you’ll be able to get in a few bites of food with the camera off. Halfway through your now-cold food, you’re asked to turn on your camera or contribute to the discussion. By mid-day, your brain is already exhausted with all the juggling and lack of proper nutrition.
Remote working has not been easy. Whether you’re living alone or with family, multitasking has become an integral part of quarantine. Amidst this chaos, our mental wellbeing has suffered the most as we barely get any time to ourselves. Employees are feeling increasingly overwhelmed by work, inching towards a burnout with each call, email, and unrealistic deadline.
Here are a few things HR leaders can do to improve the mental health of remote workers:
Offer flexible working hours
While it is important to foster mental wellness, one must know how to implement it well. To prevent employee burnout, organizations must offer flexible working hours, but not at the cost of efficiency or timelines. Set a realistic deadline for tasks and give employees the freedom do them at their own pace. Several employees are also looking after their kids or family, and having a flexible schedule gives them the mental space to breathe and organize their thoughts to work on those tasks.
However, they must also ensure that their mental peace doesn’t come at the cost of someone else’s. Hence, to avoid clashes, encourage team members to communicate internally and prioritize time-sensitive tasks, so nobody has to deal with an email at 10 pm with a frown on their face!
Involve your leaders
A Friday social or team lunch may be a mood booster, but for long-term impact, destigmatizing mental health in the workplace is extremely important. Working from home has posed unique challenges to our mental wellbeing, and can lead to a sense of loneliness if employees continue to stay in a bubble and don’t interact with their peers.
Leaders must take the first step by sharing their own stories and struggles with mental wellbeing. Seeing their leaders avail counselling services or attending mental wellbeing programs empowers others to come forward and seek help. Most importantly, it makes employees feel that they are not alone in this fight. Depression, stress, and anxiety are all serious mental health issues that, if not addressed, can lead to devastating consequences.
An HR official at a multinational financial services shares that most organizations have a very depersonalized approach to mental wellbeing. They just put out a helpline number instead of destigmatizing mental health in the workplace. Employees must be urged to seek help or be equipped with the necessary tools to understand if they are suffering from a mental illness. The source shares, “The stigma around mental health stops people from connecting and saying, “I’m suffering from the same problem as you, so let’s discuss this together.”
A one-off email about mental wellbeing is not enough. Whether your employees are working from home or the office, encourage them to prioritize their mental health. Use internal communication channels, standees in the cafeteria, and posters to spread awareness about your services and how employees can access them. Through a top-down approach and wellbeing champions, you can create a culture that supports mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Promote physical activity
There are days when you have a lot on your plate and the mounting stress manifests itself through physical symptoms like sweating, high blood pressure, loss of appetite or insomnia. Under stress, our body enters a fight or flight situation due to the release of stress hormone — cortisol. Physical activity relieves stress and is a great way to boost mood at work.
Staying glued to your seat and screens for long hours can strain your eyes, back and neck. While ergonomics is a step in the right direction, it won’t have much impact if you don’t take part in any physical activities to exercise your muscles. Organize ‘walk meetings’ to get work done while you walk around the house or in a park. Do simple eye and neck exercises to reduce any strain on them. Encourage employees to block some time for daily exercises or yoga.
Ask employees what they want
A senior management official at a health information technology and clinical research organization says, “Leaders must be cognizant of the fact that everyone has a different idea of wellbeing. So, there’s no point forcing employees to join a particular program because for them, that might not be the definition of wellbeing.” Instead of ticking boxes on your employee wellbeing programs, ask your employees what workplace wellbeing means to them. This well help HR leaders understand the kind of assistance their employees need.
Offer a wide range of activities that employees can pick from, to complement their wellbeing needs. While someone may look forward to Zumba or yoga sessions, another employee may be interested in meditation and mindfulness sessions. Instead of forcing employees to attend these programs to boost short-term engagement, understand their needs and create a workplace wellbeing plan accordingly.
Encourage taking personal time off
Until a few years ago, absenteeism was a huge problem as employees juggled between personal commitments and workplace stress. Though these two factors haven’t changed, the monster now is presenteeism, an enemy of the modern workplace. Causes for presenteeism range from financial insecurity to guilt over missing work, ultimately leading to poor mental and physical health. This is because while employees do come to work, they are not fully engaged, which lowers their productivity and the quality of their work.
Leaders must encourage taking personal time off, since employees fear ridicule or criticism while applying for leaves. More importantly, leaders must not ask employees to respond to emails or messages during this time, unless necessary. Having an open conversation about the same can go a long way in prompting employees to dedicate some time towards their mental wellbeing.
Say thank you
Two words — thank you. It hardly takes a second to utter these two words that are imbued with gratitude, appreciation and care. A lot can be said with these words, and yet most leaders and managers don’t. Thank your employees for their timely submissions and formidable spirit. It relieves workplace stress and makes them feel noticed and cared for.
Instead of sending a cursory email or message, thank them personally. A simple call or personalized email can really make their day. Something as simple as “Thank you for sending me this presentation on time. You’re a real lifesaver!” or “I really like your work ethic and dedication. Thank you for everything that you do”, can do wonders for their self-esteem and be a mood booster for them.