Mental Wellbeing and Hybrid Working
Following 10th October’s Mental Health at Work day this blog focusses on mental wellbeing at work. This first part looks at how employers can support their employees with maintaining positive mental health while hybrid working. The second part will be released next week with a focus on financial wellbeing, which can have a significant effect on people’s mental wellbeing.
How Can Employers Improve Mental Wellbeing for Hybrid and Home Working Employees?
Since the Covid pandemic, many social sector organisations have retained some elements of flexible working which were implemented during Government imposed restrictions, the most common being hybrid working where employees work partly from the workplace and partly from home. Where this model suits your business needs this can be a great way of allowing people to enjoy advantages of homeworking, while at the same time being in the workplace in regular intervals to ensure team cohesion.
45% of people surveyed by the Royal Society for Public Health found that their mental health improved because of homeworking. However, 29% of people in the same study said that homeworking caused a decline in their mental health. There are multiple causes for this, including a loss of connection between colleagues, lack of a dedicated home office, reduced exercise, and an inability to switch off from work. During the pandemic, a poll of 3000 people by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that nearly 50% of people longed for office time due to feelings of loneliness.
These issues are not just the employee’s problem, especially if they are caused or exacerbated by working practices, employees who suffer from poor mental health are typically less engaged, less productive, and less motivated to do their role well, potentially impacting on your service delivery.
Hybrid working, where appropriate, can be a good option solving the social issue to a large degree. However, both home and hybrid working remain a mixed bag of positive and negative effects.
How Can Employers Improve Mental Wellbeing for Hybrid and Home Working Employees?
The negative effects for hybrid or remote working can be mitigated with a bit of work, so here are 3 things you can do to help those working from home, even on a hybrid model.
1) Keep regular contact with your team
This sounds obvious, but as most of us know, contact points are reduced when we are not working in the same building. To tackle the loneliness and a lack of social interaction, it is important that we find suitable alternatives. Options may be available le such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc which allows for managers and employees to stay in touch via chat and video call.
Make sure to have a regular schedule of team meetings, particularly on days when employees will be in the workplace, to ensure that colleagues have contact with each other. Where meetings are digital, a meaningful and effective tactic is to start the meeting with a question that is not work related but is meant to start a social conversation for 5-10 minutes to stimulate staff and release those dopamine and serotonin to ensure colleagues feel happy and are attentive for the remainder of the meeting.
2) Encourage people to follow a routine when working from home
Encourage employees to set a routine and stick to their working hours to maintain a work/life balance. Studies by Microsoft found that people working from home were logged in for longer and did more evening work, indicating that the border between work and life is increasingly blurred when working from home.
If employees cannot shut off from work it can have serious consequences on their stress levels. By setting clear parameters you are not restricting staff but supporting them to look after their own mental health.
Breaks are equally important but are often a victim of home working. Employees working from home are more likely to continue to work without having proper breaks and not leaving the house. Encourage people to take a walk outside or sit in their garden during dedicated breaks. An effective way of doing this is by setting up a channel in your Teams or Slack account and ask people to share pictures from the outside (such as Autumn colours).
3) Promote healthy living
Unlike a workplace kitchen, which is often sparsely stocked with instant coffee and the odd biscuit, the home kitchen is often fully stocked with food and drinks providing the opportunity to have a quick snack or an extra coffee. Add that to the reduction in exercise and you have a perfect recipe for a decline in physical. Poor physical health can have an impact on the ability to concentrate and work, but worse, can affect someone’s mental health in the long term.
Although employers cannot tell people how to live, you could encourage employees to take more regular exercise. For those employers who want to be creative, you could organise Pilates or Yoga events over Zoom/Teams where employees can opt in to join an instructor for a few minutes each week to get some movement in their bodies (and clear the mind if you can include mindfulness).
To conclude, home and hybrid working are great options as they provide many benefits to both employee and employer. However, it must be well managed to ensure that the benefits can be reaped.
The following resources may assist you in helping employees where there may be issues with poor or declining mental health. Employers should remember that they are in most cases not medical experts, so if you do get stuck or do not know what to do, you could refer the employee to an Occupational Health provider to seek medical advice on how you can support the employee.
Mind Wellness Action Plan for Employers – https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5761/mind-guide-for-line-managers-wellness-action-plans_final.pdf
Mind Wellness Action Plan for Employees – https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5760/mind-guide-for-employees-wellness-action-plans_final.pdf
Mental Health at Work – https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/
Acas guide on supporting mental health at work – https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/
HSE guide on dealing with stress (free tool for up to 50 employees) – https://books.hse.gov.uk/article/654091/Stress-Indicator-Tool/Free-Stress-Indicator-Tool
The Effect of Money Worries on Mental Wellbeing At Work
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), wages in the UK have seen an on average 5.2% rise, but due to the rise in cost of living, wages fell in real terms by 2.8%. Ever since late 2021, inflation has been on the rise, and it does not seem to stop any time soon. With energy bills increasing over 200% compared to last year many people, especially at the lower end of earnings, are wondering how they will survive financially over the coming months and potential years as levels of debt increase. This worry will undoubtedly effect people’s mental wellbeing as money worries is one of the leading causes of stress (work is the second one).
People with money concerns may bring those concerns and stresses into the workplace, which could result in them being less engaged and motivated as they are partially focussed on solving their financial concerns. Therefore, employers can benefit from supporting staff with their financial wellbeing to ensure they have less stress in their lives due to money concerns, but also, be more productive and engaged with their work.
What can you do as an employer to help your employees who are worried about money?
Signpost employees to money advise and debt relief services
There are organisations that can provide free to access guidance and support on managing personal finances. Signposting employees to support, such as those organisations listed below could be helpful:
- Money Helper (previously the Money Advice Service), initiative by Money and Pensions Service (UK government)
- The Money Advice Trust also operates the National Debtline
If you provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for your staff you may find that this includes access to financial wellbeing training, guidance and debt support.
Consider salary advance options
The BBC reported on 7 November that millions of people in the UK have little to no savings to deal with unexpected financial emergencies such as the breaking down of a car or a utility within their house. Having a lifeline available to deal with those emergencies can help employees and one way an employer can assist is by allowing staff to ask for salary advances. Employers should be cautious on how this is done to ensure the employee does not end in debt with the employer.
One way of doing this is to allow an early payment of part of the monthly salary being paid earlier, which is deducted at the end of the month to balance it out. Another option is to pay a part (full) month in advance but have this ‘paid back’ through reductions in the subsequent salary payments to reduce the burden of the advance over several months.
Not many employees will take advantage of this offer, but it can help relieve those pressures of unexpected costs. Employers should discuss with their employees why they need the advance and ensure that the employees don’t put themselves in a worse position by taking the advance.
Of course, this option may only be appropriate where the employer is financially sustainable to be able to afford such a scheme.
Where possible allow people to work from home (more often)
Working from home does not only provide people with the freedom to manage their work/life balance better, but it also saves on traveling costs. With fuel prices and public transport costs going up as well, employees could save money by working from home. Over the winter months, working from home may add to the more expensive heating and electric bills, so this option will only be a cost saving option for those with an actual commute.
Employers can contribute up to £6 tax free per week to employee’s costs when working from home, but this is only permitted if the employees have no office to go into or where the office is too far to realistically travel to each day. You can still make a contribution to their energy costs if the employee is not eligible, but the payment will be subject to the usual tax and NI and may be considered by HMRC to be a benefit in kind.
- Offer a one-off bonus or an inflationary increase
More money does not resolve all issues and only a handful of employers have matched their inflationary raises of salaries with the actual inflation rate. This is because employers too are struggling financially following the increase in energy costs and the reduction for some charities in funding as covid funding schemes are winding down. The CIPD in their latest Summer Labour Market Outlook found that the voluntary sector on average awarded pay rises of 3%. This is already lower than the average of 5.2% but is significantly lower than the latest inflation numbers at 10.1% (CPI).
Wages are therefore falling in real terms meaning that people have less money to spend after paying all their basic needs and bills. One way to overcome this is by paying a one-off bonus to help employees get through the winter months where costs tend to be higher with increased energy costs and to get through the holiday season. Although the practice is more prevalent in private sector organisations, Roots HR has assisted several of our social sector clients with their desire to help employees through a ‘winter bonus’ scheme.
For most employers, a scheme of this nature is only offered to their lowest paid employees who earned less than a certain amount (£30,000 as an average). Employers should clearly communicate with staff that any such payment is a one off and subject to the usual deductions for tax and NI.
These changes can all help with improving the mental wellbeing of your staff when they are working remotely. Get in touch with us if you need help to create policies for your social enterprise or charity that will benefit your workplace staff today.