Mental health in a roving workforce

Making staff wellbeing a priority is a mark of all good organisations, and part of that is regular communication around relevant issues.

Remote working presents a raft of upsides: cost savings, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. But in the age of telecommuting, is emotional intelligence the first casualty?

Remote working is a growing trend we’ve been seeing in the global workforce, even before staff were recently asked to work from home.

In 2018, 68 per cent of Australian employers allowed employees to telecommute, according to a survey by Censuswide on behalf of Indeed.

It found substantial advantages to remote working, including more productive employees (67 per cent), reduced absenteeism and employee turnover (57 per cent), and operational cost savings (51 per cent). 

In turn, 80 per cent of employees cited better work-life balance and less stress associated with work, a positive in a workforce where presenteeism costs Australian organisations $34 billion a year.

Yet, while remote working can benefit both employer and employee, the situation can change when telecommuting is a necessity, not a choice.

Extroverts may experience mental health difficulties as they are forced to go without the camaraderie of the office. In fact, they are the least likely to be productive at home, according to research by McCrindle.

Even introverts may find extended periods of isolation challenging to their state of mind. 

CPA Australia resource: Mental health toolkit. Learn more.

Positive messaging

If organisations and leaders are genuinely interested in the wellbeing of their remote employees, they can start with communicating that, says psychologist, consultant and keynote speaker Tim Sharp, director of The Happiness Institute

“Making staff wellbeing a priority is a mark of all good organisations, and part of that is regular communication around relevant issues,” he says. 

“In simple terms, they should be trying to send the message, as often and appropriately as possible, that we care about you as a person.”

Career architect and keynote speaker Edwin Trevor-Roberts, CEO of Trevor-Roberts, a career management company, says scheduling informal chats sounds counterintuitive to productivity but is critical.

“To really be effective, communication needs to be followed up with real and meaningful actions.”

“This is the time to prioritise phone calls over emails,” he says. “It takes extra time and conscious effort, but quick calls help ensure employees don’t feel isolated.”

Formal weekly meetings or daily “stand-ups” are also good strategies in maintaining a sense of connectedness and business-as-usual, he says.

Employers can make use of technology such as video conferencing, document sharing platforms and group chat to keep employees in the loop.

Research suggests staff look to their manager for cues about sudden changes or crisis situations.

Employers need to both acknowledge any stress on the part of the employee and impart a sense of confidence about the future.

Practical help 

On its own, there is a risk that keeping in touch can backfire if it’s just seen as a PR exercise, says Sharp. 

“To really be effective, communication needs to be followed up with real and meaningful actions.”

This can involve the provision of wellbeing services such as an Employee Assistance Program, for example www.accesseap.com.au or www.beyondblue.org.au, wellbeing allowances, or any other relevant support services. 

With research showing telecommuting makes it harder to maintain boundaries with home life, something that can affect mental health, organisations can also encourage remote employees to practice a few basic strategies, says Sharp.

These include:

  • Setting up a “home office” conducive to working effectively. It should be somewhere work can easily be packed away in the evenings or on the weekends. 
  • Sticking as closely as possible to normal work hours and routines, including getting dressed for work. 
  • Scheduling normal breaks throughout the day for coffee and lunch or, if possible, a short walk to help maintain mental health.
  • Keeping in touch with a manager to continue to set and review goals; and importantly, to acknowledge and celebrate wins and successes.
  • Using apps such as Todoist and Toggl to stay productive as well as mental health apps like Mindfulness or Headspace.

Edwin Trevor-Roberts talking about leading in a difficult time

 

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March 2020
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