For many people, social isolation and remote working have become the new normal. As people face up to living in lockdown for months, uncertainty about how long it will last and how the pandemic will play out are all contributing to increased anxiety. Humans are ultimately social creatures; we need to interact with each other physically and socially.
Employers have been quick to respond by deploying technology for remote workers, new hygiene standards for those still working in offices, new sick and family leave policies for all workers. However, concerns about health, trust, work, finances, children and family have created a perfect behavioural health storm. A survey conducted just one week into the lockdown found a 59% increase in anxiety levels.
The principal impacts of a lockdown on mental health are on routine, motivation, location and downtime. For many, remote working has required them to change their normal work routines. Whilst some people have been adapting to working from home over the past few years, for many the sudden change to their routine will have had a significant impact on their wellbeing (physical and mental).
Getting up, ready and working each day is even tougher without a physical workplace to attend. The temptation to stay on the sofa watching Homes Under The Hammer can be overwhelming. Simple tips such as taking regular breaks, finishing work at an appropriate time, getting outside and making the most of your daily exercise time (in line with government guidance) away from the living and working space are all important – as is avoiding working in your pyjamas all day too!
Not everyone has a facility, or the space to create a facility in their current living arrangements in which they can work comfortably. Having young children in the house, pets, or a partner working in the same space can each provide significant distractions and stresses.
No-one can predict how long the current situation will last, so it is hard to see how anyone can become 100% committed to their current plans in the longer term. Motivation will become an increasing challenge if remote workers are not supported by others. Employees and employers must continue to connect with each other and support each other through these challenges.
As well as being an enabler of remote working, technology can also be used to support workers’ wellbeing and mental health. Chat and video conference platforms have a vital role in maintaining connections. Twenty years ago, the ability to meet virtually, see family and friends in real time around the world or connect for coffee/lunch/quiz time together did not exist. Now it does, so let’s embrace it.
Access to reliable and secure technology is key to a smooth transition from face-to-face to virtual engagement. Ideally, WiFi should be super-fast and able to meet with stepped-up demand from multiple devices connected at the same time.
Responding to the challenge in Capita Travel and Events
As an organisation we’ve had to change and adapt, almost overnight, how we operate and how we stay connected with our people. Our people managers are regularly briefed on effective remote working and how to manage their teams in a virtual environment. More importantly, they are trained to demonstrate to all our employees the depth of support available to them.
Workers listening to half-truths and disinformation peddled on social media present employers with another challenge. In response, we’ve created a central hub from which our employees, partners and customers can get up-to-date information from reliable sources. Along with a dedicated wellbeing hub for our employees, accessible to all our employees regardless of network access.
One of our most important support mechanisms is our team of Mental Health First-Aiders. Here the challenge has been to ensure that these experts are accessible to employees away from the office environment. We’ve run a series of webinars for managers to help them to spot mental wellbeing issues and to enable them to signpost the availability of the first-aiders by phone or virtually. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback to these webinars from across our business.
Above all, we’ve been making sure that our people are able to help themselves, whether that help is related to financial worries as a result of furloughing, social, physical or mental wellbeing.
We are applying the '5 Ways to Wellbeing' framework to encourage employees to take care of their overall health and wellbeing, by connecting, being active, learning, taking notice and giving.
Everything that we have implemented is applicable to other businesses. We have a working group dedicated to wellbeing, our website content isn’t restricted to travel providers. It’s about making sure colleagues get the right information, support and access to self-help resources.
The main challenge for employers is to provide the mental health support that employees will need to mitigate medium and long term impacts on sickness absence and talent retention. Supporting people through the current uncertainty with their mental health intact is key so that we can prepare and support employees to return safely and effectively in a post-situation reality.