WFH – working or wilting from home? How organisations can support employee wellbeing

That COVID-19 has had a long-term impact of on our mental health and wellbeing is indisputable.
During the first lockdown, we touched on some of the negative implications of the virus for the workplace. These included employee burnout and the wider organisational issue of psychological safety. And as the UK battles through its 3rd lockdown, employee’s mental health and wellbeing is being tested once more.

Back in March 2020, when COVID-19 first forced just under half of British workers to operate remotely, we swapped the daily commute for a short walk to our laptops. Many assumed that lockdown would mean lengthy lie ins and longer lunches.

But new data reveals that our average working day actually got longer by around 30 minutes. Thanks to the never-ending emails and video meetings.

The impact of work stressors on employees’ wellbeing

It’s well-known that our jobs can affect our wellbeing and any imbalance between the two can result in stress. Whether it’s high workloads, a fast work pace or a lack of control and autonomy, stress in the workplace can occur at every level of an organisation.

Plus, there are many factors that can have an indirect effect, or carry-over effects to  wellbeing beyond work. These include ‘teleworking’ and the blurring the lines between work and home life.  Which can lead to greater levels of ‘psychological unwellness’.

Consultant Psychologist at Work Psychology Group, Amelia Powell said: “Faced with uncertainty, reduced social support, and constant change for nearly a year, employees’ resilience has been tested and many have experienced extreme loneliness, prolonged acute stress, anxiety, and depression.

“While individuals need to engage with managing their own wellbeing, it is also hugely influenced by the environment, which is not necessarily within their control.  Which is why organisations need to act and take their share of responsibility for the psychological health and wellbeing of their employees. The culture must promote and support employee wellbeing and create a safe environment that encourages team members to speak up and seek support.

“After all, people are an organisation’s greatest asset, and it stands to reason that the good health and functioning of an organisation is indisputably tied to the good health and functioning of its people.”

What can organisations do to help?

Organisations should keep in mind that not only are we all working from home, but we are doing so in a national lockdown. And despite the Christmas break, Zoom fatigue is still rampant. So how can they help support employee wellbeing?

Adapt to the times: Encourage employees to engage in watercooler chat. Share photo updates, TV show recommendations or good books to read. People could even have one-to-one meetings over the phone whilst out for a walk. January is often the time people kick-start their exercise regime. But in the current climate, it’s even harder to do so and the dreary weather and less daylight is another barrier. Encourage employees to get out during the day and make they know they have your full support to do so.

Act on long term learnings: Organisations can implement several types of interventions to address the different wellbeing needs of their employees. Primary interventions aim to prevent harmful issues altogether.  They are perhaps the most important type of intervention right now. But it’s now less about keeping our heads above water and more about long term learnings. How can organisations support employees going forward? Can you equip them with the right training to continue working in this way? This could include how to maintain long-distance relationships with clients for example. Or maybe get learning and development opportunities and job progressions back on track.

Reduce the harm : Secondary interventions are targeted at reducing the harm of stressors when exposure to them is unavoidable. Perhaps providing training to help employees cope with stress, build resilience and learn new coping strategies. Or to equip employees and leaders with mental health first aid capabilities to be the first line of defense in support of colleagues’ mental wellbeing.

Repair the damage : Introduce tertiary interventions. These are targeted at repairing the damage that has already occurred as a result of a/multiple stressors. Such as managing depression that has developed due to isolation. The intervention could be providing employee assistance programmes and counselling.

At Work Psychology Group we know that each organisational issue is unique. Which is why we use our wide range of experience to develop specific practical workplace solutions based on the latest research. Get in touch to find out more.