According to research from the Institute of Employment Studies, over 70 per cent of people in the UK have been working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly a third (30 per cent) of home workers have dependent children, and 17 per cent are caring for older relatives. With so many people juggling their working responsibilities alongside home schooling and caring for others, it has never been more important that we look after our mental health.
At Bupa, we support businesses across the UK – from large corporates or small to medium-sized enterprises. We have seen the impact that Covid-19 has had on their day to day lives and how they have had to adapt. Through our Anytime HealthLine, Mental HealthLine and Employee Assistance Programmes we have an insight into some of the pressures that families across the UK are facing, from anxiety to depression and stress. We have seen an increase in calls from our professionals and customers about relationship and family problems.
Across our own business, we have also had to adapt our normal ways of working, which gives us first-hand insight into how the virus is affecting different sectors. Our insurance business has had to find new ways to support customers, moving all our staff – including our customer contact centres – to home working.
Meanwhile, colleagues in our care homes and retirement villages continue to work on the front line caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society during this incredibly challenging time. Much of the routine work for our dental practices has paused, so our teams are supporting patients remotely and working closely with the NHS to set up urgent dental care centres. Similarly, our health clinics have launched remote GP and physiotherapy services to continue to provide support to customers.
Regardless of where you work, the coronavirus has undoubtedly changed lives. We have also seen how important it is that as well as taking care of our physical health – not least by observing guidance on social distancing – we also need to take care of our mental health and wellbeing. With so many of us adapting to regular home working for the foreseeable future, I wanted to share some thoughts on what we at Bupa have learnt from our people and our customers about how we can all maintain our mental health and wellbeing in these difficult times.
Have regular check-ins as a team
Conducting normal face-to-face check-ins and everyday conversations with those we work with is not so easy at the moment. Keep in regular contact with your team via phone calls, instant messaging or video conference calls to help maintain a sense of working as a team and to share ideas. Daily calls are a great way to do this.
Remember that during this time, lots of people will be experiencing similar feelings and it helps to talk. It will also help you to identify where team members may be struggling with their workload or not have enough work to keep them busy.
Try holding a session with your team to understand where people sit on the performance energy curve. At one end of the curve is boredom, when colleagues do not have enough to do. At the other, too much pressure and workload can result in burnout. With lines blurred between home and work, it may be easier than usual for colleagues to fall in either direction.
Understand how your team works
With work and home now being the same place for many, it’s likely some people may need to work different hours to accommodate their needs. Some people may find they work better earlier in the morning and want to log off a bit earlier. Try to be supportive of this where possible by endorsing flexible hours and avoid scheduling meetings for a time or day that doesn’t work for them.
It’s also a good idea to avoid sending emails in the evenings or at weekends when the majority of people are trying to switch off from work. If something is urgent, consider picking up the phone instead and have a conversation rather than sending multiple messages.
Show your appreciation
Managing remote employees is made harder when anxiety levels are higher and there’s no sense of knowing when lockdown will end. Make sure you check in with different members of your team individually to see how they are doing and reassure them that they are doing a good job. A “thank you” can go a long way towards boosting someone’s self-esteem and relieving some of the stress they may be feeling.
When working from home it can be easy to carry on working throughout the day, missing a lunch break and continuing working late into the evening. Lockdown may also make employees feel as though they do not want to take time off. One way to support employees is to encourage them to take regular breaks in their working day. Even taking 30 minutes away from the computer can make all the difference to your team’s energy levels.
If you suspect a member of your team may be burning out, encourage them to take a day off. The mind and body need to recover, especially during busy periods at work.
Know where to find support for you and your team
Organisations like Mind, the NHS and Bupa all have a wealth of advice freely available online, while charities like Samaritans and CALM both have phonelines for people who need access to urgent support.
Similarly, check to see what’s available to you and your team. Many people now receive confidential mental health support as a workplace benefit – make sure you talk to your colleagues and make them aware of what support might be available.
Nearly half (46 per cent) of those who work from home manage people and are working up to five hours longer than contracted to each week. Managing a team can be difficult, so make sure you are looking after your own mental health as well as theirs.
Dr Luke James is medical director at Bupa Global & UK Insurance.