How Managers Can Support Employee Mental Health in Remote Work
Sometimes, especially in the age of technology, it seems the world is moving too fast. The importance of mental health in the workplace is still a relatively new focus point for many companies, and now remote work is changing the game all over again.
With the looming pandemic, the seemingly instantaneous shift to remote work, and every other unconventional circumstance this year threw at us, mental health has become even more of a concern. As an employer, it is imperative to support your employees both professionally and personally. This doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend, but it does mean you should look out for them to the best of your ability.
After all, your employees’ mental wellbeing will certainly impact their work performance. According to a recent survey from TELUS International, 80% of workers in the remote workforce would consider quitting their current position for a job that focused more on employees’ mental health. It’s a topic likely weighing on your employees’ minds, so it should be on yours, too.
The Impact of Remote Work on Mental Health
The transition to working remotely can be difficult, and it can take a significant toll on workers if they are not properly prepared to take care of their mental wellbeing.
As employees work remotely, they may experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, disconnection, anxiety, stress, and even depression. There is also an increasing pressure for employees to be available 24/7. With increases in technology and many workers feeling unable to “unplug,” the line between work and home life blurs. TELUS International further found that 45% of respondents said they feel less healthy mentally when working from home.
However, this does not have to be the case. Managers and employers can take specific steps to support their employees and ensure a healthy, happy remote workforce.
Less Touchpoints, Less Information
There are certain challenges that can make managing employee mental health more difficult in the remote workplace.. With less communication, it’s harder for managers to notice red flags. Typically, a manager can notice when an employee arrived late to work, or seemed disheveled multiple times in a week. And, typically, the manager makes a mental note, and tries to watch for other warning signs or decides to speak to the employee. However, it becomes more difficult to notice these cues in remote work.
With less communication, it’s also more difficult to get a sense of how your employees may be feeling. Are they stressed? Is something bothering them in their home life? Do they have too much work on their plate? Are they nearing burnout, possibly working very late hours? These are much more difficult to answer when you lack in-person communication, tone, body language, and even just lunch break conversations about their personal lives.
Steps for Managers and Employers
Video calls will be your best tool to gauge an employee’s wellbeing. Encourage video calls (with cameras on) at least once a week, if for nothing else than to check in with your employees. Also, try to notice their environment to determine if they have a safe workspace that limits distractions.
Managers should also be extra vigilant. It’s important to know how to look for warning signs, and know when to address them. These are skills that general managers may not be aware of. Just because a manager is very skilled in their field does not automatically make them a good people manager.
This is where training plays a key role in management and mental health. Emotional intelligence is critical in the remote workforce, so managers can notice the signals that are not as obvious compared to in the physical workplace. These are skills on which managers may need extra training, whether from in-house HR or sourced externally.
Additionally, your company should offer benefits that include therapy, counseling, or other wellbeing initiatives. This proves your organization cares for its employees, while providing them with extra help, should they need it.
Among all of the automation, artificial intelligence, and electronic communications, a sense of humanity can get lost in the remote workplace. Recenter humanity in your interactions by reaching out to your employees, outside of day-to-day meetings, just to check in.
Remote work inherently provides more flexibility, but try to implement measures to ensure your employees are unplugging. Just because they always can be working, does not mean they always should be working. A joint study conducted by Harvard and NYU found that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, employees report experiencing longer workdays. This is partly a result of more meetings, increased obligations, and the inability to separate work from home. By allowing more flexibility in employee’s schedules, it can help your employees balance work and life.
Remember that at the end of the day, your employees are humans who are also trying to navigate a new dimension of remote work, surrounded by rather unprecedented external circumstances. Their mental health, focus levels, and motivation levels will drastically impact their productivity and work performance. As an employer, make sure you are looking out for their wellbeing.
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