How to emotionally support your employees continuing to work from home
Whilst the majority of employees including managers have been working from home, it has been easier to empathise with the context in which team members are working and consequently allow for a larger degree of flexibility. However, as employees start to return to the workplace, and businesses start to return to a new kind of normal, it will be important to ensure that those continuing to work from home still feel supported and a part of the team.
Some employees working from home may be finding this a far from ideal situation for a variety of reasons. They may be missing the calmness of the office where they feel able to concentrate much easier, and they may be missing the social interaction of their workplace. It is likely that any previous change to an employee’s workplace would have been initiated by a flexible working request. This would have involved the manager and employee discussing the wider implications of working from home and potentially putting a trial mechanism in place. Naturally this could not happen when the country went into lockdown and it is therefore crucial for leniency and communication to be utmost as everyone feels their way through this new way of working.
Employees working from home are separated from their usual communication channels and support mechanisms and can therefore feel increasingly isolated, lonely, and unable to switch off. The likelihood of this happening is currently higher than normal as access to social interactions including friends and family also remains limited. A report conducted before coronavirus hit showed that UK businesses lose £100m every year due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. It is therefore important that managers, employees, teams and individuals remember that we are all in this together and maintain dialogue and support each other as we move forward.
Daily Check-Ins through Video Calls
One of the most important action points is for managers and employees to maintain structured daily check-ins through a mix of 1:1 and team calls. It would be ideal for these check-ins to be held via video as managers may be able to read employees’ facial expressions for a deeper insight into how they are coping. Zoom meetings have been very popular during lockdown and they are also useful for sensitive conversations as they feel more personal.
Managers can use the first few minutes of these calls to purposefully ask employees how they are coping. Being unable to report being stressed (or being uncomfortable doing so), is harmful as pressure will eventually outweigh an individual’s ability to cope over time. Ideally managers will be forthcoming about their own emotions and the challenges that they are facing, to help create a safe space and encourage employees to also open up. Managers should be alert to employees who begin to miss deadlines or become generally less responsive, both of which could be early indicators of a mental health concern.
It is important to recognise that not all employees will be accepting of this, some people are not naturally inclined to partake in deep and meaningful conversations and others may not see this as part of a manager’s role. Some employees may prefer to discuss their emotions with other colleagues instead or make use of a Mental Health First Aider as discussed in my earlier article “How to emotionally support your employees as they return to work”.
Presenteeism is “The practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job”, source Oxford University Press. Employees currently working from home could feel under pressure to work faster, longer and harder to prove that they are engaged with the company and adaptable to change, especially whilst the news is continuously highlighting the potential of mass redundancies. Employees may be concerned about taking lunch breaks as managers may be able to tell that they are not sat at their computer. Working excessively long hours is not sustainable and could send an employee into a physical and emotional burnout spiral which could lead to long-term sick leave.
To avoid this happening, managers could offer to help employees prioritise their workload in line with the new situation and the changes that it has inevitably brought. They can work together to agree what needs to continue, what can continue but is less urgent, and what no longer needs to happen. Starting the day with a clear list of goals will provide structure and help the employee to remain productive. Done right, it will ultimately provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, whilst help prevent the employee from feeling exhausted. Managers and employees may also consider agreeing a set lunch time if it is believed that this could help the employee.
Employees now removed from their normal team environment may lack a benchmark to judge their progress, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and a concern as to whether they are up to the standards of the rest of their team during this unusual time. Managers and senior colleagues may therefore see the benefit of providing more feedback than usual to help employees feel appreciated and trusted.
Employees working from home are likely to feel excluded from office banter. It could therefore be useful to assign some time at the beginning of team calls to discuss non-work items e.g. what people have been doing at the weekend and how they are coping, to keep team morale foremost. Employers may also wish to consider holding virtual team bonding events, such as pizza parties, to maintain informal team dynamics.
Even though some colleagues may be back in the workplace, employees may find it useful to use mobile-enabled messaging such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to maintain less formal communication methods. To this extent, the company should ensure that they have a social media policy in place, containing clear guidelines, so that everyone understands what is appropriate.
How can HR help
HR can provide help and support in a variety of ways including:
· Being a safe sounding board and provide confidence to management that they are operating within the law
· Creating a Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan
· Creating a Social Media Policy
· Advising and guiding on long-term absences including liaising with employees and their GP or Occupational Health
· Devising a Flexible Working Policy and providing guidance and support upon receipt of any requests.
If I can be of any assistance with any of these topics, or if I can provide any other HR support, then please do contact me at Kerris Crook HR Consultancy.