As a result of COVID-19, many employees are continuing to work remotely from home at the moment. With that in mind, we offer our tips on how employers can help to reduce the risks that prolonged periods of homeworking can have on employees' mental health and wellbeing.

Keep in touch

Many employees will not have worked from home for a prolonged period before, so it is important for managers to stay connected with their teams. This will help employees feel supported and hopefully more able to raise any concerns that they have. It will also help managers to spot signs of poor mental health in some cases and take steps where necessary to address the issue.

Additionally, encouraging colleagues to keep in touch with each other can create a support network to limit feelings of isolation and help employees feel more able to carry out their roles effectively in a different environment.

There are lots of ways to keep in touch which many have already been using – such as weekly departmental meetings; 1-1 catch ups; and after-work virtual activities (e.g. quiz nights, book clubs etc.) Also, if you haven't already done so, try to encourage the use of video calling platforms, where appropriate, to enable face-to-face interaction between colleagues who would usually see each other at the office. Although be mindful that different people react differently to these tools and appearing on video can cause feelings of anxiety for some.

Regularly monitor workloads

During periods of remote working it won't be as easy to identify capacity levels, so it's important to have a process in place to remotely monitor workloads on a regular basis to ensure employees are not feeling overburdened. Excessive workloads can lead to increased risks of burn out, stress and anxiety - particularly if adequate support is not provided.

Staying active

When working from home, it can be tempting for employees to stay at their workspace for long periods of time as the usual reasons for them to move away from their desk e.g. for meetings or to go out for lunch etc. no longer feature in their day.

Therefore, try to encourage employees to:

  • take their usual rest breaks to ensure that they regularly walk around and stretch/change position, but also to make sure they get the rest breaks they are entitled to for health and safety reasons under the Working Time Regulations.
  • stay active out with working hours, in ways which comply with social distancing restrictions, such as offering virtual access to weekly classes such as yoga, which would usually run in the office and communicating the positive impacts of staying active through intranet sites.

Health & safety

Employers have a duty of care to all employees to ensure that they have a safe working environment and to protect their health and safety as far as reasonably practicable, this includes assessing work-related mental health issues. For more information on homeworking and health & safety see our Coronavirus: Homeworking FAQ page. 

Signpost additional advice and support services

Make sure that all employees are reminded of the support services which they can access, such as employee assistance programmes, details of trained mental health first aiders, or helpful information you may have added to your intranet, such as wellbeing guides, online classes, or workstation health and safety guides.

Offering flexible working options, unpaid leave or reduced hours may help to alleviate the stress or difficulties particular employees are facing. If this is an option, ensure employees know about these possibilities, as they may not feel able to ask directly, or may fear a negative response.

Consider the duty to make reasonable adjustments

A range of mental impairments, including anxiety and depression can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This should be taken into account when employers are assessing: their obligations to employees (e.g. their duty to make reasonable adjustments); potential discrimination risks and the appropriate support that is required. The adjustments currently in place for disabled employees may need to be reviewed whilst they are homeworking to ensure that their mental well-being is not adversely affected by changes to their working environment.

More information 

Please contact your usual Brodies contact or a member of our Employment & Immigration team for more information about anything discussed in this blog. 

Workbox users can find more detailed information and resources on mental ill health and employee well-being on our dedicated page

You can also listen to our podcast on COVID-19, homeworking and employee mental well-being. Although recorded back in May, it covers many considerations in relation to promoting mental wellbeing which continue to be relevant as homeworking continues for many employees.

This blog was originally published on 20 May 2020 to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week and updated on 6 October 2020.