Never has it been more important for employers to lead with compassion, understanding and empathy to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of their employees is not compromised.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a marked shift in the way businesses are run and people are managed.
TAL, like many businesses, has shifted to a remote working model. With our people facing decreased face to face interaction with others and spending less time outside of their homes, employers need to put more structure in place to ensure that this significant disruption to our day-to-day lives will have minimal impact on our mental health as the COVID-19 situation continues.
Studies have confirmed the importance of a healthy work environment on mental health and the impact of unhealthy workplaces on mental health conditions. Now, during these challenging times, businesses must recognise that workplace mental health is no longer confined to the physical office space. There is a unique opportunity for employers to lead through the disruption and play a significant role in the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
Here are few tips I would recommend employers share with their teams working from home:
Create a dedicated workspace
Creating a dedicated workspace at home should be the number one priority when it comes to working from home.
Once you have identified the space, you will need to ensure that you have everything you need to work effectively. Do you have an appropriate monitor? Do you have the right chair?
Think of entering this space as entering an office and it will put you in the right mindset and enhance your focus. It will also keep you from overworking and set you up for long-term productivity and success.
Stick to your daily routine
Some might think that working remotely means that we are always ‘on’ 24/7 and that you should squeeze in work whenever you can. However, if you don’t organise your day and treat it like a normal 8-hour workday, you risk burning out easily.
Stick to your daily work routine and get dressed every morning. You will also need to be more self-disciplined and make sure to organise your day against your list of to-dos so that you can mentally prepare yourself for what to expect during the day.
And lastly, don’t forget to set aside some time for mini breaks throughout the day, as you would in the office, to give your eyes, neck, shoulders and back a break, and have lunch at the same time as you normally would.
The disconnectedness from your colleagues may make you feel lonely and isolated and loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety.
I encourage all TAL employees to use video calls over phone calls whenever possible. E-mails, instant messaging or phone calls do the job of communicating but they make it harder to build camaraderie with your colleagues in times like these.
Studies have also shown that teams that meet regularly are much more likely to come up with innovative solutions to problems than groups that did not meet regularly.
Building a support system
Working from home in isolation makes it harder to feel supported, even if your colleagues or leadership teams are there for you. There are many ways to build a support group, whether it’s an individual daily check-in or scheduling regular team video meetings. These will help foster a good culture outside of work and make people feel supported and valued.
It is much easier for people to find an excuse to not exercise while working from home. However, exercise can lift our mood, reduce anxiety levels and assist in getting a better night’s sleep. It’s well known that doing exercise releases positive endorphins, so try to make a conscious effort to be active in some way.
There are plenty of ways we can get up and be active. While lockdown measures are in place across the country, people are still allowed to go out for exercise, under the condition that you stick to the rules. Go outside for a walk or a jog and get some fresh air; alternatively, you can check out the many free online fitness apps or YouTube channels to help you stay fit and healthy at home.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is more important than ever and the key to success in remote work. Individuals must understand that everyone is feeling the same, so it is important that everyone makes an effort to interact with colleagues.
If in doubt, communicate more than you think you should, because it builds trust. This is especially important in the current environment as remote workers can feel lost without feedback they would normally receive in an office setting.
For TAL, some of our existing initiatives have put us in a strong position in challenging times like these. Our aforementioned Mental Health & Wellbeing Training Program, as an example, has ensured our people leaders are confident to lead their teams and continue to support them to function to the best of their abilities, both as individuals and as a collective.
Related to wellbeing:
We continually strive for excellence in the mental health space and the program is a good starting point for our organisation.. In the current virtual environment, we understand a different skillset of leadership may be required and we will continue to alter coaching where necessary to support the mental wellbeing of our people to ensure we are building their skills and capability.
When it comes to looking after employees’ mental health, particularly during challenging times such as these, it’s important to remember there is no “one size fits all” approach. We need to constantly monitor and identify their needs and adapt our ways of working in order to offer them the best possible support.
While there are signs the Australian workforce may soon begin moving to more of a post-pandemic ‘new normal’, it is certain that the way in which businesses and employees operate will never be the same again.
This brings with it new challenges to solve, and employers need to recognise the importance of providing employees with additional guidance and support to ensure the potential of that new normal is realised, while the wellbeing of employees is protected, maintained and even enhanced.
Glenn Baird is TAL Head of Mental Health.