How to combat rising stress levels amongst remote workers
The nation’s mental health is now a major cause for concern for employers says Adrian Lewis, Director of Activ Absence. This Stress Awareness month Adrian is pressing for employers to do more to recognise and address signs of stress and burnout before they escalate into something more serious.
This follows a new study from the Stress Management Society and Huawei which found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in 2020, with their three main concerns being feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control.
An Ipsos Mori survey also found that 60% of people in the UK say they are finding it harder to stay positive daily compared with before the pandemic – an eight-point increase from November.
Adrian said: “One year on it is evident that COVID restrictions have taken their toll on workers’ mental wellbeing. Many are still working remotely and have had to juggle work and home schooling, work in unsuitable environments and often longer hours. Many have been anxious about catching the virus and have had limited opportunities to take a break, so it’s easy to see why some are feeling burnt out and unable to cope.”
Adrian continued: “With people working from home it can be difficult for employers to spot when someone is suffering from stress or anxiety. Often employers are the last to know and it is only when someone ends up on long term sick leave because symptoms have escalated, they find out what is going on with an employee.
“As this past year has had a big impact on people’s mental wellbeing, it’s even more important for employers to be able to recognise the signs of stress and offer support where it’s needed. This is where absence management software can be useful as it can help employers pinpoint early signs that a worker may be struggling.
“This software allows managers to track absence and see if any patterns emerge that could be red flags, such as someone taking a lot of time off. It also prompts return to work interviews which can offer the ideal safe space for an employee to feel comfortable discussing any issues. Employers can then offer support if needed.
“It tracks other absence too, such as annual leave and highlights whether someone is taking their allocation. Working from home over the past year with limited travel options for holidays has meant some people have just carried on working through. It’s important though that people take some downtime to rest and recuperate, even if they have to do this at home.”
Adrian Lewis also offers the following tips for managing stress:
1. Encourage conservations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their manager about any concerns. Perhaps have a time at the end of each virtual team meeting where people can chat through any issues.
2. Ensure you carry out weekly virtual meetings with all employees. These can be together in teams or individually over the phone, but it is important to check in with everyone regularly whilst they are working remotely.
3. Consider running virtual coffee mornings or Friday drinks with your team to encourage a little downtime and to chat about other things that are happening in their lives apart from work.
4. Train managers to recognise stress, anxiety, and depression and how to manage staff with mental health issues. Often employees feel uncomfortable speaking about mental health but those trained to recognise the signs can gently encourage conversations if they have concerns about an employee.
5. Encourage people to take regular breaks and not eat lunch at their desks even when working at home. Time away from their desk and perhaps going for a walk can help people feel more refreshed and less stressed, plus it is good for their posture.
6. Do not rely on out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets to monitor absence trends. Invest in an absence management system so absence can be tracked, along with holiday leave or any other leave (volunteer/study days etc.).
7. Always conduct back to work interviews when people are off sick, so that employees can talk about any issues that might be causing them stress. It is also an opportunity to spot areas of concern. These can be carried out just as effectively virtually, so do not let the fact people are working at home stop these happening.
8. Finally, signpost employees to any mental health help available through the company. Often support is available such as counselling services through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), but employees just do not know about it.
For more information on absence management software visit www.activabsence.co.uk