With hybrid working now the norm, how do we combat loneliness and give mental health awareness at work the voice it deserves?

For those of you that have followed my personal journey for some time, you’ll have an idea just how passionate I am about mental health awareness and breaking down the stigma which is so often connected to the health of our minds, compared to that of our bodies.

This week is #mentalhealthawarenessweek and the Mental Health Foundation has chosen loneliness as this year’s theme, a topic which I feel personal connection to. Back in 2017 I wrote about my experiences of loneliness, and how I had began to see it not as something which necessarily relates to spending time with others, but more related to personal connections and a potentially lack of purpose/fulfillment.

Workplace Loneliness

Today, I want to talk about loneliness in the work place. Specifically, how the affects of Covid have contributed to an increased sense of loneliness and isolation for many and how we can do more to improve mental health awareness and the effects of loneliness in the work place.

Whether you work in a role that requires you to be in the ‘office’ (whatever that looks like), or you work at home, remotely, or perhaps a hybrid of both, loneliness at work can affect us all.

I’ve been working remotely now for just over 10 years, and so I think I’m well versed in the highs and lows that it brings, but it’s only through Covid that I’ve began to see a whole different version of this increased way of working play out, and the many cracks that can begin to appear. The many benefits have been discussed at length over the past couple of years, but without the proper care, support and thought from employers I worry about the long term effects of working remotely, especially surrounding mental health.

Mental Health in the Work Place

Most of us are now familiar with the frustrations of Teams/Zoom calls, which can leave employees feeling unseen, or unheard. But what happens when you’re not there for the in person chats with your team/colleagues. The types of conversations that don’t really involve work, but that are so vital in building relationships. How do you build engagement with your teams if the only version of those people that you really know is the online one?

I know this may seem strange coming from me. After all, I spent 9 years at a company, in a purely remote capacity, but before the days of Covid one out of twelve people in a company working remote wasn’t a disrupter, but in some cases a given in some types of roles due to travel etc. After Covid, many companies have re-introduced working at the office, and some have opted for guidelines for hybrid working, which brings up the question, how do you get a solution which suits everyone? After all, being fair to all your team members can be huge challenge. Those with children might say they need consideration for child care, yet those that are caring for other members of their family shouldn’t be forgotten, but what about being fair to those that don’t have children? Surely you’d be discriminating if the same fairness is not shared out?

Work Place Mental Health – Culture Change

Although I believe that mental health awareness has improved over the past 15 years in the UK, I believe work place mental health culture still has a long way to go. Part of that change must come from the education and direction of owners/management. Many of the larger companies now have employee wellness departments/policies/framework, and most importantly real tangible support, but what about small/medium size organisations? Perhaps as a business owner, you don’t have the resource, or mental health awareness to understand the benefit of investing in what some might consider a frivolous expenditure, on what may be perceived as a small proportion of your work force. Well to that I would say, think again.

Every single person in your team has mental health, it simply not something that’s reserved for a select few, no one is except.

If you are employer, or you have some influence in employee wellbeing, perhaps ask why your organisation would provide facilities for physical health, i.e the correct chairs, a place for eating, adequate lighting, heating etc, if you don’t give the same consideration to your team’s mental health.

And if you’re still not sure, then perhaps these stats might change your mind……

Mental health problems are all too common in the workplace and it is the leading cause of sickness absence. A staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

Here are a few questions which might help to start the ball rolling if you feel there is room for improvement in your work place…..

  • Do you have the level of mental health understanding needed to create a change in the culture? If not, how do you expect to deliver a change if you don’t have the skills?
  • Is there someone that your team members can talk to about their concerns during work? Have those people had the necessary training?
  • Do you have an employee wellbeing strategy? If not, do you need outside help in creating one?
  • How open is your organisation in terms of talking about mental health? How can you achieve this culture change to create a more positive approach to work place mental health awareness?
  • What would you do if one of your employers came to you with a mental health concern?
  • How do you get your team/employees involved in mental health in the work place?
  • Is everyone in your organisation on board if a culture change is needed?
  • What ongoing investment is needed?
  • How do you address loneliness as part of your mental health at work strategy?

Self care for loneliness at work

The last two years have been tough for so many, personally and professionally. A few things that I’ve realised when it comes to loneliness at work is that it needs self management, there’s no one solution fits all and it takes regular check ins, but employers must also play their part.

I am very thankful for my co-working space, if I didn’t have one near to where I had one I think I would need to open one! They are a complete deal breaker, as even when I’m here and just get my head down and work, it’s a relief to see familiar faces and have human connection. Many will say that it’s extra expense when money is tight, but I see it as important as what I eat and how I exercise. We spend so much time at work, why wouldn’t we give it the same time and space it deserves as our physical health.

If you don’t have a co-working space near you, or it doesn’t really work for the type of role you have. Perhaps look at your home set up and how it’s supporting your mental health, or take a look at this piece I wrote during the pandemic or check out the helpful resource from Mental Health Foundation.

If you feel your employer hasn’t made enough changes since the pandemic to support work place mental health, why not raise this as a valid concern. Everyone’s personal situation is so different, but I know I was glad that I raised it back in 2017 when I was suffering from the loneliness of working from home. I’m really pleased that I had the courage to have that conversation.

Resource

This week the mental health foundation is hosting a live webinar on 12 May at 11am, joined by special speakers including Mark Rowlands, Chief Executive from Mental Health Foundation who will discuss loneliness in the workplace and ways to reconnect.

Join the conversation and register here: https://bit.ly/3xAeFcu

2 Comments

  1. Great article Sarah – you raise many valid points in relation to MH provisions for masses of virtual workers. There has been progress, yes, but there is so, so much more to be done and SMEs, as you point out, often do not have the resources/training etc. to keep their workforce in tip top shape mentally (or physically). An area that needs much more attention as we move forward, especially with economies now tightening….

    1. Thanks Paul, really appreciate your feedback. Mental health at work is something I’m hugely passionate about, and will be a top priority to keep central to my new business as it unfolds!

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