The Challenges of Home Working & Employee Wellbeing

As we head into our fifth week of lockdown with a large percentage of the working population now working from home, a recent survey has found that half of employees working from home during the lockdown are unhappy with their work-life balance.

A poll of 500 workers, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), found 50% of respondents were unhappy with their current work-life balance, with 48% working longer and more irregular hours than they would under normal circumstances.

A third reported feeling isolated, while increased concerns over matters such as job security and the health of family members were causing sleep loss for 64% of respondents – a problem compounded by irregular hours.

Employees are facing significant physical and mental wellbeing challenges and employers need to recognise this and respond accordingly. Even though the workforce might be at home the employer still has a duty of care and is responsible for their wellbeing even when they are working from home.

The survey also found a decline in other measures of wellbeing since restrictions on movement were introduced. One fifth (20%) of respondents reported increased alcohol consumption, 33% were eating less healthily, and 60% admitted exercising less since the lockdown started.

There was also an increase in physical complaints. More than half of respondents reported new aches and pains associated with bad posture, including in their necks (58%), shoulders (56%) and backs (55%). This is unsurprising given that most people working from home will be doing so on a laptop without a proper screen or monitor and the office desk will have been replaced with a kitchen or dining table. All of which contributes to bad posture.

How can employers help?

Establish a routine

Encourage your employees to keep to an established routine. Getting ready for the day as if they were going into the office – this will create a mindset that they are at work.

Agree ways of working

Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you keep each other updated, and how frequently. Remind the team about how their work fits into the big picture. If they can’t perform their normal role remotely, consider what skills they have which other teams might find useful. Be clear about expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity.

Set up a workspace

Find a work area which is separate from sleeping areas as this helps prepare for work mode and makes it easier to switch off at the end of the day. Clear the area of clutter and set up equipment to avoid physical strain. Do a self-check using the guidance provided by the NHS.

Encourage employees to put away their work devices and log off when they have worked their contracted hours each day. This is a vital to maintain a work-life balance and helps employees keep to their normal working hours.

Get moving

Encourage employees to take advantage of the two hours of exercise permitted each day. Movement will help maintain physical and mental health. People will feel more awake and alert and concentration and sleep will improve. If employees are missing their regular gym class get them to check out all the various apps and classes which are available online.

Get connected

Keep communication with your team open and frequent. Consider video calls instead of emailing. Be mindful that people can be more sensitive when they are feeling isolated or anxious so tailor your communications accordingly. Have short check-in and check-out calls between managers and teams either at the start or end of the workday. Make sure colleagues can dial in and chat through with somebody any concerns they may have about working from home. Keep that virtual door open. Turn your morning or afternoon coffee break into a virtual coffee break and make it a social conversation – don’t discuss work!

Offer support

Make sure people have the support and technology equipment they need. Be prepared to do some training if some employees are struggling with the remote technology. Encourage employees to keep in touch with their family and friends. Make sure they look after themselves and signpost them to websites which offer support:

If your company has a trained Mental Health First Aider or Champion make their contact details available. They can use their skills to support anyone who is struggling by directing them to appropriate support both in and outside the workplace. Encourage them to talk to HR or if you have an Employee Assistance Programme provide them with the details. Mental health helplines are also available. The Samaritans offer free, confidential support 24 hours a day on 116 123. Further details of mental health services are available from Guernsey Mind.

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