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For many of us, working from home has become the norm. And most have reaped the benefits of it; more time spent with family, regular exercise or indulging in new or lost hobbies.
But, despite its many benefits, working from home has its pitfalls. A new survey from Nuffield Health has revealed that 80 per cent of Brits feel remote working has had a negative impact on their mental health. COVID-19 and the shift to working from home has hugely increased issues around presenteeism, with people working even when in suboptimal mental health.
Since remote working, the Mental Health Foundation found a third of employees have felt worried or anxious about losing their jobs. Another Blue Jeans survey found over a quarter (27 per cent) have reported difficulties switching off, relying on an ‘always-on’ attitude to prove their commitment resulting in an average 3.13 extra hours spent working per day.
This is leading to an epidemic of burnt-out workforces and a huge spike in cases of depression and anxiety.
When it comes to having the flu or a broken leg, taking time off work is easy to justify to line managers. You physically wouldn’t be able to manage daily tasks, and rest and recuperation would be the fastest way towards recovery.
But when suffering with mental ill-health, which may similarly mean daily tasks become an impossible feat, and rest and recuperation are the best ways to get better, why do we struggle to take time off – especially during this remote working era? The answer is two-fold, presenteeism and stigma. Job uncertainty has left many employees doing whatever it takes to ‘prove’ themselves in the hope they aren’t let go, and mental health is still a taboo subject, sidelined by employers and employees alike with detrimental effects on workforces.
So, how can organisations take steps to help break this stigma and help employees manage their mental health in the office and when working from home?
When it comes to taking time off for mental ill-health reasons, employees have every right to do so, and in turn, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees.
However, many people do not feel comfortable speaking about mental health due to stigma around illnesses such as anxiety and depression. A study from Mind found 90 per cent of employees who take time off due to a stint of mental ill-health would feel unable to tell their managers of the true reason for their absence due to embarrassment and worry.
It’s paramount employers encourage open conversations around the importance of looking after mental wellbeing and educate teams around mental illnesses and how best to support someone suffering with mental ill-health.
Consider mental health to be as fundamental as physical health
Generally, employees associate taking their annual leave exclusively with travelling, taking a holiday away from home and taking time away from the office. Now that homes are ‘the office’, employees are more likely to ‘power-through’ no matter what, increasing the effects of presenteeism.
Taking allocated time off for mental ill-health can boost motivation, productivity and overall wellbeing. An APA survey found that nearly 60 per cent of workers felt more productive on their return after time off for their mental health.
Employers and employees must work together to set boundaries and limits which may help better manage the pressures of remote working to improve mental wellbeing. Some ideas can include:
- Creating a clear divide between the working day and home life by doing work in a separate room or packing things away once the working day is over.
- Setting a non-negotiable log off time to ensure an end to each day.
- Taking regular breaks away from your desk.
- Consider offering additional ‘mental health days’ to the standard annual leave quota.
For many of us, working from home can be, and has been, challenging. Managing stress-related leave will not only benefit employees’ overall wellbeing and performance, but improve understanding around mental health in the workplace.
It’s time to break the cycle of stigma around mental health, educate teams around the dangers of presenteeism and encourage employees to be open and honest about their mental wellbeing.