Health & Safety – The mental health impact of working from home

Lloyds Resister have recently published a report, ‘Employee well-being during a pandemic’, based on a survey of 5,500 people in 11 countries taken during December 2020. The aim of the survey was to determine the mental health impact caused by the change in working conditions as a result of the pandemic. The report claims that 70% of respondents to the survey have experienced higher levels of work-related stress whilst working from home. This additional stress has been attributed to changes in the working environment, increased workload and a lack of support from both managers and colleagues.

Other headline statistics in the report are:

  • Almost 50% of respondents to the survey have experienced a negative change in their life since working remotely due to longer working hours, feelings of isolation (lack of interaction with colleagues) and higher levels of anxiety. Conversely just over half of the respondents had a more positive outlook and felt that their work life balance had improved by not having to commute.
  • 48% of respondents believed that disclosing a mental health condition would impact their career progression, just 22% would feel confident in discussing their mental health concerns with a member of HR.
  • 25% of respondents said that their employer had provided no additional support to address mental wellbeing concerns.

As a health and safety professional one of the more interesting statistics in the report is that 50% of the survey respondents were of the opinion that their employer placed a greater emphasis on physical safety than they did to general wellbeing (psychological safety). Only 26% were of the view that the two aspects were considered of equal importance by their employer. The two aspects – physical safety and psychological safety – are interrelated, for example an individual with psychological distractions may lack concentration at work: they may inadvertently fail to follow a recognised safe working procedure which could result in physical harm, not only to themselves but others.

For organisations who have effective systems for managing physical health and safety health do they have the same for psychological safety and are the two aspects in balance, underpinned by policies and procedures which advocate employee mental wellbeing? Where these do exist, are these policies and procedures:

  • Proactive: designed to promote prevention rather than being reactive in nature and only provide ‘instruction’ on what do where an employee raises a concern? Were any adjustments or enhancements made to them in response to the changes in working arrangements as a result of the pandemic?
  • Effectively communicated: are managers aware of them and have they been provided with the appropriate ‘tools’ in how to deliver them (I’ll come back to this)? Are employees aware of them and of the type of support available to them? Have these policies, procedures and the available support been ‘re-publicised’ within the organisation over the past year? and;
  • Crucially are managers, and any other functions, responsible for delivery of these policies and procedures and for providing any support, sufficiently equipped to deal with employee mental wellbeing issues. What resources are available to them? What sort of training have they had? Research carried out by mental health charity, Mind, revealed that 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve employee wellbeing but felt they did not have the right training or guidance to do so.

Home, flexible and agile working arrangements which both individuals and organisations, have had to adapt to over the past year are here to stay. This revolution in how many people are working, and will continue to work, has (myself included) been a positive experience but has also (as the results of the Lloyds Register survey have proven) come at a cost to the wellbeing of a great many others which if not addressed will only decline. It is imperative that organisations evaluate how that balance between the ‘traditional’ elements of health and safety and psychological safety is being delivered. However, care must be taken to ensure that standards of physical safety are not diminished as efforts are made to enhance standards of psychological safety – one should not come at the expense of the other.

As ways in which we work (where we work) have evolved then the ways with which to engage, support and protect workers must evolve also. Established systems organisations have for mitigating ‘traditional’ health and safety risks may not be enough and new innovative solutions, delivered on a more collaborative basis (for example health and safety functions working closely with HR), will be required to ensure that both the physical and mental health needs of employees are given equal focus.

If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.

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