With the spike of pandemic and the global lockdown situation, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of many trends, including potentially unreversible shift to WFH mode. Indeed, digital advancement addresses many challenges posed by WFH mode that workers across the UK have had to adapt to.
Many businesses have now realised that the use of technology and overall digital advancement have prompted increased efficiency in the workplace. Digital technology has enabled businesses to continue to deliver services to clients through virtual platforms. Notably, tech advancement has prompted interaction with the clients at greater scale by significantly reducing commute times. That said, research has shown that the switch to WFH mode has had an immediate and severe mental health impact on the workforce across all industries.
Impact of digitalisation on mental health in the workplace.
YouGov survey established that prior to the outbreak 68% of British employees had never worked from home of which 57% say they would want to be able to continue working from home. While this proves to be a positive change because it allows a greater flexibility, the data also shows that emotional and mental wellbeing are at stake.
According to the ONS survey, in November 2020, 19% of adults experienced some form of depression, while 17% of adults experienced some form of anxiety. These rates have almost doubled from 10% before the pandemic. A lot of people are finding it difficult to cope with the challenges brought about by loneliness and isolation from colleagues. Also, 19% of respondents revealed they feel pressured to look good on video meetings.
One of the major issues is that the boundaries between home and working space have blurred, with around 30% finding it difficult to separate their home and work lives. Then 27% reported difficulty in switching off at the end of the day or working week, and a further 34% believe WFH has placed a strain on relationships with their partner or children.
This data shows that the impact on workforce mental health could be huge unless we prevent it. Neuropsychologists argue that it’s helpful to have various forms of communication at work1. By nature, humans are sociable creatures, and we need an interaction in all shapes and forms. Indeed, handy tech devices can help with this. However, constant online presence is mentally draining. Therefore, it’s vital to keep the right balance between maintaining physical appearance on camera and having less pressured communication over the phone where possible.
Employers need to address ‘whole-person’ health and wellbeing by implementing digital health and safety policies and encouraging colleagues to dedicate time to get the work-life balance right. There is no need to invent apps and establish a specific department focused on workforce wellbeing support as there are plenty already, including NHS and other apps such as Rethink. Instead, there is an urgent need to bring people together as a community – to promote relaxed social interaction.
Practical ways of promoting the overall wellbeing of the workforce
There are plenty of basic ‘digital health & safety’ policies that businesses may implement to promote mental wellbeing of the workforce and address ‘whole-person’ health. As WFH is becoming the new normal, we want to place the focus on promotion of a healthy environment in the home office in order to maintain and grow productivity at work.
As already mentioned, one of the major problems presented by WFH mode is a merged home and working space. So, it’s vital to set boundaries between work schedule and home life, as well as empower employees to feel ok about keeping a schedule with a set start and end time of the working day. There should be an encouragement to take regular tech-free breaks and to have mealtimes outside the working space. More than ever, the end time should be clearly set with working phones and computers switched off at that time. Where possible, employees must have a designated space for work and if it’s not possible alternatives should be considered.
It should become the new norm to feel comfortable talking to your employer and colleagues about having a lunch break or a short walk. Having regular breaks also boosts productivity and results in better performance. Also, staying at home while working doesn’t mean that you need to be available all the time or longer than you normally would be. It’s vitally important to set boundaries.
The last thing to reiterate is that there’s no need to invent unrealistic wellbeing guidelines. It’s enough to initiate and promote the talks among colleagues, about the importance of basic things such as good sleep, balanced diet and benefits of devoting some time to favourite hobbies.