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The home train

Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training , on how to promote positive mental health amongst their workforce by training them to adapt to their home working environment

As a result of COVID-19 and the lockdown rulings imposed in March 2020, a reported 86 per cent of Brits have moved to working from home. After a turbulent summer it seemed that we were on the cusp of some sense of normality as the nation was encouraged to return to office life in a bid to reboot the economy. However, with the Prime Minister recently backtracking on his back-to-work plea, it seems probable that working from the home office will be the ‘new normal’ for the majority of the UK’s workforce until the new year.

As we settle back into this way of working for the long haul, business leaders are faced with the decision on what role the ‘office’ might have in the future and, in the meantime, how they can ensure their employees’ working environment at home meets the appropriate health and safety standards – whether that be for setting up a workstation ergonomically, or from the perspective of preventing workplace stress.

The shift in working practices has brought with it many positives, however we can’t ignore the negatives. Whilst nearly half (49 per cent) of workers revealed that their mental health has actually improved whilst working from home, with 22 per cent going so far as to say their mental health had improved ‘a lot’, those aged 18 – 24 were actually negatively affected by home working – with 45 per cent of people in this age bracket observing a marked impact on their mental health since lockdown began.

From merely having a bad day to experiencing serious and lasting mental health issues brought on by the new world of social distancing that we now find ourselves in, employers need to have a sympathetic approach towards how they tackle mental health issues amongst their workforce, no matter how big or small they may seem. There are a handful of practices to encourage, which will hopefully make a difference to employee’s working lives, including:

  • Embrace routine: promote the importance of maintaining a routine amongst employees. Whether it’s a pre-work run, or lunch time read, keeping a structured working week will help people maintain a more positive mind frame.
  • Keep active: physical activity is proven to reduce stress, elevate moods, improve sleep and replenish energy, so encouraging staff to take time out of their day to get moving is a basic essential. In most cases, 30 minutes a day is thought to be enough to have a significant positive impact on mood and you can fill this time with any activity that makes you feel good. There are an abundance of home workout videos available on social media and via downloadable apps that offer both paid for and free services.
  • Stay connected: social interactions and workplace friendships are thought to benefit levels of productivity. Putting in regular virtual catch-ups is a great and simple way of uplifting spirits. There are a number of ways to still conduct your regular meetings, team catch ups and 1-2-1s. Platforms such as Zoom, 8×8, and Google Hangouts are all reliable and secure. At work, you’d usually be able to turn to your colleagues to share jokes and stories at intervals during the day. In this situation, we encourage you to do the same virtually. If you use instant messaging services, such as Slack, they have a handy video call tool you can use if you need a brief pick-me-up.
  • Be informative: whilst we find ourselves in this constant state of flux, it is imperative that business leaders are transparent and informative with their staff. This should provide some form of relief and reassurance for those having doubts about the future. Breathing is a very effective tool for managing stressful situations and overwhelming emotions. Many of the staff at High Speed Training have been using apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm to try out anything from a five minute breathing exercise to guided meditations.
  • Remain educated: as the world around us keeps changing, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest advice from experts. It’s promising to see that here at High Speed Training, we’ve seen an 86 per cent rise in popularity for our Mental Health Awareness course during the first period of lockdown, as decision makers across the country realise the importance of keeping their workforce happy. As well as having a moral responsibility to care for their staff’s mental health, employers also have a duty of care regarding their staff’s physical health. It is a legal requirement to carry out a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment as part of health and safety law.

Returning back to the office is inevitable for many British workers, albeit probably in a different way to before. Flexible working and the use of co-working spaces will be more widely adopted as we shift to a new style of working. When this time comes, it’s important we get it right from the outset. Business leaders should already be reviewing their ‘back to work’ strategies for the practicality side of things, but should also consider how to enable their staff to connect back into office life seamlessly. Encouraging staff to speak out about how they feel and what their potential anxieties are about returning to the office, offering support to those who may need it and implementing a training schedule so that managers are equipped to deal with issues that may arise are just some steps to take to get us harmoniously back into the office.

About Sarah OBeirne


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