Employers have recently been under pressure to offer flexibility in the workplace. This is a key desire of the workforce post-2020, and while it is crucial to afford employees malleability in their roles, research has shown that certain situations can actually cause higher levels of mental and physical health concerns. Remote working gained popularity and is now a widespread want for many people, but as research by Royal Society for Public Health shows, there are key health and wellbeing disparities that signify issues with this method of working. The Chief Executive of RSPH stated that “the changes in the way that millions of people are working has the potential for employers to rethink how they are supporting their employee’s mental and physical health. He has urged employers to “take the necessary steps to ensure their staff can work from home as safely and healthily as possible.”
So, how can employers support flexible working whilst maintaining and supporting the mental and physical health of employees?
When remote working first peaked, a survey by the Institute of Employment Studies reported that over 50% of those surveyed reported new aches and pains. 58%complained of neck pain, 56% had shoulder pain, and 55% detailed back pain. It is crucial to ensure your staff are properly set-up if they are working from home. It is your responsibility that, during work, staff are safe and comfortable; this does not stop at the office door. Remote workers are likely to develop musculoskeletal problems from improper facilities. You can counteract this by ensuring that employees can only work from home if they have proper office equipment at home, including an appropriate table and chair. Advise them on the correct distance they should sit from their computer, and to take regular breaks and practice proper posture/exercises for back and neck to prevent problems from developing. It would be advisable to provide a leaflet or demonstration on how to optimise remote working before employees begin, or to partner with a wellbeing-specific company who can work with you to ensure your employees’ situations are sufficient. Showing care and attentiveness for all members of staff, including those who are working from home, is essential.
The recent decline in mental health has been heavily linked to remote working and its isolating effects on employees. This is due to lack of interaction, blurred home/work life boundaries, and communication downfalls between employer and employee. Hybrid working is a good way to counteract this because while flexibility is offered, so are the all-too-important office-based experiences. Providing the opportunity for collaborative working (even online via Microsoft Teams/Zoom etc) can help mitigate the loneliness that remote working perpetuates. It is sensible to have teams of staff working closely together, and therefore communicating frequently. In addition, regular check-ins with line managers, in non-judgemental circumstances, are essential; give your employees chances to talk openly about their work and how they are feeling, these opportunities are highly appreciated by staff as they feel seen, heard, and valued. MHFA England states that since 2020, we have seen an 81% of workplaces increase their focus on employee mental health. Whilst this is a brilliant improvement, evidence also shows that 36% of companies take a reactive approach to offering staff support, rather than a proactive one. You must ensure that all employees have access to, and knowledge of, mental health services. This includes giving out the numbers of local facilities that provide help for all sorts of problems. You may also decide to nominate a Mental Health First Aider- a member of staff who voluntarily completes annual (online) training and is dedicated to the mental wellbeing of other employees. They can be the first point of contact for all queries and discussions and can also put on activities such as lunchtime walks, or weekly coffee-morning check-ins. Research shows that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £56 billion a year, but a recent report suggests that employers see a return of £5.30 on average for every £1 invested in staff wellbeing, so it is not only ethically good, but also profitable to focalise and prioritise employee mental health.
Some companies decide that remote working is best for certain roles, and if this is the case, employing the above tactics will help maintain the mental and physical health of staff. However, hybrid or office-based working is the recommended method of employment as it promotes healthy living practices, mental wellbeing, and the use of proper facilities which will aid in getting a job done!