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#GetReal About Remote Work

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we look at the unique challenges of remote working and its impact on mental health. What can workers and businesses do to safeguard mental wellbeing?

‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ – Leonard Cohen

For the last 71 years, every May Canadians across schools, offices, communities and the House of Commons have come together to mark Mental Health Week. The movement was first started by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and has made great strides since to become an annual event. Each year, the event gets a special theme and this year the focus is Empathy and to #GetReal about how you help.

In the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week was first started 21 years ago by the Mental Health Foundation and has steadily grown into one of the best-known awareness campaigns in the world. Mental Health Foundation organises the theme and awareness programmes for the event every year. The theme for 2022 is Loneliness and how together we can tackle it because #Ivebeenthere.

As the Canadian week ended and the UK week kicked off, we looked at the themes for Mental Health Week 2022 in both countries. Loneliness and Empathy have never been more important talking points than in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the utter upheaval it caused in our lives and ways of working and communication.

Remote Working – Pro or Con?

Arguably the biggest change to the way we work has been remote working. The arrangement was introduced as a direct response to the lockdown but it soon became obvious to all, that remote working was here to stay. From schools and universities to workplaces and even concerts around the world, almost all forms of engagement could now happen online. You didn’t even have to leave your house.

The convenience of remote work is undeniable. It’s what made it possible for businesses and educational institutions to operate during multiple lockdowns. However, it also had a very real impact on students, workers and a large group of people who were suddenly left without a physical outlet for social interactions.  

One of the biggest disadvantages of remote working – particularly for parents and caregivers is that it doesn’t allow for any demarcation between work and home life. Without the intervals of social activities like commuting and even water-cooler chats in the office, it’s challenging to follow a routine with clear ‘switch on’ and ‘switch off’ times. A lack of work-life balance leads to faster burnout.  

Gen Z too has been struggling with remote work and learning. The younger population who have recently entered the workforce find themselves struggling to make facetime connections with those in higher management. Senior executives benefited from in-person networking and relationship building. In contrast, career newbies fear this lack of personal connection might impede their career progression.

According to a survey by Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), during the period between October 2020 and February 2021, loneliness levels in Great Britain increased to 7.2% of the adult population – about 3.7 million people. Interestingly, the study mentions that areas with younger populations recorded higher levels of loneliness.

Different people have different struggles. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to address mental health. Remote work despite its benefits for both businesses and those who need flexible working arrangements – can be very isolating and the reason why workers feel a sense of disconnect with both their colleagues, teams and the business itself. This disconnect is directly linked to the Great Resignation.

Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index estimated that 41% of people would consider leaving their jobs in the next year. One of the reasons cited in the survey was that one in five workers believes their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. Another 54% feel overworked while 39% feel exhausted.

So how do you avoid burnout and ensure your mental well-being while working remotely?

1. Reach out to your colleagues

Be proactive in reaching out to your co-workers. Zoom or Teams calls are better for discussions or a quick clarification and compared to emails have lesser chance of miscommunication. Consider setting up fixed check-in times each day with your team. This creates a sense of routine and also makes you feel less isolated and more included in the company. Plus, you never know – maybe your co-workers could also benefit from a daily check-in. Sometimes, all it takes is a call. So #GetReal about how you help.

2. Take a fixed lunch break

Working from home can disrupt most routines, especially your breaks. But to be productive, you have to remember to take break to refresh and recharge. This is why it’s important to have a fixed break for lunch every day. Don’t have lunch at the same place that you work. So, if the kitchen table is your designated work desk, find a different space for lunch. Even better, go out for lunch. A change of scenery sends mental cues that help distinguish between worktime and breaks. Consider fitting in a quick walk during your lunch hour. Being outdoors and doing light physical activity like walking releases endorphins that are known to boost your mental health and reduce stress.  

3. Try to work outside home once a week

For those who can, it’s a great way to change up your routine. Find a local café or library to work from once a week for even a few hours. Being in a public space, surrounded by people and ambient noise mitigates some part of the isolation of working from home.

4. Make after-work plans

What many people experience while working remotely is the merging of workdays and home life without any clear demarcation between the two. One didn’t start after the other. Instead, they carried on almost simultaneously. Make regular plans with friends and family after work. This way you have something to look forward to at the end of the day. But it also forces you to stick to a schedule and log off at the right time. This prevents burnout and helps you achieve some balance between your personal and professional life.

Remote work presents unique challenges that some people can struggle to deal with. These are just some tips to help you adjust to the situation whilst preserving your mental health as well as boosting productivity.

However, in addition to workers addressing their own mental well-being, businesses too need to take some responsibility for ensuring the mental health of their employees.

How Can Businesses Promote Mental Well Being?

According to a report by mind.org, 60 percent of employees admit they’d be more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work if their employer took steps to promote mental wellbeing. There are different ways that businesses can promote mental health for employees both in and outside the office. While the driving force is Empathy, businesses should implement certain policies to ensure employees working remotely receive the support they need.

1. Access to resources

According to the Mental Health Foundation, businesses should make mental health promotion tools like mindfulness and exercise available to all employees. The idea is to create an inclusive environment that promotes mental health for everyone whilst providing support to those who’re experiencing distress.

Companies should also consider having Employee Assistance Programmes that are open round-the-clock to provide support and guidance to those who need it, even outside work hours.

2. Invite a guest speaker

Organise a virtual event and invite a guest speaker to talk about mental health, touching on themes of loneliness. Hearing other people talk about mental health issues and saying #Ivebeenthere instils confidence in others to come forward and speak about their issues – the first step towards getting help. Virtual events are a great because they can be attended by teams from around the world. You could even record webinars and upload them to your company website to be accessed at any time.

3. Involve Line Managers

It’s a good idea to involve and train line managers to detect and address mental health issues in their teams. Line manager can make the most of internal communication channels and set up regular check-ins with their teams. This creates a sense of belonging and makes it easy to flag any issues if they come up.

4. Encourage breaks and regular hours

A rested employee is a productive employee. Companies should encourage employees who’re working remotely to take the full time off for their lunch break and finish their workday on time as often as possible. Having this directive from senior management shows employees that they’re thinking about their wellness.

5. Address discrimination

One of the fundamental rules for ensuring mental wellness is to address any and all discrimination against mental health issues. Any infractions to this should be addressed as harshly as discrimination against other protected characteristics like race, gender or sexual orientation.

FDM Supports Mental Health and Wellness

FDM Group has several programmes to assist in our employees’ mental health and wellness. Some of our dedicated support networks like UNIQUE, CARE, PRIDE, and others aim to assist FDM-ers with visible and non-visible disabilities including mental health issues, those with parental and/or caring responsibilities, our LGBTQ+ community and more.

FDM is also proud to support Walking With The Wounded. It is a charity for ex-servicemen and women who are struggling with mental health issues, unemployment, and homelessness. The charity aims to provide these veterans with access to therapy and early intervention programmes and facilitate their return to society.

Each year, Walking With The Wounded organises an annual event- the Cumbrian Challenge- a trek in the Lake District to raise money for the charity. FDM has been a long-time supporter of the charity, and this will be our seventh year of participating in the Cumbrian Challenge.


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