The sudden, and in many cases unplanned, shift to remote working presents a host of challenges for employers. A major concern at a corporate level is ensuring organisations meet their legal and moral responsibilities to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their remote employees.
Many organisations have found the logistical implications of remote working relatively easy to adapt to, but it’s managing the mental health and well being of their staff which is far more challenging. So adapting the vita workplace policies and procedures to effectively manage the risks associated with home working should be a priority at board level.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the UK’s main workplace safety legislation and makes no distinction between at-home and workplace requirements. As a result, employers must legally ensure that they are providing a quality environment and proactive wellbeing support for remote workers.
Protect your employees and your organisation by taking steps to provide remote practical and mental health support.
Remote health and safety requirements
“Employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworkers, as far as is reasonably practicable.” – The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999
Managing practical employee needs in the workplace is relatively straightforward. Simple things like maintaining the right temperature, suitable lighting, ventilation and a comfortable workstation are easy to deliver in a central location. These factors all contribute to an environment where employees can work at their best and are on a level playing field.
Remote working has shown employers that staff can be just as productive working from their kitchen table as they can from their cubicle. This has pushed many firms to consider going permanently office-free, saving money on rent and utilities.
But with 27% of the UK’s workforce now working from home employers still have a legal duty to maintain their remote employees’ working environment. Many of whom will be living in a variety of differing circumstances.
Some of your employees may have their own study with super-fast fibre-optic broadband. Whereas other employees could be working from a cold bedroom with a lousy wifi connection shared between four other housemates.
How can I identify and address remote employees needs?
Have you already carried out a practical risk-assessment with your employees? If not, you should. Start by determining what resources and equipment your employees need.
Are they working in a comfortable and safe environment? Is their monitor at a suitable height, with a clear display free from glare? Do disabled employees need any extra assistive equipment?
Carrying out a risk-assessment via video call will give you the opportunity to ensure your employees are working to their best, and safest ability. HSE has some great tips for carrying out an at-home risk assessment to identify your employee needs.
Ask what else you could be doing to support them at home. If employees live in a noisy environment or have concerns about increasing heating bills this winter you could offer extra assistance in these areas.
One company doing just that is Ally Financial. All of their employees earning $100,000 or less in annual base salary have received a $1,200 tax-free financial assistance payment to help cover costs related to working from home.
While this level of financial aid will not be practical for all organisations, assisting with unexpected costs related to working remotely is a thoughtful way to address inequalities between employees. Furthermore, it can quickly improve employee motivation by showing that you care about the practical challenges they face outside of the office.
Safeguarding mental health remotely
Employers duty of care also extends to wellbeing. Therefore having open conversations about mental health is essential in a remote working environment.
Some employees are flourishing at home, with few wanting to return to full-time office work. But for others, the psychological impact of working from home can be damaging. 33% of remote workers report they are feeling frequently isolated, and 29% feel that their supervisor isn’t keeping in touch as regularly as they should.
Stress, anxiety and loneliness are just a few of the contributing factors that could impact your employees mental health. Before lockdown even began stress alone was estimated to cost the UK economy £5 billion annually through sickness absence and poor productivity.
It’s easier than ever for employees to hide mental health and wellbeing problems from managers, and reactive measures won’t cut it in a remote setting. With many employees fearing job insecurity and feeling uncomfortable opening up over Zoom it can take far longer to identify and resolve issues in remote teams. Therefore fostering an environment where mental health is talked about openly is critical to the long-term wellbeing of employees.
How can I support remote employees mental health?
Protecting employees mental health is as important from a legal perspective as meeting practical health and safety requirements. It is also critical to business success.
Listening to employees is an essential first step in identifying and resolving wellbeing concerns. One way to quickly get to the root cause of employee unhappiness is to run an employee survey.
Alternatively, consider work-arounds that may be mutually beneficial. If your employee is struggling because they are juggling childcare duties could you offer flexible working hours? Or if someone feels disconnected from the team could you organise a virtual social event?
Managers can also take active steps to discuss mental health in their team. Mind offers a free Wellness Action Plan (WAP) which is a step-by-step guide to setting up individual strategies to spot the signs of poor mental health.
By sitting down with an individual employee, you can go through the WAP questionnaire to establish:
- Approaches the individual can adopt to support their mental wellbeing
- Early warning signs of poor mental health to look out for
- Any workplace triggers for poor mental health or stress
- Potential impact of poor mental health on performance
- What support they need from managers
The risks of not taking action
Despite working in an entirely new setting, employers still have a legal duty of care to ensure that employees have a healthy, safe and supportive workplace. Organisations that fail to do as much as they reasonably can to support remote employees could potentially face legal claims of negligence or contributions to mental ill-health.
Furthermore, failing to take action will result in employees with reduced levels of engagement, productivity, and motivation. Mental health problems at work cost the UK economy a staggering £34.9bn last year, and that number will undoubtedly rise given the impact of Covid.
Ultimately, by ignoring the needs of staff employers will be paying for salaries that are wasted on disengaged staff. Organisations will experience reduced efficiency, more mistakes and higher levels of presenteeism that negatively affect business performance.
How WeThrive can help
Get to the root cause of your remote employee needs by giving your managers the tools to quickly identify and resolve performance and wellbeing concerns.
WeThrive gives you everything you need to quickly launch company-wide or specific team employee engagement surveys followed with concise actions to help managers follow-up quickly post-survey. The actions are linked to bite-size learning and training content for managers. Try it today and in just 7 days you’ll be working with real data on employee needs.
Employee Engagement, Evolved
WeThrive is the agile employee engagement platform that uncovers how your people truly feel, enabling managers to create highly effective teams, increase employee retention and employee wellbeing and deliver better business results.
Try the survey to learn more.
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