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As employees across sectors are now working from home throughout the nation, businesses and management are faced by a new challenge – how do we balance productivity and business performance with the wellbeing of employees? With workers facing new challenges of their own – whether caring commitments, financial concerns or pressures on mental health – this can be a daunting time for employers and employees alike.

So how can businesses and colleagues work together to adapt to and embrace this change, maintaining the positive mental health and morale of employees through these challenging times?

Distinguish a work life balance
Firstly, it’s vital to recognise the importance of employees’ work life balance. By allowing these lines to be blurred, you run the risk that staff won’t switch off appropriately – both mentally and physically.

Where possible, encouraging employees to maintain typical working practices can allow this distinction to be maintained. Encourage workers to commit to a daily work routine, position workstations away from relaxation spaces and take regular breaks throughout the day.

It’s also widely considered that ‘mess causes stress’, with clutter having a huge impact on how we view our surroundings. Having a messy workstation can inhibit creativity and productivity, so sharing best working practice with employees can boost performance and wellbeing across your organisation.

In the current climate, employees may feel more pressure to work harder than ever before. But to prioritise work at the expense of living is very harmful for both employees and business. Overworked employees may become withdrawn, tired and are at a greater risk of experiencing burnout.

By encouraging employees to switch off at the end of a working day – literally as well as mentally – you can alleviate stress by removing any perceived expectation from workers’ shoulders, allowing for a greater distinction between home life and work, all of which provides workers with more time to look after their physical and mental health.

Be Flexible
During this uncertain period, employees are likely to have new challenges at home as well as at work. For example, those with caring commitments may find it difficult to adhere to strict working hours and conditions whilst carrying out childcare duties.

It can be a huge benefit to employees to have some flexibility at this time, to work their hours around other commitments where possible. If this doesn’t inconvenience business operations too much, it can make the lives of employees a lot easier and reduce the likelihood of additional stresses taking hold.

Stay Connected
The conversations we have with colleagues and business partners are a central part of our working lives. Without office chatter and a greater reliance on email communication, increased levels of isolation can be experienced by employees during remote working. Ensuring that we maintain connectivity with colleagues whilst in isolation enables us to boost our positive emotions and embeds our place within the workforce. Holding regular video calls to add that personal touch to remote working can be priceless in boosting morale and alleviating isolation.

Such connections don’t have to simply be work related either. Making sure you commit to workplace socials – be it virtual pub quizzes or Friday drinks on video – is a great way of maintaining employee engagement whilst everyone is out of the office and keeps morale high, enabling teams to work at maximum capacity.

Boost mental wellbeing
While office initiatives are all well and good for improving mental health in the workplace, the best solutions are often the simplest.

Offering a safe and confidential space for staff to speak to someone is fundamental in helping tackle work-related mental health issues, as well as those that could be affecting someone at home.

When working regularly with employees and colleagues, it can be easy to notice subtle signs of stress and identify ways of alleviating it. Suddenly we’ve been thrown into a remote world where it can be hard to see and understand the stresses and strains of workers.

As such, by creating a culture of openness, encouraging employees to come forward with any concerns and committing to regular check-ins with individuals, you have the ability to acknowledge and address stresses and mental health concerns before they become overwhelming for workers both personally and professionally. 

Some employees may also benefit from professional advice, and employers can help provide support by pointing their workers in the direction of counsellors or mental health practitioners. For example access to our Mental Health Helpline where employees can speak to an experienced therapist 24/7 to support with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bereavement or relationship problems.

If your workplace has trained Mental Health First Aiders, make employees aware and encourage them to make use of what support is available to them.

Encourage exercise
One of the foundations for good mental health is good physical health. Keeping active can help reduce the likelihood of depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by current circumstances.

Simply encouraging employees to make the most of the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise each day can be of great benefit for their mental health.

For those who may find exercising alone difficult, consider launching lunchtime sporting groups for employees. Whether video yoga, pilates, circuit training or anything else, these activities are great for our physical and mental wellbeing and also provide an outlet for colleagues to spend more time with one another during isolation.

The traditional office norm is no longer – at least for now – so adapting is key. Don’t be afraid to break the status quo and work with employees on an individual basis to support their tailored needs as best as possible.

Naomi Thompson, Head of Organisational Development at Benenden Health

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