The subject of Health and Wellbeing is currently a hot topic and understandably so. For millions of people of all ages, the effects of the pandemic restrictions to daily lives over the past year has undoubtably been immense and so its importance has been rightly elevated. It was of course much debated beforehand but with our fast and frantic work lives seen as a major contributor to poor levels of mental and physical health and wellbeing.
The quality of our health and wellbeing is of course not related just to our working lives but to home lives to and they are undoubtably intrinsically linked. However, as we start to emerge from the current restrictions and the inevitable fact that the working environment for many will have changed for ever, is important to differentiate between the two and to understand the impact that fulltime or hybrid basis WFH will have.
There are naturally negative and positive effects of WFH and they will differ for each employee based on a whole raft of issues such as:
What the home working set up is
How this set up effects the family life equilibrium
Whether the job role is suited to WFH
What the company type and structure is
What the relationship is like with the employer
However, whilst not necessarily a measure for post pandemic life, many employees see WFH as having the potential to be a positive influence on their lives. The result of a survey mid pandemic revealed that 77% of remote workers say that working from home has improved their overall health and wellbeing.
Clearly a huge endorsement of the practise of WFH, but will this subsequently change as the novelty wears off?
Key WFH Health and Wellbeing Issues
WFH has the potential to provide many employees with a new way of working and living, providing a work-life balance that perhaps seemed inconceivable just a year ago. For others it has been or will become, a bane, causing health and wellbeing issues related to a whole host of different elements. It is often overlooked that these issues are not restricted to one type of worker, they can affect employees, supervisors, managers and directors just the same, whether from a large national organisation or a micro business.
Some of the more common Health and Wellbeing problems experienced by those WFH are caused by but not limited to:
Isolation - Having been used to commuting daily and working with colleagues in an office environment, to then be working in isolation can have a significant detrimental effect on many. Within the previously mentioned survey, 19% of employees stated they struggled with loneliness when working remotely. Whilst this leaves 81% seeing it in a more positive light, unless measure are taken to engage employees, the balance will begin to shift.
Lack of Exercise - As is well known, both body and mind need regular exercise. In a conventional office environment, daily routines of commuting, moving around the office, going out for lunch, attending meetings and others are all elements that are often overlooked as positive contributary factors to health and wellbeing. Failure to replace these with alternative routines and movements, will ultimately have a detrimental effect.
Technical issues - Poor internet speeds, monitor ‘black screening’, unresponsive or slow PC’s, access to online portals and networks, weak mobile signal and others, are stressful enough in a conventional office environment, let alone a home office situation where they are amplified.
Poor Work Conditions - As covered in an earlier article, poor WFH foundations can cause a whole host of issues from musculoskeletal system discomfort and headaches due to poor posture and eye strain, and dual use room distractions causing tension
Confidence Drain - Employees feeling they are ‘out of site and out of mind’, along with other concerns over diminished chances of progression and missing out on development opportunities and training, can all lead to significant self-doubts over perceived value to the business
As we will all have undoubtably experienced at some point, just one sub-element of any of these in isolation can cause stress, anxiety and even rage but when two or more are combined, the likelihood of an ongoing negative impact on mental and physical health and wellbeing, is considerable.
Not all employees will feel this way but for those that do, without the necessary investment in time to understand the issues and then the investment in appropriate resources, products and services to mitigate them, there will ultimately be a detrimental effect on productivity, absenteeism and staff retention. All of which will affect the company’s bottom line and recruitment marketplace image.
77% of remote workers say that working from home has improved their overall health and wellbeing
15.4 million days lost to workplace stress and anxiety in the UK alone in 2018
WFH Health and Wellbeing Considerations
Certain WFH related Health and Wellbeing issues have generic solutions, whilst others require a more bespoke approach based on each individual employee’s circumstances and whilst potentially complicated, by instigating some basic principles, many of the issues can be avoided or minimised. If managed well, a work conducive, stress free environment can be achieved. Key aspects to consider include:
Communication - Quality communication channels between employer and employees working remotely, are essential whether on a professional. Implemented well, they can resolve a whole host of key issues, like the feeling of isolation and confidence drain. Doing so requires the use of the most appropriate equipment, systems and protocol. Using a combination of phone calls, emails and video calls, perhaps combined with the use of project management software or other similar products designed to provide structure and task management capability, will allow both parties to develop a clear and concise understanding of each other’s needs on a day-to-day basis. On a wider scale, these same principles can be used to ensure employees feel like an integral part of the business and not an ‘outpost’, thereby helping them to see opportunities of progression. Having protocols to cover the when, how and with whom the communications take place, will help ensure employees remain connected and engaged with the business. Similar channels can be used to create vital links between colleagues on a work basis and also on a more social basis, perhaps encouraging a ‘virtual water cooler’ opportunity.
Equipment - As covered in our Foundations of the WFH Office, helping to manage employee’s home working conditions by getting the basic foundations of a WFH zone right, is vitally important, whether working on a full time or hybrid basis. Ensuring they have the right equipment for their job role and personal circumstances cannot be overestimated. Consideration to the ergonomics of desks and chairs, provision of storage space, the most appropriate IT System, Services and Equipment and most suitable lighting, will go some way towards eliminating many of the simpler health and wellbeing related issues of WFH
Support and Advice - With WFH being a new concept for many, providing access to related knowledge and advise is fundamental in helping the health and wellbeing of employees. Aspects to consider could include:
Providing access to Health and Wellbeing professionals
Providing Workplace and Display Screen Equipment Assessments
Advice on how to set up a WFH zone and the importance of routine
Access to training and development programs
IT support services for all IT aspects (hardware, software, peripherals, security)
Best practice on work breaks (morning, lunch and afternoon)
Guidance on diet, exercise and hydration
Advice or access to exercise programs Some aspects will be internally produced and communicated, whilst others can be provide in the form of links and access to 3rd party experts.
Procedures and systems - Most employees will have been aware of an organisation’s procedures and systems within the conventional working environment but will be uncertain as to how the change due to WFH has affected them. It is worth considering how these changes have affected the employees:
Meeting protocol (video calls etc)
IT support access
HR related issues including contract adjustments, pay, sickness and holiday entitlement, Loan worker policies, Legal implications and Health and Safety at home Ensuring these and other such elements are reviewed, updated and communicated to employees will help to remove uncertainty and alleviate related stress. It is also worth considering when undertaking this review, whether there are any mundane daily tasks that can be removed from their role and perhaps centralised and automated. It is often these types of task, that trigger an onset of job dissatisfaction when working in isolation.
Products and Services – It is also worth considering the impact that other services and products can have on employees too. The provision of personal wellbeing, relaxation and stress relief sessions. The offer of private healthcare cover or a contribution towards home office gym equipment. Other examples could include providing office plants to create a calming work environment or a coffee/tea subscription service. They need not cost much but show you care and therefore can have a significant perceived value
In summary, WFH does not work for all employees or indeed all employers but for most, a fulltime or hybrid form of WFH is likely to be a permanent feature in 2021 and beyond. For it to be successful, attention needs paying to the potential WFH Health and Wellbeing related issues experienced by employees and taking the necessary actions to reduce them. If this can be achieved, they will be more engaged, healthier, happier and more productive and the business will be appealing to new employees looking for an employer that values their health.
The WFH Zone is the UK’s first online portal designed to assist organisations in the process of setting employees up to work from home in the most cost effective and ethical way. Our service provides a filter and search facility that helps employers and employees find quality suppliers of a range of Services and Products specifically associated with a work from home zone.
95% of workers say work-life balance is an important factor when searching for a new job.
Source – Ascent People (July 2020)
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