Mind control: Remote working could aggravate mental health problems

Infrequent contact with teams and management could make it even harder for UK employees to voice their mental health problems. Having personally experienced such a situation, Paul Finch, CEO of A People Business and founder of charity Red Trouser Day, emphasises the need for better communication and a tailored support system.

Do you believe mental health problems in the workplace are getting worse, or is the UK making leeway?

At first glance, it does look like mental health problems in the workplace are becoming increasingly bad. There’s little doubt in my mind that workplaces today are more stressful than ever before. However, many employers are more aware of – and dealing with – the cornucopia of mental health issues that workers face, so this may also inflate the statistics!

Similarly, the continuing rise in remote working can also aggravate mental health problems. As human beings, we like communicating with others – if you’re stuck at home day in and day out, you can’t really talk to people. If you are having a problem, you need to pick up the phone or send a message – most people prefer to have this kind of private conversation face to face, so they simply don’t reveal it to anyone.

This is something I’ve experienced first-hand. When I was diagnosed with bowel cancer two years ago I didn’t have a real support network – that’s partly why my charity, Red Trouser Day, seeks to be all inclusive (you just need to wear red trousers to work) and to offer a sense of community.

In the same way, if you are the manager and someone is at work you can spot if they’re down and invite them to have a chat about it – you can’t do that if they are at home.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

Companies are concerned about productivity, and poor wellbeing will lead to lower engagement and lower productivity. To put it simply, a highly engaged (and well!) workforce delivers more. We all know that the most engaged are those who think and feel that their boss cares and that they are truly valued as employees.

There is a big difference between paying lip service to that claim and actually looking after people.

In what ways do you invest in your employees’ health and wellbeing?

As a director, you can’t be everywhere, all the time, so you have to create a culture of health and wellbeing, and empower managers within teams to look after staff. It is vital to ensure that management and employees understand what health and wellbeing means. There are two sources of stress – domestic (which managers can only be aware of) and work – which they can help resolve.

Employers need to heavily invest in understanding the problems not just the consequences of these problems. Too often money is simply thrown at assistance programmes without much thought into how to measure the outcome.

Companies sign deals with insurance firms to set up helplines that nobody uses and think the job is done. But I always look to put in a strategic programme that intertwines with the corporate missions and strategic vision.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you like to have in place?

It is important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all – a nice bean bag is not the solution for everyone. If money were no object, I would like to invest in understanding problems to then invest in the right solutions to solve them, because every organisation is different. For example, having sophisticated leadership training around how to spot if someone is having a tough time and what to do about it.

Similarly, I’d like to invest in creating proper support networks. If you have people suffering from cancer, for instance, they will need support whilst having treatment. They need to take a lot of time out for this and people are worried about losing their job – having that support in place puts them at ease that their job is safe and helps them to overcome workplace issues whilst undergoing treatment.

While there is still a long way to go, attitudes are moving forward, Finch claims on the next page.

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