Exploring the mental health impacts of remote working

Exploring the mental health impacts of remote working     Listing Image

During April, which is Stress Awareness Month, we will be exploring some of the potential pitfalls that can befall remote workers and looking at our FREE eLearning essential soft skills course – Stress Management in Travel. Studies have shown that remote working can harm employee mental well-being, which in addition to causing distress for workers, can also impact productivity, morale and turnover.  In this article, we discuss what poor employee mental health can look like and the preventative steps that managers can take.

If you would like to learn more about managing a successful remote team, take a look at the FREE eLearning essential soft skills courses, created by travel industry experts designed to get you and your team members working from home happily, effectively and safely. 

A hidden crisis 

One of the main cited benefits of the new remote-working culture has been its perceived positive impact on mental health. With no stressful, expensive commute and more time (in theory) for hobbies, relaxing and spending time with family and friends and a renewed sense of autonomy, it’s easy to see how remote working might positively impact mental health

However, a survey conducted by Public Health Wales in 2022 found that just under 50% of respondents reported increased feelings of loneliness when working from home, and approximately 45% felt that homeworking had worsened their mental well-being.  Breaking this down further, over a quarter felt that their alcohol consumption had increased, just under 40% thought that their physical activity had decreased, and more than a third felt that their eating habits had worsened. 

However, many respondents felt that their physical activity and eating habits had improved (30% and 26%, respectively). Although this article focuses on the impacts of home working on mental health, the effects that physical activity and diet can have on mental health shouldn’t be ignored. 

So why do some people feel that working from home harms their mental health whilst others seem to thrive? And what can you as an employer do to ensure that your team fall into the latter category?

Investigating the individual 

It goes without saying, but everyone is different. More introverted or self-motivated team members may be more likely to thrive when left alone to get on with things. Similarly, confident and established team members might not think twice about picking up the phone or jumping on an impromptu Teams call - unlike your shy new start, and therefore will be less likely to feel lonely or isolated. 

It's up to you as a manager to get to know your team and work with each of them individually to establish how they work best, what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not. An open line of communication needs to be maintained so that your less confident team members don’t feel like they’re causing an inconvenience or harming their career by voicing their concerns about loneliness or mental health. 

It's also your responsibility to encourage all team members to practice self-care. It may be tempting to allow the most ambitious and hard-working team members to continue doing their thing and bring results. Still, these employees are often more susceptible to the mental health issues associated with working from home. 

Mitigation strategies 

Here are a few starting points to help create a more collaborative, inclusive and happy team:

  • Encourage casual conversations on your team messenger app. You could even dedicate a specific channel so that it doesn’t drown out work discussions, but this kind of chit-chat goes a long way to help employees feel less isolated.
  • Set up a ‘coffee talk’ schedule where randomly paired employees can spend 20-30 minutes getting to know each other.
  • Allow time for non-work-related chatter in meetings. Although this may seem like an inefficient way to spend time, these kinds of chats would naturally occur in in-person meetings as everyone settles down or walks to and from the meeting room. These kinds of conversations can help people feel closer to their teammates and forge stronger relationships. 
  • Keep communication consistent. Team members will feel more connected when there’s a regular communication cadence. Avoid letting your team messaging app turn into a ghost town. Establish core hours during the day when everyone is online and active simultaneously. Also, schedule daily or weekly team meetings over video conferencing apps so that you can see one another’s faces.
  • Look for opportunities for team members to collaborate. They’ll feel less alone when they’re brainstorming ideas together over video chat, writing and editing content in a shared Google Doc, or asking and answering questions over a team messaging app.

The bottom line  

Although remote and flexible working has the potential to bring with it many benefits related to employee well-being and mental health, it also brings a new set of issues that perhaps neither employee nor employer has had to consider before.

By being mindful of possible issues and taking steps to ensure that everyone feels valued, seen and included, there’s no reason why your remote team can’t be happy, healthy and productive.

We offer FREE eLearning essential soft skills courses, created by travel industry experts which covers these topics and so much more.

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