Feature Article in Employer News: How managers can support the mental health of employees working remotely

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With the ongoing lockdown and remote working becoming the new normal, employees face prolonged mental health challenges. The isolation, loss of social connections, and anxiety surrounding the pandemic are expected to persist. However, remote working poses an additional obstacle for managers in identifying employees who may be struggling with their mental well-being.

Visual cues and behavioural changes that could indicate distress are harder to pick up on in virtual settings, and employees may find it more difficult to disclose their problems without the informal chats or physical proximity of the office environment.

To address this issue and support the mental health of remote employees, managers need to foster an environment where individuals feel comfortable opening up about their mental well-being. Adopting a compassionate leadership approach is crucial in this regard.

Compassionate leadership involves:

  • Actively listening to employees.
  • Understanding their challenges.
  • Expressing empathy towards their difficulties.
  • Supporting them appropriately while maintaining professional boundaries.
  • Engaging with self-care.

Here are ten essential tips for managers to recognize signs of mental distress among their employees and effectively support those who disclose mental health problems:

1. Normalize conversations about mental health: Establish mental health as a regular topic for team discussions. Organize dedicated events and utilize mental health awareness days throughout the year as conversation opportunities.

2. Notice changes in mood and behaviours: Be vigilant during video calls and phone conversations, looking for subtle changes that may indicate deteriorating mental health. Observe differences in appearance, tone of voice, enthusiasm, or withdrawal levels.

3. Don’t hesitate to ask: Be prepared to ask questions about employees’ well-being, such as how they are coping with their workload or the challenges of lockdown. Waiting until it’s too late may hinder their recovery.

4. Overcome awkwardness: Don’t be afraid of asking questions related to mental health. Silence can be more detrimental in the long run. Seek guidance from HR if necessary.

5. Make time to listen: When discussing a colleague’s mental health, ensure sufficient time and privacy for the conversation. Consider having the discussion during a virtual “walk” to create a comfortable setting.

6. Provide support, not solutions: Understand their difficulties and guide them towards appropriate resources or services, such as well-being company resources or a visit to their GP. Occupational health assessments can offer valuable insights.

7. Adapt onboarding processes: Recognize that newcomers may find it harder to form relationships and navigate the unspoken rules of a remote workplace. Create extra opportunities for social interactions to facilitate their integration into the team.

8. Foster team cohesion: Regularly communicate positive updates and team achievements to instil a sense of belonging and counteract feelings of isolation that remote workers may experience.

9. Challenge assumptions: Avoid assuming that specific demographics are more prone to mental health issues. While the pandemic has disproportionately affected younger individuals, mental health problems can impact anyone.

10. Take care of your mental health: Leading with compassion requires prioritizing your well-being. Practice self-compassion to support your employees better.

In the current remote working scenario, it’s vital to ensure staff members know available support systems, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and private medical insurance. Empower Mental Health Champions and Mental Health First Aiders to function effectively in the remote working environment. Explicitly give employees permission to ask for help and assure them that their concerns, regardless of size, will be treated compassionately.

Although casual interactions in physical workplaces are limited, fostering an environment where mental health support is encouraged can make a significant difference in the well-being of remote employees.