Mental health in the workplace is a hugely important issue at all levels – for individuals, companies and the economy and society as a whole. The Mental Health Foundation says mental health issues are the leading cause of sickness absence, claiming 70 million work days each year due in the UK – which costs employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
Now there is a new complication for workplace mental health: there is no workplace. For many people up and down the country, their home is now the office. The new normal brings with it a number of new challenges, and mental health is arguably top of that list.
The effects of working from home during lockdown are particularly notable for those living alone – meaning the tips below are especially important for people in that situation, or for employers managing staff living on their own.
Understanding the work/mental health relationship
Before getting into practical tips, it’s important to understand the relationship between home working and mental health.
Research by the World Economic Forum found that being “always on” and accessible – particularly as remote communication tools become more popular – while working remotely leads to the blurring of work and non-work boundaries, particularly if you work from home. A 2017 United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
That’s a good place for employers and employees to start – with a recognition that working from home can increase the stress and anxiety associated with work. Without that recognition, the World Economic Forum says, people can start to feel ostracised from each other. But never fear – help is at hand.
Practical tips for homeworkers
The Mental Health Foundation says there are a number of practical things you can do to improve your mental health, which we think also apply to working from home. We’ve condensed them below.
- Accept who you are. Acknowledging that we are all different – and being upfront about it – means you and your employer can play to your strengths and work in the way that suits you best.
- Caring for others. Lending a helping hand to others, in a kind and sensitive way, can go a long way to improving their mental health and your own. This is just as true at work as anywhere else.
- Exercise. It’s a cliche, but exercise is incredibly good for mental health. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, even just a walk will help. It’s good for mind, body and soul.
- Eat well. It can be difficult when you’re stuck in a rut, suffering from more severe bouts of anxiety or depression, or simply having a bad day – but diet is just as important as exercise for your mind and body. Many people also find that cooking helps them to relax.
- Drink sensibly. A lot of people use alcohol to take the edge off – but you should be careful and not let it become a crutch for when you feel lonely or anxious.
- Talk about it. Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled – that can be with your boss, colleagues, friends or family.
- Keep in touch. It doesn’t have to be a big in-depth discussion about your mental health – just keeping lines of communication open to have a social chat can make a huge difference.
- Ask for help. If you are able to acknowledge when you’re not doing so well – for whatever reason – and ask for help, you’ll be in a much better place. You’re likely to feel better just for knowing you have the option to ask.
- Look for positive news. Communication isn’t just about what you give out, it’s about what you take in, too. A lot of the news cycle is very negative at the moment, but sites such as the Good News Network can help provide an antidote to that.