How to Deal with Workplace Anxieties
The recent pandemic has changed the way we work, and this is looking to become a permanent trend. As we make the move towards a more flexible workplace with home-based remote work known and accepted as a viable alternative to office-based working, there are a number of workplace anxieties beginning to present themselves. A forward-thinking HR leader can get ahead of these by responding quickly to the changes to the way we work and coming up with solutions before the workforce realises the problems even exist. Home-working Differences Working from home can present each employee in a different light to the one they are seen in at the office. An employee who is highly focussed at the office might find themselves more prone to distraction at home, from pets or neighbours, or even partners who are, themselves, adjusting to this new way of working. Being aware that employees – whether in management or not – might behave differently while at home is key, and allowances should be made while we all adjust. It is unlikely that expectations will need to be adjusted very much or for very long: it is surprising how quickly the unthinkable becomes the new normal.
Time-keeping Challenges In jobs where 9 to 5 hours are only kept due to convention or convenience, allowances should be considered and made for parents (or anyone with other demands on their time) to spread their eight-hour day over twelve or fourteen hours. For example, they could start work at 5 am or 6 am, and work for three or four hours, take a long break while helping children with schoolwork and online lessons or elderly parents with a meal, back to work for another two hours, and then take an exercise break for an hour or so, playing with the children, walking the dog or attending to the needs of relatives or vulnerable neighbours. And finally, after the evening meal, when the children are in bed, perhaps a final hour or two of work. However, a caveat: if employees are spreading their working day out over long hours, they can easily feel 'on-call' for much longer than they should, and this can impact on their emotional and physical well-being, especially when a global health crisis is occurring. Anyone who is working in this method should be carefully – and kindly – monitored to ensure that they are not overworking or becoming stressed with their new routine and, if necessary, encouraged back into a more conventional timetable.
Be open and honest with your employees and ask them to reciprocate. After all, you will not know that they are struggling to discipline themselves to start work unless they tell you, and they will not tell you if the only response will be punitive rather than helpful. Once you are aware of any struggles you could initiate a morning meet-up – almost like morning registration at school! – to help motivate the unwilling risers or a group alarm call or almost anything that all those concerned feel might be useful to them. Isolation Loneliness Many people have surprisingly isolated lives without the camaraderie and bustle of a busy office. Working from home, while in lockdown, can mean that human contact is dramatically reduced, especially in the case of people who live alone, without a partner, child, or even a pet. Isolation of this sort can easily lead to depression, disruptions in sleep cycles and episodes of anxiety and stress, all of which can impact on their wellbeing and performance at work. Get around this by letting employees know that it is a risk, that it is a very normal response to being alone, and putting in place some ways for employees to stay in touch. This could be something as simple as having a workplace meeting that simply runs for the whole day. Employees can join or leave the 'meeting' as they need to, so they can see their colleagues, perhaps chat a little, and discuss aspects of work in something as close to an office environment as possible. University students are already doing something similar: having silent study groups where no one speaks, but everyone just works away, feeling part of a group to stave off the otherwise potentially overwhelming loneliness.
Readily Available Information One of the worst aspects of remote working, especially while the coronavirus epidemic is still ongoing, is uncertainty. In the office, it is a simple matter to quickly double-check a task or piece of information with a manager: working from home this can become a lengthy and frustrating process. The best way to ensure confidence is through communication. Ensure that online chat is available, make sure the most up-to-date policies are easy to find, and make sure FAQ documents are available that everyone can access. Managers should ensure they check in with all employees every day or so, even if it is simply to let them know that they are available – although offering a word or two of merited praise is also good! This is where an automated response system can be a godsend: if a stressed employee cannot sleep because they are fretting over their worries, being able to ask that question and receive an accurate response, even at 3am, can go a long way to restoring their confidence and easing their mind. Mental health issues are important, especially in a world where most of the worst physical issues are more or less under control: food, shelter, relatively good health are all accessible. Working remotely can be an immense strain on a human being: we are, by nature, sociable and friendly creatures who need one another to, almost literally, keep us human. Ensuring the good mental health of your workforce ensures, in the long run, the good health of your business, so taking care of workplace worries is not an unnecessary expense: it is, rather, a very worthwhile investment!